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Ex-pastor pleads no contest to wife's '99 murder - abc27 WHTM

Ex-pastor pleads no contest to wife's '99 murder

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LEBANON, Pa. (WHTM) -

A former pastor serving a life sentence for killing his second wife has pleaded no contest to charges he murdered his first wife in Lebanon County 15 years ago.

Arthur Burton "AB" Schirmer, 66, entered the plea Monday to a count of third-degree murder and faces a penalty of 20 to 40 years when he is sentenced.

His first wife, Jewel Schirmer, died a day after she suffered a skull fracture and injuries to her head and face after she supposedly fell down a flight of stairs at the couple's North Lebanon Township home in April 1999.

Schirmer, who was pastor at Bethany United Methodist Church in Lebanon, told police he found his wife's body in a pool of blood at the bottom of the parsonage basement stairs.

The manner of her death was listed as "undetermined," but the investigation was reopened following the death of Schirmer's second wife, Betty Jean, in 2008 and Jewel Schirmer's death was ruled a homicide in 2012.

Emergency responders told an investigating grand jury that they found a cord wrapped around Jewel Schirmer's foot.

The grand jurors in their presentment said they thought it was odd that Schirmer disappeared after EMS crews responded to the home, and that he didn't go to the hospital to visit Jewel until much later because he said he was cleaning up her blood.

Investigators said Jewel Schirmer's injuries were similar to those of Betty Jean Schirmer, who died died of brain injuries that included multiple skull and facial fractures following a car crash about a mile from the couple's home in Monroe County,

Mr. Schirmer, who was then serving as pastor of Reeders United Methodist Church, told police he swerved to miss a deer and struck a guardrail at 40-45 miles per hour.

Authorities reopened the crash investigation after a suicide in Schirmer's church office. According to court documents, Schirmer had been having an extra-marital affair with the suicide victim's wife, who was his administrative assistant.

Police said they soon received several complaints about the deaths of Schirmer's wives.

The investigation determined that the crash occurred at a speed of less than 25 miles per hour and could not have caused Betty Jean Schirmer's severe injuries, police said in court papers.

Court records state that there was minimal damage to the guardrail and to the Schirmer's 2007 Chrysler PT Cruiser, in which the airbags had not deployed.

Police added in the papers that while Mr. Schirmer appeared to be unhurt, his wife was unconscious, having difficulty breathing, and had bled throughout the inside of the vehicle.

Schirmer said he was driving his wife to a hospital for some type of jaw pain and gave several contradicting accounts as to why she was not wearing a seat belt, including a game she was playing to see how long it would take for the seatbelt warning buzzer to stop, according to court documents.

He also admitted he did not call 911, even though he had a working cell phone, documents state.

Police later served a search warrant at the church parsonage and found Betty Jean Schirmer's blood on the floor of the garage near the top of the stairway, including a large blood stain where the passenger side of the car would have been, according to court papers.

Schirmer pleaded guilty to charges of criminal homicide and tampering with evidence last year.

 

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