Daughter supports Pa. pastor charged with homicide

TANNERSVILLE, Pa. - September 14, 2010

"As far as our family is concerned, we love him and totally support him," Amy Wolfgang, 39, said in a brief phone interview with The Associated Press. "We are completely supporting him, and absolutely love him to death."

Wolfgang's father, Arthur "A.B." Schirmer, was charged Monday with homicide and evidence-tampering in the 2008 death of his 56-year-old wife, Betty Schirmer.

The charges prompted authorities in Lebanon County to announce they are re-examining the 1999 death of Schirmer's first wife - Amy Wolfgang's mother. Authorities have called that death suspicious.

Schirmer, through his attorney, denies foul play was involved in either woman's death.

Wolfgang said Tuesday she doesn't believe her father hurt anyone. She declined further comment.

Police said Schirmer, 62, killed his second wife, then staged a car accident to cover it up, a plot that unraveled four months later when a man whose wife was having an affair with Schirmer committed suicide in Schirmer's church office, according to court documents.

Schirmer told investigators he was driving Betty Schirmer to the hospital in the Poconos around 2 a.m. on July 15, 2008, so she could be treated for jaw pain. He said a deer crossed their path, causing him to lose control of the car.

The accident was minor, but his wife suffered multiple skull and facial fractures and died at the hospital. Her death was initially ruled an accident.

Police took a second look after the October 2008 suicide at Reeders United Methodist, where Schirmer had served as pastor since 2001. Authorities determined that Schirmer had been having an affair with Cindy Musante, his secretary and the suicidal man's wife.

On Tuesday, Musante's Facebook profile picture showed her with Schirmer.

"My only comment is ... 'I love A.B. with all my heart and support him 100%'!" Musante wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Schirmer resigned from the church about two weeks after the suicide.

Bishop Peggy Johnson, of the United Methodist Church's Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, said in a statement that Schirmer "withdrew from the United Methodist Church under complaint, and surrendered his ministerial credentials (resigned)."

More recently, Schirmer sang with a musical trio called Beroean, which toured churches throughout central and eastern Pennsylvania.

Chic Kocher, a fellow member of the gospel group, told the Pocono Record that Schirmer was engaged to marry a third time prior to his arrest.

"I'm almost in tears thinking about it," Kocher told the newspaper. "I'm totally dumbfounded."

He said Schirmer told others that both of his wives had suffered heart attacks, and that no one suspected foul play at the time of Jewel Schirmer's death.

Schirmer reported discovering his first wife's body in a pool of blood at the bottom of the basement steps, according to a police affidavit. She suffered a fractured skull as well as injuries to her face, upper body and arms, the affidavit said.

The manner of her death remains undetermined. Her obituary said she died of natural causes.

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