Wives of a Pennsylvania pastor die in suspicious accidents: Was it coincidence or murder?

An apparent suicide at a small-town church exposes secrets, betrayal and questions about two more deaths

Produced by Sarah Prior, Lauren Clark and Chuck Stevenson


It was October 2008 when Rose Cobb learned of her brother's death.

"It was a horrible, shocking, traumatic thing to have somebody not only shoot themselves, but shoot themselves in a church," Rose Cobb said in tears. "I couldn't believe it."

Joe Musante died in the church office -- sitting at the pastor's desk—a single gunshot wound to the head.  He left behind his wife of 18 years and two children.

"My brother was dead and I didn't know what happened to him," said Cobb.

Soon Cobb learned there were a lot of things she didn't know. When she arrived in the tiny town of Reeders, Pa., for her brother's memorial service, she noticed how quiet things were at Joe and his wife, Cindy's, house.

"And I asked Cindy about that.  I said, 'How come there's nobody here?'" she said. "That's when she told us what was happening."

Cindy told Cobb what everyone else seemed to know: that she had fallen in love with her boss, A.B. Schirmer who was the family's pastor.

"First I asked her … 'Are you having an affair?' And she said, 'Well, that depends on what you mean by an affair. And then she explained that is was emotional," Cobb explained.

"What did you make of it?" Schlesinger asked.

"Well, I mean, I guess I just felt like she just was so in love with him," she replied.

It was the last thing Cobb expected to be talking about to her brother's widow on the eve of his memorial service.

"She was very giddy," Cobb explained. "Giddy. Yeah, very childlike.

"It's a strange timing for that sort of thing," Schlesinger commented.

"Yeah," she agreed.

Cobb was learning a lot about her sister-in-law's new boyfriend, Arthur Burton Schirmer, who most people called A.B. Cindy told her that three months before Joe's death, Pastor Schirmer's wife, Betty, died after a car crash.

"I said, 'what happened?' And she said, 'Well you know … a deer ran out in front of the road.  He swerved to miss the deer and – and hit the bridge or something like that, and she ended up dying,'" Cobb explained.

Rose was suspicious of all the deaths surrounding Pastor Schirmer. She dug deeper and learned Betty was Schirmer's second wife. His first wife, Jewel, had also died suddenly.

"She said, 'Oh, she fell down some stairs.' You know something about a sweeper or something," Cobb said.  Really? She dies from falling down the stairs? And then the second wife dies from being in a car accident where the deer never even hit the car? It's like what happened?"

"It just struck me as funny that so many bad things was happening to him," she continued.

And imagine what Samantha Musante had to deal with. When she discovered her mother was having an affair with her pastor.

"She was my best friend. She took me to all the horse shows and she loved horses just as much as I did," she explained. "I kinda felt betrayed that I found something like this out."

Samantha was just 16 when she found those text messages between her mother and Pastor Schirmer.

"Were they that explicit that you knew what was going on?" Schlesinger asked Samantha.

"There was no doubt. It wasn't 'I love you in Christ' type of text message," she replied. "Not something that you'd expect your employer to be sending you."

"Or your pastor, presumably," Schlesinger added.

"Yeah," said Samantha. She was afraid her father would be crushed. Joe was struggling with his own troubles and had turned to the church for comfort.

"My dad had struggled with alcoholism his entire life.  He finally decided he had to get it together so we started going to church," she explained.

Joe was a carpenter and worked hard repairing the church—not realizing his own home was falling apart.  Samantha did what she could to end the affair.

"I ended up sending A.B. an email from a fake email account, telling him that, you know, someone knew about what he was doing and that he should stop," she said.

 But Samantha's plan didn't work. Cindy and A.B. figured out who sent the email.

"They took me into his office and told me that I was wrong, that nothing was going on and how dare I accuse them of an affair," she explained.

"What did you say to them?" Schlesinger asked.

"OK," she replied. "You're talking to your mother and the pastor of your church and they're telling you something, and who are you to disagree?"

Samantha didn't really believe them. But she kept quiet until her father started asking questions. Samantha told her dad she was pretty sure Cindy and A.B. were having an affair.

"And then he said, 'Does she love him?' And I just said, 'I think so.' That's probably one of the most horrible things that you can hear," said Samantha.

