This is a special story in so many ways. First, there is a minister who is the perpetrator. Minister, rabbis, swamis and other spiritual guides all have the common element that people put their trust in them. We assume they can be trusted because of the role they play in society. People looking for healing—spiritual or physical—open up their deepest secrets and weaknesses to these leaders. It is easy to imagine how those with that power can use it to abuse or control the very people they counsel.
This was the case of a minister who gained the confidence of at least two women and it cost them their lives. This sacred breech of trust seems to make this crime more gruesome because two lives we taken. In both instances, the scenes were staged.
The two murders were spaced almost ten years apart. My pathologist and I initially suspected during the autopsy on the first Mrs. Schirmer that something was amiss. Either she fell down the stairs in some strange way . . . or she was attacked and the fall was staged.
As professionals, we are held to not just our opinion, or our suspicions, but rather to the standard of proof, “with reasonable medical certainty.” In the Schirmer case there wasn’t enough scene investigation to be able to form a true hypothesis. Determining the manner of death meant that this case would always stay open in our minds and be a red flag if any other strange events swirled around this man.
As it turned out, about eleven years later, the minister’s second wife died in an auto accident. The accident seemed phony, so investigators looked into the death of the first wife, and our red flag popped up.
I remember looking at the blood patterns in the car and noting that there were no impact patterns, but rather transfer blood patterns. This meant that deceased was bleeding before ever being put into the car. It was clear that we would have to reopen the case on the first wife as well.
My chief deputy and I decided to use new technology on the case. Using forensic engineering, test dummies, along with the brilliant help of the Hershey Medical Center Radiology Department, we were able to create enough evidence to prove that the manner of death of the minister’s first wife was “homicide” and not consistent with a fall. It took persistence, modern technology and teamwork: images of the old wounds were produced in new software, and we conducted engineering studies to establish the potential and kinetic energy in the scenario.
In the end, they did not die in vain—both of his wives helped one another reveal the sinister character of this minister.
The case is closed . . . but there is always another story.