TV thriller films are known for trading in on the "based on a true story" label whenever possible. After all, the idea that a nightmarish tale being told on screen really happened tends to make scary stories feel even scarier. Lifetime certainly has produced an abundance of movies that carry the badge, and the newest in their lineup is Sinister Minister, premiering May 28. The plot involves a murderous minister who kills his wives and then goes after their daughters, which seems too disturbing to possibly be true. Although Lifetime did not offer comment on which specific case inspired the movie, the network did tell Bustle that Sinister Minister is based on true events.
The storyline is the absolute definition of a TV thriller. The story follows single mother Trish, played by Nikki Howard, as she falls in love with a young, charming minister named DJ, played by Ryan Patrick Shanahan. Now, this plot is already very Lifetime, but things get crazier from there. Angelica Briones plays Trish's daughter Sienna, and it seems that DJ has his eyes on her and not on her mother. The whole thing gets kicked up about 10 more notches when Trish finds out that DJ is a serial wife killer and plans to murder her so he can marry Sienna.
Sinister Minister takes on a much scarier tone when you remember that some version of these events evidently really happened. And though Lifetime has not yet responded to a request for comment on the following specific case, it could be that the case of Arthur Schirmer inspired the filmmakers. According to The Los Angeles Times, the Pennsylvania man was found guilty in 2013 of first-degree murder in the 2008 death of his wife Betty Jean Schirmer and the prosecutors dubbed him "the sinister minister." (Shirmer pleaded not guilty and continues to claim he is innocent.) In 2014, CBS News reported that Schirmer plead no contest to third-degree murder in the 1999 death of his first wife, Jewel Schirmer, though he continues to maintain his innocence of that crime as well. Schirmer was already serving life without parole for the first conviction; the second added 20-40 years.
Even if Schirmer's case did provide the basis for the Sinister Minister, the Lifetime movie certainly takes liberties. For example, the same CBS News article attests that both of Schirmer's daughters supported their father and believed in his claims of innocence, unlike, it seems, the daughter in the film.
Whatever the true-to-invented ratio of Sinister Minister, it's bound to be a shocking watch. Catch it on Lifetime on May 28.