Asked how her father reacted, Samantha told Schlesinger, "He didn't have a lot to say but I can tell he was devastated."

Joe confronted Cindy and she promised to end the affair. But he soon discovered Cindy was making secret phone calls to the pastor. The day before Joe died, Cindy took the kids to her sister's house and refused to allow anyone to answer Joe's calls.

"My dad had called several times. My mom told me I shouldn't answer my phone," said Samantha.

The next morning, Samantha checked her messages. Her father had left a voicemail.

"He said, 'If you love me at all, please call me back,'" Samantha said of the message. "That was the last time that I heard from him."

That same morning, Joe Musante was found dead, slumped over the pastor's desk. Joe had built that desk with his own hands.

"I didn't trust what was going on.  Did he really kill himself?" Cobb asked.

As Cobb saw it, Joe was now the third dead body linked to one shady pastor. She alerted the bishop to A.B.'s affair and Schirmer was forced to resign. But Cobb also felt she had to call the police.

Detective Jim Wagner of the Pocono Township Police Department was assigned to investigate.

"There were just … too many red flags to ignore," said Wagner, who also believed there was more to this story.  "I suspected that it was very possible for Joe's death to be at the hands of Mr. Schirmer and or Cindy because it made it very convenient for them to be together."

DETAILS OF BETTY'S UNTIMELY DEATH

"Joe discovered that his wife and Mr. Schirmer were having an affair. And how convenient that Joe was now gone," said Det. Wagner.

To the Pennsylvania State Police, Joe Musante's death had looked like a suicide. But Det. Wagner wanted another look at the evidence. And it seemed to hold up. 

"There were no blood stains out of place… There was glass fragments found on the bottoms of his shoes which are consistent with him breaking the glass, entering and stepping in the glass," he explained.

And it turned out, Pastor A.B. Schirmer and Musante's wife, Cindy -- the two people who might have had a motive to kill Joe -- had airtight alibis.

"A.B. was an hour away and his alibi checked out and Cindy also had an alibi and she was with the children," said Det. Wagner.

Wagner agreed with state police: Joe Musante's death really was a suicide.

"They said he killed himself and I accepted that he did," said Rose Cobb.

There was no longer any question about how her brother died, but Cobb had a lot of questions about the other deaths that surrounded Pastor Schirmer.

"I thought it was strange that a man loses two wives in a relatively short period of time," Wagner said. "It certainly needed to be investigated thoroughly."

So Detective Wagner turned his investigation to the death of Schirmer's second wife, Betty, who died about three months before Joe's suicide.

"How was Betty's death classified?" Schlesinger asked Wagner.

"It was classified as an accident due to a motor vehicle collision. And the coroner determined that no autopsy would be necessary. And Betty's Schirmer's body was cremated the very next day," he replied. The case had been closed.


betty.jpg
Betty and A.B. Schirmer
Tina Fultz
 

It all began in the early in the morning of July 15, 2008. Schirmer said he had to rush his wife, Betty, to the hospital with jaw pain. 

"Mr. Schirmer told the responding officers that he was travelin' 50 to 55 miles an hour – when a deer jumped out in the roadway," Wagner said. "And he went swerving through the roadway, lost control, and struck the guardrail."

Stan Dickerson was driving home when he spotted Pastor Schirmer's PT Cruiser alongside the guardrail and stopped to help.

"I asked him, I said, 'Are you OK?  What's going on? What happened?'  He said, 'Yeah.'  He said, 'I'm -- I'm fine.  But I don't think my wife is,'" Dickerson said.

"The odd thing was his attitude," Dickerson continued. "He turns on the light, there's a lot of blood in the car. She's obviously hurt… she's seemingly unconscious. And, it was odd, he -- he seemed indifferent."

"Did you ask him if he had called 911?" Schlesinger asked.

"Yes," Dickerson replied. "… that was one of the first things I had asked him … and he just said, 'No, I haven't.'"

So Dickerson called 911:

Operator: 911 what is your emergency?

Dickerson: Somebody hit a guard rail… There's a woman here, she's hurt. There's two people in the car but… uh… the guy seems OK.

Ambulances arrived within minutes, and Betty Schirmer was rushed to Lehigh Valley Hospital.

Julie and Amy are the daughters of Schirmer and his first wife, Jewel. Betty was their stepmother.

