How Did They Die? Who Killed Them?

NBC’s ‘Dateline: Fallen’ chronicles how Jewel and Betty Schirmer died seemingly accidental deaths in April 1999 and July 2008 in Pennsylvania. When the authorities launched subsequent investigations into their untimely demise, they were shocked to learn foul play was involved in both cases. If you’re interested in learning more about the double murder, including how they died and who killed them, we’ve you covered. Let’s begin then, shall we?

How Did Jewel and Betty Schirmer Die?

Jewel Verta Behney Schirmer was born to Eldion R Behney and Esther N. Levengood Behney in Kleinfeltersville in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, on October 30, 1948. She met Arthur Burton “A.B.” Schirmer while they were 20-year-old students at Messiah College in southeast central Pennsylvania. They married in 1968, and A.B. served as the pastor of Bainbridge and Marietta United Methodist churches from 1975-78. He and Jewel sang duets at the annual Rawlinsville Camp Meeting in southern Lancaster County.

A.B. and Jewel Schirmer

They first came to the two-week-long summer gathering in 1975 as youth evangelists and returned later, in the 1980s, with their son and two daughters. Jewel played the piano and directed a choir during the decade they served the camp, mainly from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s. Later his children joined the gospel group billed as the “Singing Schirmer Family.” After serving the two Lancaster County churches, she and A.B. moved to Lebanon in southeast central Pennsylvania after being transferred to Bethany United Methodist Church in 1978.

A.B. and Jewel lived in the church parsonage, and hence it was shocking when the 50-year-old pastor returned home from jogging at 2:15 pm on April 23, 1999, to discover his wife lying unconscious at the foot of the basement stairs, bleeding from the head. Panicking, he called 911, and she was rushed to the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, where she died the following day. The Lebanon County Coroner’s Office performed the autopsy to find the barefooted Jewel, 50, had an electrical cord from a Shop Vac wrapped around one leg.

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According to reports, she had suffered a fractured skull and numerous bruises on her upper body. While the forensic pathologist reported she had died from a traumatic brain injury, they ruled her manner of death as “undetermined” because they believed her injuries seemed too severe to have been caused by a fall down a flight of steps. A contemporary police affidavit mentioned the death as an accident caused by an alleged fall down a flight of stairs of the parsonage she shared with her erstwhile husband.

North Lebanon Township police conducted a preliminary investigation into Jewel’s death and filed no criminal charges then because of insufficient evidence. Betty Jean (née Shertzer) Schirmer was born to Jean A.  Shertzer and the late James D. Shertzer in Hershey, Pennsylvania, on June 28, 1952. The 49-year-old music teacher married A.B. in 2001 when he became pastor of the United Methodist Church in Reeders, an eastern Pennsylvania town in Monroe County. She had a son, Nathaniel Martin Novack, from a previous relationship.

A.B. and Betty Schirmer

Motorists driving along State Route 715 — a wooded, two-lane highway not far from Reeders — saw a PT Cruiser sitting on the shoulder of the road next to a guardrail on July 15, 2008. They called 911 after finding Betty, 56, in the blood-soaked front passenger seat with severe bruising on the right side of her face. She was unconscious and experiencing difficulty in breathing. The vehicle showed minimal damage, and A.B., who was in the driver’s seat, was uninjured. A helpful passerby called 911, and Betty was rushed to the Lehigh Valley Hospital.

She died the following day at the hospital in Salisbury Township after sustaining a brain injury, multiple skull and facial fractures, and possibly to the vertebrae in her neck. However, her remains were cremated at her husband’s request before the local authorities could conduct an autopsy. A.B. told the police he was driving his wife for treatment after she allegedly complained of jaw pain on July 15. He claimed he was traveling at a moderate speed but lost control of his vehicle while trying to avoid hitting a stray deer.

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According to the pastor, his PT Cruiser swerved back and forth across the road before slamming into the guardrail. He alleged his late wife was not wearing a seatbelt, leading to her fatal injuries. However, reports noted Betty’s doctors observing her head injuries seemed out of proportion to the damage to the car. It was also fishy that he did not call 911 despite possessing a cell phone. But the Pocono Township Police did not investigate the 56-year-old’s suspicious death as a probable homicide, chiefly owing to A.B.’s stature as a Methodist minister.

Who Killed Jewel and Betty Schirmer?

Escaping two probable homicide investigations, A.B.’s luck finally ran out when Joseph Musante was found deceased in the church office behind the pastor’s desk on October 29, 2008. He was the husband of the Methodist minister’s personal assistant, Cynthia Musante. While it seemed Joseph took his own life, the police were curious why the active congregation member shot himself in the head in A.B.’s office. A subsequent probe revealed a shocking cause — the senior pastor was having an affair with Joseph’s wife, Cynthia.

A.B.’s lie started going downhill, with the disgraced pastor forced to surrender his ministerial credentials in November 2008, within weeks of Joseph’s death. When the Pocono Township police investigators learned about the extramarital fling, they became interested and re-opened the probe into Betty’s death. The detectives and Pennsylvania State Troopers also approached the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office for access to the Reeders Church parsonage A.B. shared with his late wife, Betty.

The D.A.’s office started a grand jury investigation and reviewed the blood evidence to conclude Betty was already bleeding prior to getting into the car. They also searched the parsonage to discover a trail of blood from the garage’s back door to the vehicle’s passenger side under luminol processing. Police sources stated someone had seemingly tried to clean up the blood spatter. The detectives hypothesized A.B. had bludgeoned Betty in the garage before putting her in the motorcar and staging an automobile accident to hide his crime.

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They also consulted an expert in traffic accident investigation, who reviewed the car and determined it traveled at a low speed when it hit the guard rail. The report dismissed A.B.’s claims of a motor accident. Betty’s manner of death was ruled homicide in July 2010, and the police arrested him in Tannersville, Pennsylvania, on September 13, 2010. He was charged with first-degree murder and evidence tampering and held in prison without bail. The show noted how A.B. was engaged to Cynthia when taken into custody.

Four days later, the Monroe County prosecutor convened another grand jury investigation on September 13 to probe Jewel’s death. According to their report, she suffered suspicious head injuries caused by an object striking her head and 14 separate impact injuries to her head and face, and numerous abrasions and contusions throughout her upper body and arms. A forensic pathologist determined the manner of death as a homicide after reviewing the evidence and finding it was impossible to sustain such injuries from an accidental fall.

The authorities also charged A.B. with first-degree murder in Jewel’s death. The show noted the disgraced pastor as a chronic philanderer who allegedly killed Betty to be with his former secretary, Cynthia. They also hypothesized Jewel met her fate after supposedly discovering his extramarital flings. He was found guilty of all charges in Betty’s death and sentenced to life without parole in early 2013. He received an additional sentence of 20 to 40 years after he pleaded no contest to third-degree murder charges for Jewel’s demise in September 2014.

Read More: A.B. Schirmer: Where is Killer Husband Now?

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