Dateline   |  February 11, 2013

'Fallen', Part 8

The forensic pathologist analyzes both wives’ medical records.

Share This:

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

>>> the reverend schirmer 's second wife betty had succumbed to multiple head injuries in 2008 , and investigators were curious to learn that so had his first wife jewel in 1999 .

>> you have a pattern of behavior.

>> yes.

>> of wives who turn up suspiciously dead.

>> yes.

>> assistant district attorney mike mancuso found the old schirmer case troubling. something about the story just didn't add up.

>> it's weird that this woman jewel according to her son vacuumed these steps twice a week, every week for 14 years. one step at a time, nice and slow, and then she not only fall, but suffer 14 different impacts to the head on her way down.

>> according to the authorities two hours away in lebanon, pennsylvania, where jewel died an autopsy had been performed a decade before after she was said to have tumbled down a set of basement stairs. the forensic pathologist was dr. wayne ross .

>> you did the original autopsy.

>> i did.

>> what was your opinion of what happened to her?

>> traumatic brain injury .

>> dr. ross ' report told the prosecutor that back then there had been doubts that jewel 's injuries, and massive trauma to the head were consistent with the story of a fall. jewel 's manner of death had been listed as undetermined.

>> they didn't rule it an accident. they didn't rule it homicide. they ruled it as we don't know.

>> in fact, the pathologist had been so concerned about his findings that he had suggested authorities take a closer look, but that never happened. a local coroner mistakenly, as it turned out told police that jewel had fallen down the stairs after suffering a heart attack .

>> it was a heart attack . they decide to close the investigation.

>> a decade later the old case was suddenly very relevant and later in the investigation, a prosecutor would make an interesting move. he'd ask dr. ross , the pathologist who performed jewel 's autopsy to analyze both jewel and betty schirmer 's records. there wasn't much for dr. ross to work with, unlike jewel , betty hadn't been autopsies, but cat scan images of her brain had been taken to the hospital. the pathologist would be definitive in his conclusions.

>> the injuries noted to betty schirmer are wholly inconsistent with the slow-speed traffic accident which no air bags deploy and which mr. schirmer had no injuries at all.

>> dr. ross said there were two wounds on the right side of betty 's head that could not have been caused in that car accident . an opinion that became even stronger when he examined these computerized 3d models of betty 's skull.

>> these two images here are huge.

>> dr. ross was convinced betty had been murdered and brutally so.

>> she's got fractures on the right side of her skull and directly underneath that she's got swelling and bleeding in her brain and that's a lot of force going through there.

>> what kind of murder weapon would the killer have used? dr. ross had an idea. it was my opinion that she'd been struck multiple times with a long cylindrical object with a crowbar or something and he was swinging for the fences essentially and hit her hard at least twice in this area and caused that damage.

>> and the real stunner, for the pathologist it was eerily reminiscent of the other i remember schirmer case he'd seen so long ago.

>> there are two lacerations that look exactly like jewel schirmer .

>> dr. ross compared the two wives' injuries side by side .

>> when you compare the two of them the similarities are striking. the similarities are to the right side of the head on both jewel and betty in terms of the lacerations.

>> it's all happening right here. in both women?

>> right side of the head, both women.

>> in death, the dr. thought, they could have been twins. investigators also found what they believe were other similarities between the two cases. signs, they thought, of a clean up. scrubbed blood stains in the garage in the poconos and the story of scrubbed blood stains at the foot of the basement stairs in jewel 's case. back in 1999 , detectives learned, jewel 's brother had been so alarmed by the sight of his sister at the icu that he went over to the parsonage to see just what happened. he thought the blood had been cleaned up.

>> he confronts schirmer , what happened to all of the blood?

>> schirmer says the emts stayed behind and cleaned it up and he said that's bull. i ran ambulance. i know that that didn't happen. and schirmer doesn't respond.

>> investigators thought the other big similarity in the two deaths were the rumors in both about a.b.'s behavior with other women.

>> your opinion is that jewel , the wife with was aware of his infidelities.

>> painfully aware.

>> and the prosecutor thought divorce could have been a problem for the pastor.

>> i think it would have been maybe a stain on his reputation. you know, and he was very conscious of how he appeared to others because remember, he's up on high. he's counseling you. he's everybody's person that is looked up to so he certainly wouldn't have wanted that.

>> when detectives looked at the pastor's computer, they saw that he had a secret life . was it part of a motive for murder? a reason to get rid of not one, but two wives?

>>> coming up -- a strange past time for a pastor.

>> he was addicted to pornography, obsessed with sex. obsessed with it.

>> when "dateline" continues. i'm so