"What was your first thought when you heard?" Schlesinger asked Julie.

"No way. Horrible," she replied.

"I could tell he was crying and he just said, 'Amy, I don't know what to do.' I remember it was hard to hear. 'I don't know what to do,'" said Amy. 

Schirmer described Betty as his best friend. They married in 2001, about two years after Jewel died.

"It was just a relief to know that he had someone he could talk to and share with and hang out with," said Julie.

Sandy Weikel and Tina Fultz are Betty Schirmer's sisters.

"I heard 'pastor' so I was happy for her," said Weikel.

"The pastor, the nice guy, the everything … He just seemed like he was perfect for her," said Fultz.

When they got word of the accident, they rushed to their sister's side.

"I was just in shock over what Betts looked like," said Weikel.

Betty had a wound to the left side of her head, and two gashes on the right side.

"It was unbelievably sad," said Weikel.

The doctors said Betty's injuries were so grave that she would never recover. She was taken off life support the next day.

"He came out to the room where we had to wait and he just opened the doors and said, 'Betts has passed.' That's it," Tina recalled of Pastor Schirmer delivering the news.

"He wasn't crying. He wasn't --" said Weikel.

"It was just so bizarre," Fultz added.

Schirmer's daughters say their father sometimes hides his emotions.

"There were probably times where he appeared calm on the outside, but I would say inside he was a wreck. And at times, when there wasn't a crowd of people around, he was not OK," said Amy.

At the hospital, soon after Betty died, the coroner asked Pastor Schirmer for details of the accident.

"He told the coroner that the vehicle spun violently out of control, struck the guardrail, and actually hit the rear of his car, almost sounding as if the vehicle was rotating and flipping.  And Betty's body went flying about the vehicle," said Det. Wagner.

Schirmer said Betty was so badly injured because she wasn't wearing her seatbelt. The coroner's office quickly closed the case, unaware there were questions about why Betty wasn't buckled in. 

Here's what Schirmer told his daughters:

"He told me that he was wearing his seatbelt, but that she was uncomfortable and had just at that point removed her seatbelt to get more comfortable.  And that's when the deer ran out," Julie explained.

"Did that make sense to you?" Schlesinger asked.

"Yeah, I think that could happen," Julie replied. "I believe that is what happened."

But this is what Schirmer told Betty's sister:

"He told me that she didn't put her seatbelt on," Fultz told Schlesinger. "Like, immediately, I'm like, 'She always wears her seatbelt. ' …You know, 'What do you mean she didn't have her seatbelt on?' And he told me that 'Well, lately she's been doin' a little game when she gets in the car. She doesn't put her seatbelt on and she waits to we can see how far down the road before she hears the 'ding' sound.' And I said 'That is crazy.' And he said 'I know. That doesn't sound like Betts. But that's—that's what she was doing.'"

"I -- I don't get the game. Have you ever heard of that?" Schlesinger asked Det. Wagner.

"No, that's –" said Wagner.

"I don't understand. So she was trying to see if a bell would go off if she took the seatbelt off?" Schlesinger asked.

"I think Mr. Schirmer was trying to offer an explanation because the sisters knew that Betty was always wore her seatbelt," Wagner explained.

Tina Fultz and Sandy Weikel also wondered why Betty was cremated almost immediately.

"She was against cremation and then here's A.B. telling us that she chose to be cremated.  And we didn't question," said Fultz.

At the time of Betty's death, in the midst of the shock and the sadness, no one thought to ask any questions. But then Joe Musante committed suicide and suddenly, almost everything looked suspicious.

"In my opinion, a conscious person seated in that passenger seat would never sustain the kind of head trauma that Betty did," said Det. Wagner.

CLUES ABOUT THE CRASH

"Had we caught this right away, had the officers suspected some foul play in the beginning, we woulda had a lot more evidence," sad Det. Jim Wagner. 

Four months after Betty Schirmer's death, Det. Wagner began noticing things about that car crash that nobody noticed before. He looked at photos of the scene and thought something was missing.

"No skid marks … from rotating tires violently outta control," he said. "No evidence of braking whatsoever." 

And pictures of the car showed it was in remarkably good shape.

