Unusual circumstances surrounding the death of a wife, with evidence pointing to the husband, is not an unknown phenomenon. However, it is definitely rare when one husband is being held on suspicion of the deaths of two wives.
Arthur Burton Schirmer was already under indictment for the alleged murder of his most recent wife, Betty Jean Schirmer, who died in 2008. Due to some additional evidence that has arisen regarding both cases, he is now being tried in the death of his previous wife, Jewel Schirmer. Jewel died in 1999.
In considering whether to charge Schirmer with Jewel’s death alongside Betty Jean’s, the grand jury stated, “We find it particularly disturbing and difficult to believe that both of A.B. Schirmer’s wives could have suffered such horrific injuries by accident.”
The evidence of the case is very chilling. Both women suffered extreme head trauma, likely causing severe brain injury before their deaths.
In 1999, emergency services responded to A.B. Schirmer reporting that Jewel had fallen down the stairs. EMTs found Schirmer standing calmly around — he claimed to have returned from a run and found her as she was. However, it had been raining that day, and he was not wet when they arrived. EMTs found a power cord around Jewel’s ankle. When they went to put her in the ambulance, the EMTs could not find Jewel’s husband anywhere. This was despite the fact that she was not dead when the EMT’s arrived. She died later in the hospital.
A misdiagnosis hindered any further investigation at the time. The coroner examining Jewel concluded she had a massive heart attack, leading to the fall. Review with more modern medical science has revealed that the opposite was true. Jewel’s brain injury caused the heart damage.
In 2008, after Schirmer had remarried by wedding Betty Jean, he called the police and reported an accident. He said he had been going about 45 mph when he swerved to avoid an animal, and crashed the car, killing Betty Jean. Police, due to fresh suspicions in the Jewel Schirmer case, investigated the matter and found that the car could not have been going any faster than 25mph, and thus could not have caused the injuries to Betty Jean.