Mar 24, 2006

Minister's Wife Confesses To Murder

(Selmer, TN) The wife of a minister found shot to death in their church's parsonage agreed Friday to return to Tennessee to face first-degree murder charges in his death, state authorities said.

Matthew Winkler, a 31-year old minister at Selmer's Fourth Street Church of Christ, was found dead in the couple's home Wednesday after he missed an evening prayer service and church members searched for him. Congregants found Winkler dead in the bedroom. He had been shot in the back, but there was no evidence of a struggle, according to police.

Mary Winkler, 32, was found with the couple's three young daughters late last night in Orange Beach, Alabama, 340 miles south of the Selmer church. Police spotted the family's minivan and stopped it Thursday evening, Assistant Police Chief Greg Duck said.

The Orange Beach spokesman said the children were in "very good condition" and were on the way to get something to eat when an officer pulled over their Toyota Sienna.

Tennessee investigators said that Mrs. Winkler was cooperating. They also indicated that they will charge Mary Winkler with first-degree murder after her extradition from Alabama this weekend.

"She’s been extremely forthcoming. We just got the warrant a few minutes ago. So I now have it in hand, and I can say that she did basically confess to this," said Jennifer Johnson with the TBI. "Once she was apprehended - actually she was really taken in for questioning more than anything else because initially we didn’t know what was going on - but she has basically confessed to this, so we had to move forward."

Left: The Winklers in happier days

Winkler was hired at the Fourth Street Church in February 2005, said Wilburn Ash, an elder at the church. He added that the congregation came to love his "straight-by-the-Bible" sermons.

"They were a nice family," said former Selmer Mayor Jimmy Whittington, who worked with the minister collecting donations for hurricane victims last year. "They just blended in."

News of Winkler's murder shocked citizens in this small Tennessee town.

"I can't believe this would happen," said Pam Killingsworth, a church member and assistant principal at Selmer Elementary. "The kids are just precious, and she was precious. He was the one of the best ministers we've ever had, just super charisma."

Matthew Winkler's grandfather had a 60-year career as an evangelist in four Southern states, and his father is an adjunct professor at a religious-affiliated university. Mary Winkler's father is also a pastor in Alabama.

Mrs. Winkler and the couple's daughters - Breanna, 1; Mary Alice, 6; and Patricia, 8 - were found unharmed by police about 7:30 PM Thursday after an Amber Alert was issued for the girls. Early reports suggest that Mary Winkler rented a condominium in Orange Beach.

Authorities believe that the children were spared the trauma of witnessing their father's murder.

Left: Police tape rings the Winkler home

"To my knowledge, the children saw nothing," said Selmer Police Sgt. Roger Rickman.

He disclosed that the Winkler children were in the custody of the Alabama child welfare agency, and added that members of Mr. Winkler's family were attempting to gain custody.

"One of the grandfathers is down there now to get the kids," Rickman said. "The girls have no idea of what happened to their father."

Church members described Mary Winkler - who is originally from Knoxville - as a "quiet, unassuming woman" who worked as a substitute teacher at the elementary school.

One Selmer resident told FOX News that Matthew Winkler "liked to hunt," and speculated that the murder weapon could have been one of the pastor's hunting weapons.


Anonymous said...

This is just horrible.

Anonymous said...

It is horrible. But I'm willing to bet she comes out with some horrible abuse stories. Look at those kids in that picture. He's the only one who looks like he's truly happy. The rest look scared. But that's just my impression. I've probably watched too many of my wife's Lifetime movies.

historymike said...

Yes, unfortunately this has a Lifetime special written all over it.

Lisa Renee said...

It probably will end up being something like that. It's hard to leave if you are being abused, yet spending the rest of your life in prison and having your children taken away from you doesn't seem to be something she thought out very well.

Thoughtful Thomas said...

Innocent until proven Guilty? That is the picture of a happy family!! Forget Lifetime TV, and don't judge Winkler guilty of anything just because he was murdered.

Is this still America?

Do said...

I don't see an unhappy family in that photo. I see two little girls that would rather be out playing on a swing, an infant that could care less about what's going on and a woman who is smiling as broadly as her husband.