"There was a little damage to the front end of the car. … The airbags had not deployed.  … It was very obvious this was a low-speed impact," Wagner explained. "Mr. Schirmer's vehicle was actually functional. … He could've backed up and continued to drive his wife to the hospital."

"It was drivable?" Schlesinger asked.

"It was," Wagner replied.

And yet the story was Betty died in this crash.

"Betty sustained such severe head trauma that just wasn't consistent with this type of a crash," said Wagner. 

The detective was already plenty suspicious of Pastor Schirmer's story. Then he noticed there were blood stains that seemed obviously out of place.

 

 

"There were numerous … blood drops … on the seat cushion that … had a diluted or an absorbed look to it, as if she had been sitting in that blood for some length of time," said Wagner.

"Well, that would raise some questions, right?" Schlesinger asked Wagner. "If I'm sitting in a car being thrown around there might be blood all around here, but there wouldn't be blood on my seat."

"Not underneath your body, no," Wagner replied. "And the fact that it was absorbed and saturated meant that she was … placed in it."

Now, Wagner wanted to know more about the death of Schirmer's first wife, Jewel. She died in Lebanon County, Pa., and Wagner called the police there.

"I found out that … her death was in 1999.  And it was from a fall down a flight of stairs," he told Schlesinger.

 

9-schirmer-jewel.jpg
A.B. and Jewel Schirmer
Kathy Siegrist
 

Schirmer said Jewel was vacuuming the stairs when she somehow tumbled to the bottom. Doctors initially said it looked like she had a heart attack. But the medical examiner who did Jewel's autopsy back then said that can't be true.

"We have a problem," Dr. Wayne Ross explained. "The pathology was totally negative for heart disease. … And the problem is we gotta make sure this isn't homicide."

Dr. Ross also noticed something odd about Jewel's injuries. She had several skull fractures, but no other broken bones and, he says. In fact, there were no significant injuries below her neck.

Dr. Ross says if Jewel really had fallen down a flight of stairs she should have had other injuries, so he classified the cause of death as "undetermined." 

"Undetermined means it's open… and it certainly it could be a homicide," Ross explained. 

He urged investigators to look into Jewel's death, but they never did. And Schirmer's daughters have always believed their mother's death was an accident. 

"There were no questions.  I had no questions.  I wasn't questioning anything," said Amy. 

"I didn't think it was uncommon for people to fall down steps," Julie said. "And I still don't.  I think vacuuming steps with a Shop-Vac is very dangerous for anyone."

Jewel's case had been closed for nine years when Detective Wagner called and asked for the file.

"What opinion are you forming of the reverend?" Schlesinger asked.

"That he's a murderer," Wagner replied.

Partly because of what Wagner learned about Jewel's death, the investigation into Betty's death was heating up. So in December 2008, five months after Betty died, Wagner got a warrant to search the parsonage.

"We had a team … search for any evidence whatsoever of an assault … Any blood anywhere," said Wagner.

They found what they were looking for in the garage.

"As soon as I walked in the back door I saw … blood drops on the floor, on the concrete floor of the garage," said Wagner.

 

 

Wagner and his team used the chemical luminol that glows in the dark when it reacts with blood.

"The luminol actually lit up quite a bit of mysterious blood … leading to the passenger side door of the car," said Wagner.

"So there was a trail?" Schlesinger asked.

"Yes," Wagner replied.

"From the back door of the garage to the car?"

"Yes," Wagner replied. "And the blood that led to the car stopped at the car."

Tests later confirmed what Det. Wagner suspected from the beginning: the blood was Betty's.

"She was bleeding prior to getting in that car. And she was assaulted and put in that car and placed in that car seat," he explained.

While Wagner and his team were searching the parsonage, state police were interviewing Pastor Schirmer, asking about the blood. 

"First, he denies that she ever bled in the in the garage," Wagner said. "He then comes up with a story that they were moving some wood -- wood stacked in the garage that had fallen on them.  And it actually had cut both of them."

Schirmer said he and Betty were moving the wood outside and detectives did find a woodpile in the backyard.

"And at the bottom of that wood pile were some local newspapers. And the date on those local newspapers were September 2008," said Wagner.

"And that tells you what?" Schlesinger asked.

"It would [have been] impossible for Betty to have helped him move that wood because … these papers were dated after her death," Wagner replied.

