(NEW YORK) — Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Monday for Pastor Arthur Schirmer, who is accused of killing his second wife and then staging a car accident to hide it.
Schirmer, 64, also faces a second trial at a later date for the death of his first wife. He has said he is innocent of all charges.
In 2008, the pastor and his wife, Betty, were involved in what appeared at the time to be a car crash. Schirmer told police at the time that he had been driving 55 mph and swerved to miss a deer, causing him to drive off the road, according to a police affidavit obtained by ABC News.
Schirmer also said at the time that his wife’s head had come forward and struck the windshield, according to the affidavit. Betty died a day later and her body was cremated at the request of Schirmer.
It wasn’t until a grisly suicide in 2010 inside Schirmer’s office that authorities decided to revisit the case of Betty’s death and arrest the pastor.
The man who broke in and shot himself at the desk in Schirmer’s office at the Reeders United Methodist Church, Joseph Mustante, was the husband of the pastor’s secretary, Cynthia Mustante, Poconos Township Police Detective James Wagner said.
Mustante’s suicide was prompted by the discovery that his wife and the pastor had apparently been having an affair, Wagner said. He was alone at the time of his death.
Investigators looking into the suicide say that several church parishioners had concerns about the deaths of Schirmer’s two wives.
“That suicide eventually exposed the affair publicly and subsequent to that, questions arose about the loss of [Schirmer's] wives and his character became questionable,” Wagner said.
Relaunching the investigation into the two deaths, Wagner said he quickly suspected that “foul play existed, and the car crash was staged,” allegedly, by Schirmer. Wagner said investigators also believed there was something “suspicious” about the first wife’s death, a marriage that investigators had not known about prior to the suicide.
Schirmer’s first wife, Jewel, died in April 1999 from a traumatic brain injury after she purportedly fell down a flight of stairs in Lebanon, Pa., Wagner said. Lebanon is about 100 miles southwest of Reeders, where Schrimer later moved with his second wife.
At the time of Jewel’s death, Wagner said, a relative told police that he suspected Schirmer may have had a hand in his wife’s death but that the investigation was “never completed.”
On Dec. 11, 2012 — more than 13 years after Jewel died — a Lebanon County judge ruled Schirmer would be tried for her murder.
When investigators looked at Betty’s death, they saw inconsistencies, Wagner said.
“There was no airbag deployment and it simply looked like a car that had driven off the road at a very low speed,” Wagner said. “It didn’t match the injuries to [Betty's head].”
“I know there are people out there who probably know him and feel like there is absolutely no way he would be capable of doing this,” said Wagner of Schirmer. “But they clearly don’t know him.”
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