Murder suspect once worked as census trainer
A minister in Reeders accused of killing his wife in July 2008 and then trying to cover it up with a car accident, left his parish "under complaint," his denominational bishop said. She added that he no longer is a Methodist minister.
Arthur B. Schirmer, 62, former pastor of the Reeders United Methodist Church in Monroe County, was charged Monday with criminal homicide and tampering or fabricating physical evidence. He is being held without bail in Monroe County Prison.
In addition, it is alleged that a parishioner committed suicide in the church in October 2008, while Schirmer was pastor there. The suicide occurred in Schirmer's office. Police are accusing Rev. Schirmer of having an affair with the wife of the individual who killed himself, Joseph Musante.
Besides serving as a preacher for 40 years, Schirmer most recently worked as a census trainer and field operation supervisor. He held the training sessions at the Summit Hill Municipal Building in March of this year.
Bishop Peggy Johnson of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church had a prepared statement yesterday. In it, she expressed sadness for the congregation of Rev. Schirmer.
She said in her statement that Schirmer "withdrew from the United Methodist Church under complaint, and surrendered his ministerial credentials (resigned). He is no long a minister in the United Methodist Church."
She noted that beginning in 1970, Rev. Schirmer had served the following appointments: Big Creek, Franklin Township; Ebenezer UMC in Lehighton, Timothy UMC in Middle Creek, Ebenezer UMC in Weissport, Ludwig UMC in Bainbridge, and Bethany UMC in Lebanon.
"We mourn the death of Mrs. Schirmer, who led an active role in the ministry of Reeders UMC; her loss was a deep loss to the congregation. We are deeply saddened by this difficult situation," said the bishop.
Bishop Johnson added, "The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference and Reeders United Methodist Church have fully cooperated with authorities throughout their investigation.
"This has been a difficult time for Reeders United Methodist Church as it continues its important ministry in the Reeders Community.
"Please keep Mr. Schirmer and his family in your prayers. Please also keep Rev. Timothy Fisher, pastor of Reeders UMC, the Reeders congregation and community, and all affected by this situation in your prayers."
Schirmer allegedly killed his second wife, Betty Jean Schirmer, 56.
Officials are also looking into the death of his first wife, Jewel Schirmer, who died in April 1999 from head injuries after falling down the stairs in their Lebanon home. Reports state Jewel was "discovered by the defendant lying in a pool of blood at the bottom of their basement steps."
She sustained a skull fracture and multiple impact injuries on and about her head and face. There also were numerous abrasions and contusions on her upper body and arms.
Police said, "Jewel Schirmer's manner of death remains undetermined and her death is being investigated by authorities in Lebanon County."
He married Betty Jean two years later and they moved to Monroe County.
State police at Fern Ridge allege that on July 15, 2008, at about 1:50 a.m., Schirmer was traveling on Route 715 with his wife in the passenger seat when his car struck a guiderail.
Although he reportedly had a cell phone, he never called 911. He told investigators at the time that he was en route to a hospital because his wife was experiencing jaw pain. He told police he was traveling 45-55 miles per hour when the accident happened.
She died in Lehigh Valley Hospital Salisbury Township the following day. At the time, the Lehigh County Coroner's Office ruled that death was caused by injuries sustained in the accident.
Police reopened the investigation after the suicide in the church. They then determined that the crash "was minor in nature" and occurred while Schirmer was traveling 18-22 miles per hour. In addition, they said Betty Jean had been bleeding prior to the accident.
Betty Jean's blood was found in the garage area of the parsonage, police said.
The police report states, "A forensic pathologist and the Lehigh County Coroner reviewed the case and confirmed that the severe injuries sustained by the victim would not have been the result of this low speed crash. The coroner amended the victim's manner of death to homicide.
The affidavit says Betty Jean had sustained multiple skull and facial fractures as well as a laceration to the right side of her head. In addition, the victim suffered brain injury.
Her remains were cremated.