Suicide Leads Cops to Nab Pennsylvania Pastor for Allegedly Murdering Second Wife

Retired Pastor Arthur Schirner has been charged with murder.

September 14, 2010, 1:32 PM

Sept. 15, 2010 — -- A grisly suicide in the office of a Pennsylvania pastor has led investigators to arrest the church leader for allegedly killing his second wife and then staging a car accident to hide it. Also under investigation is whether he played a role in the mysterious death of his first wife.

Rev. Arthur Burton Schirmer, 62, entered no plea Monday in a Tannerville, Pa., courtroom, hours after authorities arrested him at his Reeders home for the 2008 death of wife Betty, 56.

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 attorney, Brandon Reish, did not return messages left for comment but has denied his client's involvement in either death, telling ABC News' Scranton affiliate WNEP that he "anticipated that they were investigating and that we'd have to face these accusations and we're fully prepared to do so."

One of Schirmer's children, 38-year-old daughter Julie Lynn, told ABC News that she and the rest of her siblings "fully support and love our father and we believe in him."

Investigators Look Into Deaths of Rev. Arthur Schirmer's Wives

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."

The relative was not identified or made available to ABC News for comment. No charges were ever filed against Schirmer.

An autopsy of Jewel left the cause of death "undetermined," also making the investigation more difficult to complete, Wagner said.

More than nine years later, Schirmer was involved in what appeared at the time to be a car crash with his second wife. Schirmer told police at the time that he had been driving 55 mph and had 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.

But Wagner says when he began looking into the crash amid suspicion that Schirmer may have had something to do with it, he discovered blood drops in the home Schirmer shared with Betty at the time of her death. Wagner says that Dr. Zoltan Rado, the director of Vehicle Systems and Safety Program Director at Penn State University, was hired by the police department to examine photographs of the car taken after the crash. According to the police's summary of Rado's findings, the car could not have been traveling more than 15 mph at the time of the crash and that Betty's injuries "were inconsistent" with the accident.

"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," Wagner of Schirmer. "But they clearly don't know him.

"I think his [position as a pastor] certainly helped him in a sense, to use his position of power and authorities to manipulate vulnerable women," Wagner said.

"He hid behind the cloth, so to speak."

Schirmer is being held without bond at the Monroe County Correctional Center.

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