I'm not picking up on fear at all.

Nobody but Mrs. Winkler knows why she did this. And well thought out or not, the trauma to these children is on her now.

What I'm seeing in all this is 3 children that will need much love and support, not to mention therapy for years to come. The stigma that comes from mommy killing daddy is one that won't leave them in this lifetime. Townsfolk, media, out of towners, etc. will certainly be an intrusion into the psyche of these kids for many years. My heart goes out to them.

historymike said...

I, too, only see a happy family in the photo.

-Sepp said...

Why is it that whenever something like this happens, people start making assumptions of abuse? 9 times out of ten, it turns out to be a wife who found a new squeeze and knocks off her husband when he finds out. Those happy looking kids now have no father and a mother who will be in jail until these kids are adults. Everybody loses.

Anonymous said...

The photo we've all seen is believed to have been taken at Matthew's grandfather's funeral last year. Perhaps it was the first funeral the girls had been to--don't read too much into one photo.

historymike said...

Agreed, anonymous. Every pair of eyes sees what they want to see.

I see what appears to be a happy family.

Anonymous said...

So very sad and tragic. Truly, none of us knows, but in time I think we may learn shocking things.

It certainly does not condone murder on her part, but I can tell you that it is an unbelievably hard situation to be married to a minister who is extremely controlling to the point of abusiveness and who uses "God" to justify his actions. A wife and mother can feel helpless in such a situation.

I am thinking that may be the case with Mary, but I don't know, of course. The fact that she murdered him and evidently didn't think of how easy it would be to be caught seems to show her lack of rational thinking at this time. She surely would not have wanted to have her children taken from her.

I will await more news reports.

Anonymous said...

Why in the world would this woman confess to a murder with out a lawyer being present? Why didn't she wait until she was brought back to Tennessee? Now, I hear she's planning to plead "not guilty." No one will probably ever know what really happened. The only thing I can think of is maybe with 3 small kids at home and her husband being gone all the time tending to his flock caused her to resent him not being at home with her to help with the kids, you know, like post partum depression or something. Of course, no one wants her to walk free but probably with good time, she will be out sometime in her 50's. Her children will be grown but she will be free. There obviously was trouble somewhere but now that she has killed him, it will be her side up against him and he can't take up for himmself. Truely, this is a sad case but for what ever her reason, whether it be abuse, resentment, no attention, what ever...........he didn't deserve to die and she didn't have the right to take his life. I hope their church family remembers this as they try to forgive her.

Anonymous said...

These precious small children have lost the most important people in their lives. They have lost their daddy, and their mommy is in a place that they may never understand. We, as Christians, should be on our face before God praying for this entire situation instead of making void assumptions on our opinions of what may or may not have happened.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Wow, I wouldn't have thought people would smile so broadly at a funeral(especially of such a close family member). I initially thought it was a picture taken before or after a Sunday service, but there IS some type of card on the floral display behind them.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone taken a look back at Selmer, TN history? It was a hotbed of corruption back in the late 60s, with Sherrif Buford Pusser as the knight on the white horse, who sustained many wounds and losses trying to clean up the crime there. Some believe that the mob became involved and was responsible for the more horrific acts of violence. see:

Minister's Wife said...

I think this all happened for a reason. I was a minister's wife for twenty-seven years before I finally dissolved the marriage in 1994.
The minister's family's life, in my opinion, across the board, even though I am also church of Christ, is so fake it leaves one empty inside.
The minister's family in the church of Christ is expected to look so holy -- like He is God and she is His wife.
I prayed to be a minister's wife but I had no clue what I was asking for.
Ministers are so good at putting up false fronts that fall when they step in their own front door.
I just pray that she is cleared and allowed to resume a semblance of a happy normal life.
I would be willing to bet that there was so much abuse in this home...maybe not physical beatings but emotional starving that she went through.
I am praying for her and I know God hears my prayers and has provided me far more abundantly than I would have believed possible before I had enough courage to leave.
I wasn't even allowed to work outside the home so I had to develop work skills at the age of 46.
God is good. It is the base, empty church life that kills souls!!
Organized religion leaves me so cold because I know my story can easily be duplicated across the nation.

