Not far from where I live, is a country church with a pointed steeple. It was in that church where a man named Joseph Musante committed suicide by shooting himself dead in October of 2008. In the aftermath of that suicide, police learned that Musante’s wife was having an affair. If the unholy suicide in the church wasn’t odd enough, there was the fact that Musante’s wife worked at the church. Naturally, certain questions would be asked. All indications pointed to an affair with the church’s pastor, Arthur Schirmer. Strange.
Stranger still, police investigators looking into the suicide were compelled to consider once more the death of Schirmer’s wife a few months earlier, in July of 2008. Reeders United Methodist Church is on Rte 715 in Jackson Township, Reeders, Pa. The road joins two former country roads now turned main arteries, connecting Brodheadsville to Tannersville. There’s quite of bit of travel now on that road, and people tend to use it as a shortcut or alternative route to wherever they are going. So it wasn’t surprising that Reverend Schirmer and his wife got into an accident there.
What was surprising was the extent of Betty Schirmer’s injuries stemming from such a minor accident. The alleged accident which resulted in the death of Betty Jean Schirmer occurred just over a mile from the church where the couple lived. Or so Arthur Schirmer said.
Pastor Schirmer told accident investigators that he’d hit a deer before he crashed the car injuring his wife. Why did the seat belts not deploy? Why was there so little damage to the Schirmer car? And why was Betty Schirmer lying in Lehigh Hospital dying of head injuries?
Further, was it mere coincidence that Pastor Schirmer’s first wife, Jewel Schirmer, died in Hershey Hospital of head injuries sustained from falling down a flight of stairs? At that time, April of 1999, Reverend Schirmer’s tended to his flock in Lebanon, Pa., where he lived with Jewel. So far the Lebanon County District Attorney is not jumping to conclusions but has reopened an investigation into the circumstances of Jewel Schirmer’s death.
But the state police investigating the death of Schirmer’s most recent wife had discovered drops of blood in the Schirmer home and they say the blood is Betty’s. Pennsylvania State Police investigators at the Swiftwater barracks have charged the 62 year old pastor with the murder of Betty Schirmer more than two years ago.
Did Pastor Arthur Schirmer nearly get away with murder? It is a fair question. Crimes committed by figures of authority and trust are often overlooked. Books have been written about such things. Whether or not Arthur Schirmer can rival Elmer Gantry in the hypocrisy of his evangelism remains to be seen, but his “traffic accident” tied the hands of the local police department until the church suicide of Joseph Musante. That’s when new leads emerged.
Joseph Musante could have gone to police himself instead of committing suicide. What compelled him to offer his own life as a sacrificial clue will never be known for certain. But Musante set the wheels of justice in motion after the local coroner had ruled Betty Schirmer’s death a traffic accident. It was at that point that police were tipped off by relatives regarding the suspicious death of Jewel Schirmer.
Once in motion, justice moved swiftly, engaging first local police detective James Wagner, and then the Pennsylvania State Police investigators and lab. The Schirmer vehicle was hardly damaged in the “accident” and a December 2008 search warrant followed by DNA analysis led to the determination that the victim’s blood was in the garage of the Schirmer home. It wasn’t until July of 2008 that the coroner amended the Betty Schirmer’s death certificate to read death by homicide.
Apparently, the former Pastor of Reeders United Methodist Church had forgotten the Fifth of Ten Commandments. The criminal courts of the land refer to that one as “Murder One.”