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Former Pastor Charged With Homicide In Wife's Death

By Katie Shank
Published On: Aug 18 2011 11:36:37 AM CDT
Updated On: Sep 13 2010 04:26:39 AM CDT
POCONO TWP., Pa. -

A former pastor whose first wife died under suspicious circumstances is now charged with killing his second wife and staging a car accident to cover it up.

Arthur Schirmer, 62, of Reeders, Monroe County, who served as pastor at Reeders United Methodist Church for seven years until he resigned in 2008, was arraigned on criminal homicide charges this morning in the death of his wife, Betty.

Police said Schirmer told them he was driving with his wife on July 15, 2008 when a deer crossed their path on Route 715 in Pocono Township, Monroe County, causing him to lose control of the car and his wife's head to hit the windshield.

Betty Jean, 56, died the next day at Lehigh Valley Hospital near Allentown.

Her death was initially ruled an accident, but police said the suicide of a man whose wife was having an affair with Arthur Schirmer prompted them to reopen the investigation in November 2008.

Today, police said they arrested Schirmer at the home he shared with the woman who's husband killed himself inside the church.

Police said another look at the case revealed the crash involving Schirmer and his wife was minor and took place at a low speed.

A forensic pathologist and the Lehigh County coroner also determined that Betty Jean had been bleeding before the crash. Her death was ruled a homicide.

Police also said their search of the church parsonage turned up Betty Jean's blood in the garage.

Schirmer's attorney said his client denied foul play and gave explanations to his wife's injuries and to the blood found in the garage.

"I always had this weird feeling he wasn't always telling the truth," said parishioner Darla Vogt. "I'm happy people are seeing through. I think he had something to do with his first wife, too."

Police in Lebanon County are now re-examining that case. According to court records, Schirmer's first wife died as a result of a fall down a flight of stairs at the couple's home in 1999.

Police said Schirmer once served as a pastor at the Bethany United Methodist Church in Lebanon, as well as at the United Methodist Middle Creek Church in Weissport, Carbon County and the Marietta Bainbridge United Methodist Church in Marietta, Lancaster County.

He is currently in the Monroe County Correctional Facility.