Dateline   |  February 11, 2013

'Fallen', Part 5

Detectives start to investigate the car crash.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> it was hard to believe that this modest church in the poconos had become the setting detective james wagner was delving into the schirmer's late-night car accident wondering why pictures of the supposedly high-speed crash didn't seem to match the account of the driver, reverend a.b. schirmer whose wife betty had he tracked down the passerby who called 911 the night of the accident to see if he had any further information that might help explain the discrepancies.

>> just by looking at the car from when we walked up on it there didn't seem to be any real damage.

>> the good samaritan motorist impressions confirmed what the detective had had concluded from the photos. betty 's injuries seemed way out of proportion from the minor fender bender she'd experienced.

>> she was shivering and she wasn't really conscious. even at the time he remembered thinking it strange that the pass everyoninger was staring out the windshield, making no effort to help his wife.

>> he made no attempt to get out of the car or really to even speak to her or comfort her which isn't something you'd expect from somebody who's with their wife who is potentially dying.

>> and even more unusual, detective wagner realize the the pastor relied on the motorist to call for help when he could have dialed 911 himself.

>> mr. schirmer had a functional cell phone and never made a 911 call.

>> wagner kept looking at the photos and the stains.

>> i got to a photograph at the blood on the seat and i immediately noticed this blood doesn't make sense. i had one of those moments where it's, oh, my god. this is it.

>> betty 's car seat was spattered with blood, but the detective thought it shouldn't have been. if she was initially injured while sitting in the passenger seat how did it get under her?

>> if betty did sustain a bleeding wound from that particular crash, she would have been bleeding on herself. there would be a void from her body, her legs and her butt in that seat.

>> the only logical way to explain the blood on the passenger seat , the detective thought, was if betty had been injured and bleeding before she got into the car.

>> what i saw is evidence that told me immediately that she was bleeding prior to that crash.

>> that had nothing to do with the deer and slamming into the windshield.

>> absolutely not.

>> could a.b. have done something so monstrous as to stage a car accident as a cover-up for murder? it was shocking to contemplate. as the investigation was wrapping up, members of betty 's family were wrestling with the past, reliving betty 's final days. things just weren't adding up. betty 's son nate was bothered by one of the last phone calls he had with his mother.

>> i could tell there was something wrong and i just couldn't put my finger on it.

>> when he sifted through a box of mementos his stepfather had given her, he found a card weeks before she died, tucked inside it was a post-it note. for all of the pain i have caused you, i am sorry. i hope some day you will be free to soar again and truly free and the word was underlined.

>> some sort of an apology. what's going on? how do you read this?

>> obviously there was something going on behind the scenes or behind closed doors that no one else was aware of.

>> betty 's family had been taken aback by what they saw as a.b.'s lack of emotion at the hospital.

>> did you see any tears in him that night ever?

>> no.

>> they thought at times he'd acted more like a party host than a grieving husband.

>> just out of the blue, just like this he goes, billy, come on in and see your sister like they just had a newborn baby or something.

>> two months after the accident tina took a.b. out to lunch she was surprised to find her newly widowed brother-in-law so happy.

>> the whole time lunch was going on he was texting. he said c.d., my name's a.b. and having a good time with that.

>> did you wonder who this c.d. woman was?

>> yeah. it was -- he just was having too much fun.

>> two other things stood out for betty 's family. things that seemed out of character for their sister. a.b.'s story about betty not wearing her seat belt just didn't ring true.

>> my mother would say to me seat belts save lives. if i wasn't wearing a seat belt she would always make sure she would put it on before i'd go.

>> did it make sense to you that she wasn't buckled up?

>> that wasn't like my mom.

>> and then a.b.'s decision to have betty cremated?

>> did that surprise you?

>> it did. my mother chose to be cremated. my sister bets did not agree with it.

>> back in the poconos, the state police had been pulled in to help detective wagner with the case. the team took a second look at the pt cruiser 's speed that night. the pastor had told the responding officer he was traveling between 50 and 55 miles per hour when the crash occurred. but in one of the accident photos investigators noticed something odd. when they looked at the change holder they saw that almost all of the quarters remained neatly in place.

>> the impact was so minor that they didn't go flying out all over the place.

>> they were just where they'd been.

>> correct.

>> an expert who crash reconstruction who looked at the case concluded that the pt cruiser 's speed at the point of impact was half of what schirmer had claimed.

>> at the time he collided with that guardrail it was less than 25 miles an hour.

>> this was the low-speed accident.

>> correct.

>> investigators now believe the pastor had staged the accident to cover up the killing of his wife. so five months after betty 's death, one set of investigators asked the pastor to come down to the state police barracks for a talk, while a separate team of officers and crime scene techs headed for the parsonage to have a look around at the place where a.b. had lived with betty .

>> you wanted to hear what he had to say for sure, but as important was putting him under a roof and knowing where he was.

>> correct. we didn't want to compromise by him knowing we were there and searching the parsonage. the cops were about to blow the case wide open .

>> who do you think he is?

>> a very sick, sick man?

>> dunk heo you think he's a killer?

>> i do. i do.

>>> turns out there's one person who doesn't think the pastor is a killer, and his opinion may count for a lot.

>> forensic pathologist said betty 's injuries are what he would expect to see in a mort vehicle collision.