Local/State

Police: Jealousy led to church murder

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A 65-year-old woman has been charged with last January's church murder in rural Bucks County.

Action News spoke to Rhonda Smith's parents, and as you can imagine their shock when they learned the woman arrested for their daughter's murder was not only a member of their church, but had been in their house and was at a church lunch with them earlier this afternoon.

James Smith, the victim's father, says, "The woman sat right close to me as you are. You know? I had no idea what was going on."

The woman was 65-year-old Mary Jane Fonder, and just hours after she had lunch with Jim and Dorothy Smith she would be arrested for the murder of their daughter. They say Fonder even started visiting the Smith's at their home after Rhonda was murdered.

Smith's mother Dorothy says of Fonder, "One Sunday she had tears in her eyes. She said, 'I just talked to her. I thought she was nice,' and just agreed with us."

But police say Fonder was jealous of Smith and her relationship with their church pastor.

Bucks County District Attorney Michelle Henry told reporters, "(Fonder) indicated that she had romantic feelings for this pastor. And the issue was the victim was receiving some attention from the pastor."

Investigators say in January Fonder called Smith at the church and learned she was getting emotional, financial and spiritual support from the Trinity Lutheran Church. Police say two days later Fonder shot Smith twice in the head while Smith was working in the church.

Church spokesman Paul Rose told Action News, "We're all shocked. We're surprised and very sad that this could possibly be one of our members."

Police say the break in the case came this weekend when a fisherman found the gun in Lake Nockamixon. It was registered to Fonder and forensics linked it to the crime. Tonight, Fonder pleaded not guilty to first degree murder. She was denied bail.

Since January there was speculation Smith, who battled bipolar disorder for two decades, committed suicide. Her parents believe the arrest has put that speculation to rest.

The affidavit says Fonder once threatened a fellow Denny's employee and that she called the pastor so much he blocked her number.

(Copyright ©2014 WPVI-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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