Was Pa. pastor A.B. Schirmer living a lie?
On Oct. 29, 2008, the secretary at the Reeder’s United Church in Reeders, Pa., arrived for work made found a shocking discovery.
In the pastor’s office, slumped over the desk, was the body of parishioner Joe Musante -- dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Joe Musante found dead
Musante was a carpenter, who had found comfort in the church after personal struggles. For years, he had poured himself into Reeder’s United, using his carpentry skills to repair the building. He even made the desk in the office where his body was found.
Joe Musante & family
Musante and his
wife, Cindy, far left, had two children. Their daughter, Samantha, was 16 when
her father died.
Pastor Schirmer & Cindy Musante
Weeks before Joe Musante's death, he discovered that his wife, Cindy, was having an affair. Even worse, it was with the family's trusted pastor -- A.B Schirmer, shown here with Cindy. Musante was devastated.
Joe Musante & Rose Cobb
When Rose Cobb, right, learned of her brother, Joe's, death, she couldn't believe it. She had a lot of questions about the circumstances that led up to it. "I knew that something was not right," she told "48 Hours."
A.B. and Betty Schirmer
Cobb learned that Schirmer was a widower who had recently lost his wife, Betty, in an accident.
Betty Schirmer had died three months earlier after a car crash. A.B. Schirmer said he was driving her to the hospital late at night with jaw pain, and he was going around 55 mph, when he had to swerve to avoid a deer and hit a guardrail. He had told authorities Betty wasn't wearing her seatbelt at the time. She was Schirmer'ssecond wife to die suddenly.
A.B. and Jewel Schirmer
In 1999, Schirmer's first wife, Jewel, died after falling down a flight of stairs.
Jewel Schirmer's manner of death had been ruled "undetermined" at the time by the medical examiner, but rumors had it that she had suffered a heart attack and tripped over a vacuum cleaner.
Rose Cobb contacts police
"It just struck me as funny that so many bad
things was happening to him," said Rose Cobb, so she called the Pocono Township
Police Department to take another look at the three deaths that now surrounded
Det. Jim Wagner investigates
Detective Jim Wagner of the Pocono Township Police Dept. soon ruled out any foul play in Joe Musante's death. But he did notice something odd in the photographs from Betty Schirmer's car crash.
Investigating Pastor Schirmer's story
According to Det. Wagner, the story that A.B. Schirmer had been driving around 55 mph at the time he swerved to avoid the deer didn't make any sense. There were no marks to indicate swerving on the road, the car's air bags hadn't even deployed, and the car was still drivable after the crash.
Taking a closer look at the crash
As Wagner took a closer look at the crash photos, he also saw that the blood drops on Betty's seat had "a diluted or an absorbed look to it, as if she had been sitting in that blood for some length of time."
Blood leads to more questions
Because there was so much absorbed blood on the seat, Det. Wagner believed that Betty Schirmer was bleeding before she got in the car.
Betty Schimer's death investigated
The investigation into Betty Schirmer's death was officially re-opened, and the Monroe County, Pa., District Attorney's Office started building a case against A.B. Schirmer. But they needed more.
Clues found at the parsonage
Investigators obtained a permit to search the
parsonage where A.B. and Betty Schirmer had lived before her death. Almost
immediately, Det. Wagner noticed what looked to him like blood drops on the
floor of the garage.
Luminol sheds light on case
The chemical luminol glows in the dark when it interacts with blood. When investigators applied it to the garage floor, it lit up a path.
Diagram of Schirmer garage
During surveillance of A.B. Schirmer, investigators saw that he always pulled his car into the garage the same way, and they made a diagram of where the bloodstains would be compared to the car. The path lined up to the passenger's side door of the car. "And the blood that led to the car, stopped at the car," said Wagner.
Pastor Schirmer stands by story
At the same time that the parsonage was being searched, investigators brought A.B. Schirmer into the State Police barracks to be interviewed. He maintained his story about the crash, but when asked about the blood in the garage, he explained that months earlier, Betty had cut herself moving a stack of wood from the garage to the yard.
Checking the woodpile
Officers searched for a woodpile in the yard to corroborate Schirmer's story, and did find one.
Newspaper found in woodpile
Officers also found a newspaper at the base of the woodpile, dated Sept. 21, 2008, two months after Betty's death. To investigators, it signaled that it would have been impossible for Betty to have cut herself moving the woodpile, and that A.B. Schirmer was lying.
Pastor Schimer charged with murder
On Sept. 13, 2010, A.B. Schirmer was arrested for Betty Schirmer's murder. Authorities in nearby Lebanon County, Pa., were also putting together a case against Schirmer for the murder of his first wife, Jewel.
Medical examiner compares injuries
The medical examiner who looked at both cases compared the wounds that Betty and Jewel Schirmer died from, and it was his opinion that they died of remarkably similar injuries. "Deja vu all over again. Here we are," he said.
Pastor found guilty in Betty's death
A.B. Schirmer went to trial for Betty's murder in January 2013. The jury deliberated for just 90 minutes before returning with a guilty verdict. He was sentenced to life in prison, without parole.
A mission in memory of brother
Authorities say that if it wasn't for Rose Cobb asking those questions about her brother, Joe Musante's death, Schirmer would not have been brought to justice. Cobb says it was Joe's memory that pushed her on. "I just felt like… I'm only doing what he couldn't do for himself," she said.