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Saturday, October 29, 2022

Pastor Arthur Burton Schirmer: The Singing Minister of Death

     In 1968, Arthur Burton "A.B." Schirmer, an ordained Methodist minister, married his first wife Jewel whom he met while they were 20-year-old students at Messiah College in southeast central Pennsylvania. In the late 1970s, as pastor of the Bainbridge and Marietta United Methodist Churches in southeastern Pennsylvania's Lancaster County, Schirmer and his wife Jewel sang duets at area churches and camp meetings. Later his son and two daughters joined the gospel group billed as the "Singing Schirmer Family."

     In 1978, Schirmer and his family moved to the town of Lebanon in southeast central Pennsylvania where he had been named pastor of the Bethany United Methodist Church (UMC). He and his wife Jewel lived in the church parsonage.

     On April 24, 1999, the 50-year-old Bethany church pastor called 911 at 2:15 in the afternoon to report that when he returned to the parsonage after a jog he found his wife Jewel lying unconscious at the foot of the basement stairs. Jewel Schirmer died the next day at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

     The forensic pathologist with the Lebanon County Coroner's Office who performed the autopsy noted that the deceased woman had, wrapped around one leg, an electrical cord from a Shop Vac. She was also barefoot. The pastor's wife had suffered a fractured skull and possessed numerous bruises on her upper body. The coroner's office reported that Jewel Schirmer had died from a traumatic brain injury and ruled her manner of death as "undetermined." While her obituary stated that she had died a "natural death" from falling down a flight of stairs (actually an accidental death), the coroner's office listed Jewel Schirmer's demise as undetermined because her injuries seemed too severe to have been caused by a fall down a flight of steps. Because his wife's death was not ruled a homicide there was no police investigation into the incident and no criminal charges filed against the singing minister.

     In 2001, the year he became pastor of the United Methodist Church in Reeders, an eastern Pennsylvania town in Monroe County, A.B. Schirmer married his second wife, 49-year-old Betty Jean Shertzer, a music teacher.

     On July 15, 2008, motorists driving along State Route 715, a wooded, two-lane highway not far from Reeders, saw a PT Cruiser sitting on the shoulder of the road next to a guardrail. Betty Schirmer was sitting in the front passenger's seat that was soaked in blood. She was bleeding from the head and was unconscious. The passersby noticed severe bruising on the right side of her face. The vehicle showed only minor damage and the pastor was uninjured. Although he possessed a cellphone, one of the motorists called 911.

     The next day, at the Lehigh Valley Hospital, Betty Jean Schirmer died of "sustained multiple skull and facial fractures" and "brain injury." At the pastor's request his second wife's body was cremated before it could be autopsied.

     To the officer investigating the supposed traffic accident, the pastor said he had been driving his wife to the hospital after she complained of a pain in her jaw. While traveling between 45 and 55 MPH he lost control of the car after oversteering to avoid a deer. The vehicle swerved back and forth across the road before slamming into the guardrail. Although Betty Schirmer's head injuries seemed out of proportion to the damage to the car, the authorities did not investigate the 56-year-old woman's death as a possible homicide. The fact the dead woman's husband was a Methodist minister probably had a lot to do with that decision. Had the authorities known about the circumstances surrounding the death of the pastor's first wife Jewel, they might have looked closer into Betty Schirmer's suspicious demise.

     On October 29, 2008, violent death raised its ugly head again in Pastor Schirmer's life. On that day, Joseph Musante, the husband of the pastor's personal assistant, was found dead in the church office behind the pastor's desk. Mr. Musante had been shot in the head in an apparent suicide. Investigators looking into the case were curious to know why this active member of the Reeders UMC congregation had taken his own life in the pastor's office. In pursuing that lead, investigators learned that Pastor Schirmer was having an affair with the dead man's wife, Cynthia.

     A.B. Schirmer's proximity to the untimely, violent deaths of two wives and the husband of his personal assistant and lover, kickstarted a criminal investigation of his second wife Betty's July 2008 death. The fact the pastor was having an affair at the time of the so-called fatal traffic accident on State Route 715 added what had been missing until now: a motive for murder. Pursuant to the homicide investigation, the police conducted a search of Schirmer's church living quarters and found incriminating evidence: massive blood stains from Betty Schirmer, stains someone had tried to clean-up.

     The discovery of blood stains in the Reeders Church parsonage provided homicide investigators with a plausible narrative of Betty Jean's death: the pastor had bludgeoned her in the parsonage, put her bleeding body into the PT Cruiser, staged the traffic accident on the remote highway, then sat in the car with his unconscious wife waiting for her to die. Before she passed away, passing motorists came along, and one of them called 911. The next day she died, and shortly after that she was cremated without an autopsy. With the death of the pastor's personal assistant's husband three months later, the path had been cleared for the pastor's third marriage to Cynthia.

     After A.B. Schirmer became a prime suspect in this second wife's death, the pastor left the ministry. He joined a three-person evangelical singing group called "Beroean." 

