Ex-Pa. Pastor Charged In Wife’s Death Defended
LEBANON, Pa. (AP) – Relatives of a former Methodist clergyman convicted of having killed his second wife in eastern Pennsylvania and now facing trial on charges of having killed his first wife in central Pennsylvania are speaking out in his defense.
Arthur Schirmer’s daughters, his younger brother, his fianceé and others say the former pastor of Lebanon’s Bethany United Methodist Church is not the calculating monster portrayed by prosecutors but a loving grandfather, a compassionate father and a doting husband.
“Everyone sitting in this room, if I can speak for them, believes that he is 100 percent innocent of the charges that have been filed against him,” Schirmer’s fianceé Cindy Moyer told the Lebanon Daily News during a recent interview with relatives in North Cornwall Township.
Schirmer, 64, is charged in Lebanon County in the 1999 death of Jewel Schirmer, his wife of more than three decades. He has vowed to appeal last month’s conviction in Monroe County in the July 2008 death of 56-yearold Betty Schirmer. Prosecutors said he killed her with a crowbar and then staged a low-speed accident to try to conceal the crime. He has said that Jewel Schirmer fell down the basement stairs while vacuuming, but prosecutors say that accident was also staged.
Schirmer’s daughters, Amy Wolfgang and Julie Campbell, and other relatives said they were stunned that the jury reached a verdict after only 90 minutes following the weeklong trial.
“It was surreal, horrific,” Julie Campbell said. “When we knew they were coming back so quick, we all looked at each other with fear. ... It was shocking, disappointing.”
The two portray a happy childhood in which they performed in their parents’ music ministry, their parents were happily married and there was never a sign of violence in the relationship. Both were grown and living outside the home when their mother died in 1999. They say they were disappointed to learn during the trial that their father had been unfaithful, but that hasn’t shaken their faith of his innocence.
“Having an affair does not make you a murderer,” said Wolfgang, a kindergarten teacher.
The sisters also said they believed that their father’s calm demeanor after his wives’ death stemmed from his pastoral profession. They said he comforted them when their mother died and they saw him playing the same role for Betty Schirmer’s relatives when she was in the hospital.
But in a private moment with Betty, Wolfgang said, she saw her father break down.
“I did see him at Betty’s bedside sobbing,” she said. “I mean, I saw him in great distress there, more than at the hospital immediately with my mom, not that I didn’t see him very distraught many times about my mom.”
The sisters reject the idea that they are betraying their mother by supporting their father.
“I would say, my mom would fight for my dad,” Wolfgang said. “If someone is going to falsely accuse him of something – he did not do anything to my mother. He didn’t.”
Campbell echoed the sentiment.
“If we thought, for a second, that our dad killed our mother, we wouldn’t be supporting him,” she said. “But we know he did not hurt her. It is not the way they presented it. We are honoring our mother.”
Amy’s husband, Charlton Wolfgang, said he believes Jewel Schirmer would be distressed by the turn of events.
“She was a wonderful mother-in-law, and to think they are saying these horrible things about my fatherin law, it just tears me up inside,” he said. “We all miss her so much. And to think now they are trying to take him from us, too. It is just devastating.”
Family members said they speak with Schirmer frequently, and Moyer, who said she drives to Monroe County each week for a halfhour visit with him, said he is holding up as well as he can.
“He says he is an innocent man who will fight until his last breath,” she said.