One year after Betty died, detectives were still building their case. And while Schirmer had been forced to give up his job as pastor, he did not give up his relationship with Cindy, Samantha's mother.

"He started to spend the night … And he'd spend the weekend and go home," Samantha said. "And pretty soon he wasn't leaving at all."

A few months after AB moved in, Samantha moved out.

"I actually moved out on my 18th birthday," Samantha said. And that's when she found out her mother's boyfriend, the former pastor, was being investigated for murder.

"Did you ever mention to her that he could be dangerous, that maybe this was a guy to stay away from?" Schlesinger asked Samantha.

"No," she replied. "She was just so smitten with him."

Then, in the summer of 2010, Samantha received a startling text message from her mother.

"She texted me. And she said, 'A.B. bought me a ring,'" Samantha said. "And my next phone call was to the Pocono Township Police Department."

"Why did you call the police?" Schlesinger asked.

"I was worried for her safety at that point," she replied. "She was gonna be wife number three.  And the first two  … didn't have a whole lot of luck."

TESTING THE EVIDENCE 

"When Samantha contacted our office, she was fearful for her mother.  She was afraid of what would happen," said Det. Wendy Serfass of the Monroe County Pennsylvania D.A.'s office.

Detective Serfass was worried, too. Pastor Schirmer had already buried two wives and no one wanted to see if Cindy would be the third.

"I don't think [Cindy] was safe at all. I think it was a matter of time before whatever his trigger was would surface in their relationship, too," said Serfass.

It had been two years since Betty Schirmer died after the car crash.

"This case was a long time building … because there were so many gaps in time we had to fill," said Serfass.

Police decided they now had to act quickly. And so in September 2010, just a few weeks after he proposed to Cindy, the former pastor was arrested and charged with murdering Betty, wife number two.

"Who would suspect a minister of doing such, such awful things?" Det. Wagner wondered. 

The minister was locked up, but the case was not. Betty Schirmer had been cremated without an autopsy. So investigators asked Dr. Wayne Ross, who performed Jewel's autopsy in 1999, to look at Betty's medical records from the car crash.

"My most obvious thought was she had died of traumatic brain injury and it was a homicide. And how could we ultimately figure this out?" said Dr. Ross.

Dr. Ross used Betty's CAT scans to make 3D renderings of her wounds. He says the most startling thing about Betty's injuries is that they looked just like Jewel's.

"These tears are what we refer to as linear tears … and you'll notice that they're on the right side of the head, just like Jewel Schirmer," Dr. Ross explained. "Deja vu, all over again.  Here we are."

Dr. Ross says he does not believe in coincidences.

"Let's use common sense. How likely is it to have two women married to the same guy, two lacerations to the right side of the head, both dying of traumatic brain injuries … both under suspicious circumstances?  How likely is that?" Dr. Ross asked.

"Well, you tell me how likely that is," said Schlesinger.

"I think it's extremely unlikely," Ross replied.

 

 

A few months after Schirmer's arrest for Betty's murder, Dr. Ross went with investigators to the parsonage where Schirmer's first wife, Jewel, was fatally injured. They wanted to test Schirmer's story that Jewel fell down the stairs.

So they pushed crash test dummies down the stairs over and over again.

"We put chalk all over the head … to help us analyze where the head strikes occur," Dr. Ross explained.

Dr. Ross says Jewel's injuries were not caused by a fall down the stairs.

"What do you think happened to her?" Schlesinger asked.

"Well, I believe that she was beaten. And it's my conclusion she was beaten with an object … such as a pipe or maybe … crowbar, something along those lines," Dr. Ross replied.

Brandon Reish is Schirmer's attorney.

"This simply wasn't scientific … it was silly," Reish told Schlesinger. "These were bad tests.  This was junk science.  When you look at anthropomorphic test dummies being pushed down stairs -- they were not designed for this purpose. There are no scientific studies.  There's no peer reviewed articles -- there's nothing that accepts this."

"Well, but doesn't it make sort of common sense that, you know, you wouldn't push a person down the stairs to find out how she would be injured.  I mean, why not?" Schlesinger asked.

"Well, you wouldn't push --  just -- a log down the stairs to find out how a person was injured either," Reish replied. "All the test dummies showed in this case was that somebody who fell down those stairs could've hit their head multiple times. … And that's what happened -- somebody fell down the stairs, hit their head multiple times.