     To bolster their case that this man of God had murdered his second wife, the police consulted an expert in traffic accident investigation. According to this expert, the damage to Schirmer's PT Cruiser suggested that when he hit the guardrail he was only traveling 25 MPH, a speed that would not have resulted in Betty Schirmer's severe head trauma and brain damage.

     In July 2010, the county coroner, a forensic pathologist named Dr. Samuel Land, ruled Betty Schirmer's manner of death a homicide. This opened the door to a criminal prosecution.

     Former pastor A. B. Schirmer, on September 13, 2010, in Tannersville, Pennsylvania, was taken into custody by the Pennsylvania State Police. He was charged with the murder of his second wife Betty. He also faced the charge of evidence tampering. At the time of his arrest, the gospel singer was engaged to be married for the third time. The ex-pastor awaited his upcoming murder trial in the Monroe County Correctional Facility where he was incarcerated without bail.

     On September 17, 2010, the Monroe County prosecutor convened a grand jury to look into the death of Jewel Schirmer. Dr. Wayne Ross, the forensic pathologist for Lancaster County, had studied photographs and other material pertaining to the 1999 death in the Lebanon UMC parsonage. Dr. Ross informed the grand jurors that the skull fracture Jewel had supposedly incurred from a fall down the basement steps would have required at least 750 pounds of pressure, a force way out of proportion to an accidental spill of this nature. Moreover, the forensic pathologist testified that the cuts to the victim's face were "highly suspicious and could have been caused by an object striking her head. There were 14 separate impact injuries to her head and face," Dr. Ross said, "as well as numerous abrasions and contusions throughout her upper body and arms." According to Dr. Ross, one of the bruises was in the shape of a handprint.

     Based on Dr. Ross' testimony and other evidence presented at the Monroe County Grand Jury session, Dauphin County Chief Deputy Coroner Lisa Potteiger changed Jewel Schirmer's manner of death from "undetermined" to "homicide." The Monroe County District Attorney charged the paster with first-degree murder.

     In March 2013, after a jury found Schirmer guilty of murdering Jewel Schirmer, a Monroe County judge sentenced the former minister and possible serial killer to life in prison.

     In September 2014, a jury found the former pastor guilty of murdering his wife Betty Jean in 2008. A Lebanon County judge sentenced Schirmer to an additional 40 years in prison. 


  1. You made the timeline better than the cbs broadcast. Comments on Charm fit a psychopath/sociopath. Also typical/ division between wife and daughter of the 'suicide.' Isolate and target. He could seek to attack/ discredit her esp thru those who would otherwise be closest to her. The husband and father would have been a threat and a natural target/ he was going to 'out' him, maybe looking for info in his desk.

  2. The pastor is evil. He is a narcissist phycopath. 99.999% of children who have a parent murdered by the other parent think the accused is innocent. This is due to an inablity to face that they will lose the second parent after the first was murdered. Thier minds cannot accept it. This despite all the evidence & even conviction that clearly show they did it. It is so sad. On the other side of the coin, there was a case where a son believed his Father killed his Mother and proceeded to prove it. Of course the child was treated like a criminal for going against his Father. Those poor children of murdered parents by the other parent cannot win. SAD. What is amazing to me is that the last victim (fiance) Cindi still believes in his innocence? She doesn't even have a clue that she would have been next and that his conviction saved her life. She is treating his children and Grandchildren very well. She has no relationship with her dead husbands and her children. They are upset that their Mother was having an affair which contributed to their Father's suicide. They also believe Shimer killed his first two wives. I think she should spend her time supporting and healing with her own children. Very Sad indeed.

    1. I just saw the story on Dateline and I believe you nailed it. I dont understand how Cindi can be so foolish. I dont think she would ever believe this man would hurt her the way he did his first two wives. She is also stupid to be sending him a whopping six hundred ($600) dollars per month while incarcerated. That is millionaire money in prison. Why does he need that much. Is it protection money from other predators? I can understand the childrens view that dad is innocent, but Cindi is a fool. Theres no other way to put it.

  3. i don't believe, for a minute, the fathers death was a suicide. He died just a few months after the second wife's death and the minister was not yet being investigated for either wifes murder so he thought he was in the clear and the suicide would not be suspicious. He had to get rid of the husband to clear the way to marry his girlfriend otherwise the second wife's murder would have been useless. It makes perfect sense. And why would the husband commit suicide when he had a daughter who loved and needed him after her own mothers death. Its way to coincidental.

  4. I just saw a repeat of this story on Dateline. First, I believe the daughters know their father is a murderer but made the decision to support him, at least in the media. Their rationale might be that they already lost a mother. They don't like that their father is gone too, in such a shameful way... to prison for life. That whole family is obviously VERY troubled. There must be things the public doesn't know about the ex pastor's relationships with his wives, and his daughters.

    I am always amazed that a person has the balls to kill a spouse in a way that is suspicious, and then turn around and kill another spouse! The fact this was a minister having an affair with his secretary whose husband commits suicide in the pastor's office...well, it's extra bizarro. You really can't even make this stuff up.