She was serving a life sentence for the murder of Rhonda Smith, a fellow church member, in 2008. Fonder had also been a suspect in the disappearance of her father, Edward Fonder III, in 1993.
A Life of Loneliness and Jealousy
Mary Jane Fonder was born on July 5, 1942, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She had a troubled childhood, marked by emotional problems, suicide attempts, and institutionalization. She dropped out of high school and worked various low-paying jobs. She never married or had children, and had difficulty forming social and romantic relationships.
In 1987, she moved back to Springfield Township, a rural town in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, to care for her aging parents. Her mother died in 1992, and her father disappeared in 1993. Fonder claimed that her father had wandered off, but the police suspected foul play. Fonder was the prime suspect, but no charges were filed due to lack of evidence.
Fonder became a member of the Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Springfield Township, where she sought comfort and companionship. She developed a crush on the pastor, Gregory Shreaves, and became obsessed with him. She also became jealous of Rhonda Smith, a 42-year-old woman who was a secretary and a choir singer at the church. Smith had bipolar disorder and received support and attention from the pastor and the congregation.
A Cold-Blooded and Senseless Murder
On January 23, 2008, Fonder shot Smith twice in the head inside the church office, where Smith was working as a volunteer. Fonder then fled the scene and disposed of the murder weapon, a .38-caliber revolver, in a nearby lake. Smith was found by the church sexton and rushed to the hospital, where she died later that evening.
The police initially had no leads or motives for the murder, until they recovered the gun from the lake two months later. The gun was registered to Fonder, and matched the bullet and fragments found at the crime scene and in Smith’s body. Fonder was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
Fonder denied killing Smith, but the evidence against her was overwhelming. The prosecution argued that Fonder was driven by jealousy and resentment, and that she wanted to eliminate Smith as a rival for the pastor’s affection. The defense claimed that Fonder was mentally ill and delusional, and that she had no memory of the shooting.
The jury found Fonder guilty of first-degree murder, and she was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Fonder showed no remorse or emotion during the trial or the sentencing. She maintained her innocence until the end, and blamed the pastor and the church for her fate.
A Legacy of Tragedy and Mystery
Mary Jane Fonder’s death was a relief for the family and friends of Rhonda Smith, who had suffered a great loss and injustice. Smith was remembered as a kind and gentle woman, who had overcome her mental illness and had a positive outlook on life. She had planned to write a book about her experience and to help others with similar conditions.
Fonder’s death also closed a dark chapter in the history of the Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, which had been shaken by the murder and the betrayal. The pastor and the congregation tried to heal and move on from the trauma, and to restore the peace and harmony of their community.
However, Fonder’s death also left behind some unanswered questions and unresolved mysteries. The fate of her father, Edward Fonder III, remains unknown, and his case is still open. The motive and the mindset of Fonder, who committed such a senseless and brutal crime, are still unclear. The reasons and the circumstances that led Fonder to become a church murderer are still puzzling.
Mary Jane Fonder was a woman who died of cardiac arrest in prison, but she left a trail of blood and sorrow in her wake. She was a church murderer who met her end.