Still, after those tests were completed, Jewel's death certificate was officially changed— the manner of death which was undetermined was now homicide. Jewel's daughters, Amy and Julie, got the news that police now believed their father had murdered their mother.

"A detective … came to my front door to give me the news personally," Julie explained. "He said, 'Your, your mom's death has been ruled a homicide. We know she didn't die from falling down the stairs, and she didn't have a heart attack.  Here's my card.' And left. Well, I think I said, 'Thank you' and probably closed the door."

"Well, when you closed the door, what was your first thought?" Schlesinger asked.

"I was angry. I'm still angry. You can tell. I'm angry. Because … I don't believe that.  I don't believe that he can know she didn't fall down the steps and that her injuries aren't from that.  And I just— I don't believe that," she replied.

"I have to ask you.  What about the medical examiner who said that -- that both your mother and Betty had remarkably similar wounds to their heads," Schlesinger asked Julie.

"Oh… Well, I actually don't believe him," she replied. "One man … is saying that."

"But he's the medical examiner," said Schlesinger.

"I'm sorry. I don't believe what he has said.  I just don't," Julie replied. "I read something where it said that my mom had 12 blows to her head, and I do not believe that to be true."

But it is true -- at least according to the autopsy. Dr. Ross says he found 14 areas of impact to Jewel's head. And in September 2012, A.B. Schirmer, already in custody for Betty's murder, was indicted for murdering wife number one, Jewel.

"The prosecutors and the police have asked repeatedly, 'What are the chances that two women married to the same guy … would die in similar fashion?' Is this a coincidence?" Schlesinger asked Reish.

"It's a coincidence," Reish replied. "People die, coincidences happen, accidents happen.  They happen every day."

Schirmer would be tried for killing Betty first.  Prosecutor Mike Mancuso knew this would be a tough case.

"There's a lot of unknowns out there with the case 'cause it was circumstantial, entirely circumstantial. So as a prosecutor building a case like that, you're not exactly sure that all the little pieces of evidence you need are gonna be admissible in court," he explained.

And there's one big chunk of evidence Mancuso wants to present at Betty's trial: the circumstances of Jewel's death.  Schirmer's attorney is fighting to keep all of that out.

"It's not fair," Reish said. "It's not meant to get before the jury. Wasn't anything that was proved.  It still has yet to be proven. … Even the allegations have nothing to do with this case."

"That's hogwash. … it's relevant," Mancuso said, "as proof of motive, identity, and in this case, most importantly, lack of accident."

And the judge agrees. The jury will hear about Jewel's death. Now the fallen pastor will place his hand on the Bible one more time -- this time to swear, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

THE PASTOR TAKES THE STAND

On Jan. 8, 2013, almost four-and-a-half years after Joe Musante's suicide started all the investigations, the former pastor is going on trial first for Betty Schirmer's murder.

Prosecutor Mike Mancuso is ready to present all his evidence against the man he has called "the Sinister Minister."

"In this case there was such a pattern of deception with [the] Reverend Schirmer. His whole life was based on deceit, pretense -- wolf in sheep's clothing or -- basically, a wolf in shepherd's clothing is more apt," said Mancuso.

"I think that … he finds vulnerable people and he grooms them for himself," Musante's sister, Rose Cobb, said. "And he gets pleasure out of this."

"You're not describing a pastor?  You're describing a predator?" Schlesinger asked.

"Right," said Cobb.

"You think that's what he is?" Schlesinger asked.

"I know that's what he is," Cobb replied.

Even defense attorney Brandon Reish concedes that his client was far from the perfect pastor.

"He hasn't been the best person. He's not a murderer," said Reish.

"Nobody ever says how much he loved his wives, but he did.  And he does. … And he misses them," said Julie.

"You used the present tense.  He still does?" Schlesinger asked.

"I'm sure he still loves them," she replied. "Absolutely."

 

 

No cameras are allowed in the court as the prosecution works through the evidence: the blood trail in the garage, the saturated blood on the car seat, and coins that somehow remained neatly stacked on the car's console after what was supposed to be a violent crash to avoid that deer.

