Most of the killers I deal with seem to be normal people who hold down jobs, raise families, attend kid’s ballgames, and dance at weddings. It’s frightening to discover that these “ordinary” people — can think of a thousand reasons to kill. Often, that thought keeps me up at night. And I’m sure it does for many of those who work in the field of criminal justice.
For me, covering true crime stories and working with law enforcement has become a life’s calling. I started out interviewing TV celebrities about fashion and fluff and then somehow found myself in the “murder business” after I wrote my first True Crime book, The FBI Killer. I was quickly labeled a “veteran” true crime author when my second book, Cruel Sacrifice, hit the top of the New York Times bestseller list in the mid 1990’s.
These days, I find myself moving across America from location to location – tracking crime scenes and revealing new details about mind-boggling murders for the ID Network, which devotes itself exclusively to true crime tragedies. I must say, in all my investigations, the killers never cease to amaze — in their ability to lie, cajole, manipulate, and show no mercy.
So, what is the draw to true crime stories? Why are networks showing more of them?
Perhaps, deep down we all fear sinister possibilities — the footsteps we imagine behind us on a dark evening, the chill of apprehension as we approach the car in a dark and deserted parking lot. However, the possibility that we will be attacked by a stranger, as LE knows, is not as likely as we might imagine. The truth is, we are far more apt to experience violence at the hand of someone we know very well…a sobering thought as we look across the dinner table at our loved ones.
As I anticipate the viewer’s response to the fourth season of my show, True Crime on Investigation Discovery, I’m eager to talk about one of the most chilling men I’ve investigated, a Minister, a pillar of the community, who’s perhaps responsible for murdering two of his wives.
The minister A.B. Schirmer , nicknamed the “Sinister Minister,” is the focus of this season’s first episode on Thursday, October 17th at 9:00PM.
But the question is: how does a man literally get away with murder for decades?
In the case of the Reverend A.B. Schirmer, a respected Methodist minister who pastored small churches in Pennsylvania, he apparently seemed to be above the law. No one saw him as violent, and therefore no one investigated his version of events.
Turns out that A.B. Schirmer was unlucky with wives — he lost two of them to mysterious accidents, one by a fall down the stairs, the other reportedly by a tragic car accident when the Reverend swerved his car to avoid hitting a deer. Consoling himself afterwards, the minister became engaged to the church secretary.
Terrible coincidences, perhaps? Well, ultimately, a police investigation uncovered the unholy truth.
I traveled to the tiny village of Reeders, Pennsylvania, population 1100, in the Pocono Mountains, where A.B. Schirmer served at the idyllic Reeders United Methodist Church with its bright red door and tall steeple. He lived in a tidy parsonage nearby.
But the truth about what was going on at that church was a little less tidy. Why would a church handyman commit suicide in the pastor’s office, blood spilling out across the desk that the handyman himself built? Suicide in a church office — there was something strange going on.
I stood at the guard rail which Pastor Schirmer allegedly hit accidently. It was clear to me that there was a problem with his story. How could he have possibly hit that guard rail as he reported, with a force that caused his wife fatal injuries, but remain uninjured himself? If he had hit the guard rail at the speed and force he claimed, the car would have gone over the embankment.
Then there’s that church secretary the pastor became engaged to soon after his second wife’s death. She was the handyman’s widow, the one who killed himself on the desk that he had built. I spoke with the handyman’s daughter. She had found suspicious documents in a briefcase under her father’s bed after his death and took them to authorities. The documents proved that the pastor and his secretary had a physical relationship, rather than the emotional affair that they had claimed.
Suddenly, authorities had questions about the Pastor’s first wife, Jewell, who allegedly died falling down the stairs while vacuuming. While police mined the documents stored in the briefcase, they also reviewed reports surrounding his first wife’s death, which pointed to motive and murder in two mysterious deaths.
What’s curious is that the murder of Rev. Schirmer’s two wives initially went unnoticed. Of course the polite and gentle Rev. A.B. Schirmer did not fit the profile of a violent murderer, but ultimately, with the assistance of family members bringing evidence to light and painstaking police work, this wolf in sheep’s clothing WAS brought to justice.
Why did this Man of God decide to kill? Though Reverend Schirmer still denies his guilt, it’s clear that he killed to protect his reputation as a family man, and moreover, to avoid losing his congregation because of a sex scandal. While he preached about living a godly life, he was committing the most heinous crime to appear to be the good pastor of his flock.
To find out more about this Sinister Minister, please tune in to watch True Crime with Aphrodite Jones this Thursday on ID, October 17th at 9PM EST.
On November 7, 2013, I will be presenting with my friend Peter Shaplan at Iona College in New Rochelle, NY in a conference entitled “Just The Facts, Ma’am: Public Safety, Media, and Community Collaboration.” This seminar is affordable for everyone. Participants may take advantage of Law Enforcement Today special rates and receive a discounted price before November 1, 2013 by registering at the link below:
I often say this is not a job for sissies, and over the years, I have developed a great respect for LEOs who work hard to solve the worst of crimes, often learning the truth, bit by bit. Just like Law Enforcement, I become drawn to the victims left behind, because just like police officers, I see human nature’s worst side.
For the participants at Iona College on November 7, I will review the Trayvon Martin trial (which I attended) and discuss my role as an investigative journalist in high profile cases such as Jerry Sandusky, Drew Peterson, Scott Peterson, and Michael Jackson.
Peter Shaplen, a journalism professor and pool media coordinator at both the Michael Jackson and Scott Peterson trials, will discuss the roles that public safety professionals, the community, and the media play during investigations and trials of local as well as international interest.
Mr. Shaplen’s experience in handling the craziest and biggest trial of all, with 2400 credentialed journalists in attendance and a swarm of never-ending fans at the Michael Jackson trial – allows Peter to offer a bird’s eye view of LE working in conjunction with media as no one else has ever seen before – or since.
I hope to see many LET readers at the Iona College event!
Aphrodite Jones is an investigative journalist and New York Times best-selling author of eight true crime books. Her television show, True Crime with Aphrodite Jones, premiers its fourth season on Investigation Discovery Channel later this week. She is an expert criminal justice commentator on the FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, HLN, and NBC’s The Today Show,. An accomplished conference speaker, Aphrodite divides her time between New York and Florida. http://investigation.
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