People say James Castria was the sweetest preacher ever. But police say he was also deadly. The story of Rev. James Castria and his congregants, Lowell and Susan Engel, who were murdered by their pastor for money, will make the cut for the latest Killer Clergy. The true-crime documentary series focuses on murders that have been committed by the most diabolical preachers, pastors, or reverends. The Killer Clergy episode profiling Reverend James Castria is called, “Highway to Hell.” In this shocking account of murder, listen in as New Jersey and Pennsylvania police detectives discuss solving the case.
Sweet Preacher, Deadly Gospel
James Castria wasn’t making much money as a pastor at the Faith Gospel Church in Clifton, New Jersey, but he was well-liked by most of the members of his congregation. However, Castria became a prime suspect in the investigation of two elderly people who vanished into thin air. Authorities say Lowell and Susan Engel disappeared from their retirement home community in Staten Island in January 1995. They were last seen getting into a black car.
Concerned family members of the Engels knew immediately that something was wrong since their medication was still found inside their apartment.
Police learned that Lowell Engel and Susan Engel had grown close to their preacher, whom they referred to as Reverend Jimmy. Reverend Jimmy was 45-year-old James S. Castria. A look into the couple’s finances and bank records showed that James Castria was a co-signer on their accounts and had used around $40,000 of Lowell and Susan Engels’ money to purchase a beautiful home. It was stated that the Engels were under the impression that they would be moving and staying into the new home with the good pastor.
Susan Engel had inherited over $80,0000 from a family member. Somehow, James Castria convinced them to trust in him enough to see after their finances. But authorities say that it was all part of a bigger plan to swindle 68-year-old Lowell Engel and 50-year-old Susan Engel out of their cash.
Missing Couple Found Dead In Woods
James Castria had met Lowell Engel years earlier when the widower asked him if he knew a nice Christian woman. Castria introduced Lowell Engel to Susan Smith. He even helped the couple during their courtship and later married them in a ceremony, according to SI Live.
Two months after their disappearance, two bodies were found in the woods in the Poconos between Coolbaugh Township and Stroudsburg in Monroe County, Pennsylvania. An autopsy report confirmed that they were both bludgeoned to death with an object similar to a tire iron. Lowell Engel, a tall man who towered over most people, was struck first. Then his wife was beaten to death.
Police knew that it was James Castria who had murdered the couple. They were close to making an arrest before James Castria killed himself by deliberately driving his car at a high rate of speed, later crashing it into a concrete barrier along the highway. People who knew James Castria were completely shocked by his suicide and by the horrible crime that he committed. Here are some of their comments, according to the New York Times.
“The people here love him.”
“He’s the sweetest guy in the world.”
“It can’t be true, what they’re saying.”
Here are a few more interesting details in the case.
- Some newspaper articles refer to Lowell and Susan Engel as disabled or mentally slow.
- Knowing that he was behind the Engels’ deaths, Reverend Jimmy gave the eulogy at their funeral. Then, he led the congregation in singing the church hymn “What A Friend We Have In Jesus.”
- James Castria had already been questioned by police and decided to end it all before he could be arrested for the double murders.
- Later that day, James Castria drove to a Christian book store and paid 10 cents for a bookmark of the Lord’s Prayer (Psalms 23), according to McCall.
- Lowell Engel, who was diabetic, was so tall and large at 6 feet 9 inches that his wife called him “Big Guy.”
- The case of James Castria is recounted in the book For I Have Sinned: True Stories of Clergy Who Kill by John Glatt.
Watch the story of James Castria and his victims, Lowell and Susan Engel, this Monday, October 17, at 9 p.m., on Investigation Discovery. A previous episode of Killer Clergy included the case of Mike and Marla Tabb.
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