"You'd think in 55 -- 45-to-55 mile-an-hour crash, the change would have went all over the car -- or it wouldn't just kinda pop out and lay in the place it had been," said Det. Serfass, who found Schirmer's choice of where to store his wife's remains peculiar.

"We learned … that the Reverend Schirmer had chosen the urn for Betty and he chose one with a deer on it," Serfass told Schlesinger. "It was a mountain scene … And one of the things I found odd was he remarked, 'Oh look, a deer, isn't that funny.'"

But Samantha Musante is the emotional centerpiece of the prosecution's case with her moving testimony about how she discovered the affair between her mother and her pastor.

"I stared at him … for most of my testimony," she recalled. "Testifying actually felt empowering -- to be able to look him in the eye after so many years and … what he did to our -- to my family."

"It was amazing, her composure. I've never— I've rarely seen a witness who you can't take your eyes off of," Serfass said of Samantha in court.

Then, in a surprise move, A.B. Schirmer takes the stand in his own defense.

"The first thing I saw was that he actually moved his chair and positioned it to face the jury.  Now only professional witnesses do that," Mancuso commented. "But he did that." 

"He did well," Reish said. "He's always been consistent.  'This is what happened.' …when you look at him and you see how he testifies, is he going to show emotions? Is he gonna break down? Is he – is he going to cry? He didn't."

"He portrayed this as the most outrageous crash," said Serfass.

"Do you think the jury was believing him?" Schlesinger asked.

"No," Serfass replied. "I think he was one of our best witnesses."

"The defendant was one of your best witnesses?" Schlesinger asked.

"I think so," said Serfass.

The jury deliberates for just 90 minutes.

"Did you look at them?" Schlesinger asked Reish of the jury.

"I think I watched them come in.  Unhappy juries usually mean guilty," Reish replied.

"And how did they look?" Schlesinger asked.

"They looked unhappy," Reish replied.

Reish read them right. A.B. Schirmer, a pastor in the past is a convict now, found guilty of murder for killing his second wife, Betty.

"The first word that came to mind was 'yes,'" said Mancuso.

"Guilty of murder in the first degree -- that carries a mandatory of life in prison without the possibility of parole," Mancuso told reporters following the verdict.

"I just hope … he suffers and I hope he is in pain and rots in there," said Betty's sister, Tina.

"I expected to be so happy. But it was actually, it was really, really difficult," Samantha said. "At the end of the day, it doesn't bring back my dad. And it doesn't bring back Betty."

"She was the absolute sweetest person ever. She never said a bad thing about anybody," said Sandy of her sister, Betty.

"How close do you think A.B. Schirmer came to getting away with murder? Schlesinger asked Det. Serfass.

"Very, very close," she replied. "If not for Rose Cobb … She put this case into a little ball and showed us from the very start what kind of person A.B. Schirmer was."

And what pushed Cobb to push the police to bring Schirmer to justice? She believes it was the memory of her brother.

"I just felt like … 'I'm only doing what he couldn't do for himself,'" she explained. "'Cause he should've fought. And he didn't."

"That's what made you call the police and stay on them?" Schlesinger asked.

"I wouldn't have done that ordinarily.  I couldn't do that," Cobb replied.

But Schirmer's daughters have never lost their faith in their father's innocence, not even after his conviction.

"I cried, and cried, and cried," Julie said. "I couldn’t believe it."

"I was frozen.  I didn't know what to do.  I just sat there," said Amy.

Samantha's mother, Cindy, who has clearly borne the stress of the trial, continues to stand by the disgraced pastor.  They never married, but she says she considers herself Schirmer's wife -- embracing his children and grandchildren as her own. 

"Cindy's a very giving person. … She spends a lot of time with all—all of our kids,' Amy said. "My daughter calls her Mimi now. Very close relationship."

But Cindy's bond with her own daughter is broken.

"What about your mother?  Are you—what's your relationship like with her now?" Schlesinger asked Samantha.

"I don't have a relationship with her," she replied. "I can't really say that she is my mother.  She is not the woman that raised me. … I wish she could see A.B. for who he really is."

Schirmer is awaiting trial for the murder of his first wife, Jewel. 

Samantha's mother, Cindy, told the court she believes "100 percent" in Schirmer's innocence.

  • Richard Schlesinger

    Correspondent, "48 Hours," "CBS Evening News"

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