A minister who had at one time served Methodist churches in Lehighton and Weissport has been charged with murdering his second wife in 2008 in Monroe County. An investigation has also been opened regarding the death of his first wife in Lebanon in 1999.
Rev. Arthur Burton Schirmer, 62, who is retired as a pastor, was arraigned Monday morning in front of District Judge Thomas E. Olsen of Tannersville on charges of murder and fabricating or tampering with physical evidence. Schirmer was lodged in Monroe County Prison.
Olsen scheduled a preliminary hearing on Sept. 28 at 1 p.m.
It was originally believed that Schirmer's second wife, Betty Jean Schirmer, 56, died in a car accident on July 15, 2008, on Route 715. At the time, Betty Jean was in the front passenger seat and the pastor was driving. Schirmer at the time told state police that a deer ran into his path and he struck a guide rail.
Betty Jean died the following day at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest. Her death was ruled an accident as a result of blunt force head trauma.
Police now believe Betty Jean was initially injured in the garage of the parsonage of Reeder's United Methodist Church, where her husband was pastor, then placed in the car.
He was arrested yesterday by state police at Fern Ridge barracks and charged with his wife's death.
The Lehigh County Coroner's Office has also changed the manner of her death from accident to homicide.
The pastor's first wife, Jewel Schirmer, died in April 1999 at Hershey Medical Center. She sustained a head injury when she fell down a flight of stairs in the home in Lebanon.
At the time, Rev. Schirmer was pastor of Bethany United Methodist Church in Lebanon where he had served for 22 years.
Lebanon County District Attorney David Arnold confirmed yesterday, "The case has been reopened. We are actively reinvestigating that case."
He said, "If anyone has information about that case, we'd love to hear from them."
Suspicions in the case were apparently heightened after a suicide in October 2008, when Joseph Musante of Reeders, killed himself in the church. It was learned at that time that Rev. Schirmer had been involved in an extramarital affair with Musante's wife, who worked in the church office at the time.
State police, in their investigation, reportedly found the blood of Betty Jean in the parsonage garage and also determined that when the Schirmer accident occurred, the car was traveling 18-22 miles-per-hour, not 45-55 miles per hour as had been reported to them by the pastor.
He married Betty Jean in June 2001, two years after Jewel had died.
Schirmer still visited Lebanon County periodically and performed with the male musical group, The Bethany Gospel Boys.
In the fall of 2009, he was a guest preacher at Bethany United Methodist Church.
An obituary of Betty Jean Schirmer says that he served in appointments in Big Creek, Franklin Township; Lehighton, and Weissport.
Betty Jean was a board member of the Pleasant Valley Ecumenical Network at the time of her death.