Minister's Wife said...

Dear Anonymous: You know why he looks happy? He's the only one who was probably getting his way in life.
I would like to know where her mother is. Only Mary's father has been mentioned.
It grieves me because I've been in her situation.
You feel so trapped.
I just pray God vindicates her. I believe He will and that this all happened for a reason.

Anonymous said...

To "Minister's Wife" ~ Much of what you wrote is close to home to me. I am also a minister's wife.

I wrote above in a post "...I can tell you that it is an unbelievably hard situation to be married to a minister who is extremely controlling to the point of abusiveness and who uses "God" to justify his actions..."

I, too, am praying for Mary although of course I don't condone murder. It is hard for anyone to understand the pressures she could have been in as you and I can.

I believe in God and His Word, but I think people mess up a lot in how they try to go about His work. That's my opinion.

Anonymous said...

It sounds to me like there are going to be alot of ex-wives of preacher's coming to her defense even before we hear the story. Won't we all feel just a little foolish if there is no abuse. Whether or not her life was difficult, she is not allowed by her God to kill her husband, just as you two are not allowed by your God to slander your ex-husbands. Women will come up with any excuse these days to not follow the will of God. His grace is enough, even for the tough situations. Whatever happened to sharing in the sufferings of Christ, or maybe you think a bad marriage is worse than the death suffered by your Savior and so many other martyrs? We have not yet resisted sin to the point of shedding our blood, so we are called by God to continue to fight against our flesh, even if that means staying in a bad relationship. God is in control, and when we take that control into our own hands, there are consequences to pay, as I am sure you have both experienced.

Minister's Wife said...

Dear Anonymous: I think this is all going to serve some higher good and that God is going to take care of Mary and not in some church house way.
The Bible says that there are those who "have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof.." Being a minister's wife life can be so empty because no one really knows what the role
I know God can bring Mary out to a higher place and she will be able to help people in distress.
These stories shake churches because basically churches are out there for the money, in my opinion, and they really don't want the members to know just how much they need their money.
I tend to make church members a little uneasy, especially the clergy, because I can see behind fronts that people wear.
I am just glad that I was able to find a way out.
I now am buying a modest home situated on a lake and am happier than I have ever been.

Anonymous said...

God is more concerned with our holiness than with our happiness. I am sorry that your life as a minister's wife wasn't all that you thought it could be, but you are kidding yourself if you think that God approves of your leaving because it was hard. A house on the lake, no matter what it cost, will do nothing for you in heaven. But, sticking with a hard marriage because you know that God will supply the grace and strength needed for each day speaks volumes of your faith.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, you stated "...just as you two are not allowed by your God to slander your ex-husbands". You also do not know of what you speak.

I do not have an ex-husband; I did not leave. I work hard beside him and try to make the best of life with God's help. I just was stating that I understood where "Minister's Wife" was coming from.

"Take heed that you not judge lest you also be judged". And this is my last comment as things keep getting taken wrong here.

Minister's Wife said...

One thing I have noticed through the years is that usually that which we condemn in others is what we will do given enough times. I have seen people get up in arms over a person divorcing and lo and behold within a year or two they do the same thing.
Until we have walked in another's shoes we better not cast stones.
I have yet to find a cause that caught my attention more than this one but I do believe there is a divine purpose behind it all.

Anonymous said...

For the lady who was a minister's wife for 27 years, I'm sorry your marriage went so badly. I can honestly say the Freemans (Mary's family) and the Winklers are faithful loving families. This circumstance here is truly a terrible situation. I believe Mary may have miscarried before having the youngest girl. She could have been suffering from some type of post-partum problems. Not saying that is the reason. The police have said that she has stated a motive, but no one has said anything of what it is. At her arraignment today, she didn't enter a plea. One should not assume Matthew was abusive. This family practiced what they preached.

Subcomandante Bob said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
historymike said...

The most recent anonymous poster is correct in the assertion that Mary Winkler had a miscarriage prior to the birth of Breanna.

A friend, Kirk Brothers, said the Winklers had tough times before moving to Selmer. Brothers, also a minister, said the couple suffered internal anguish after Mary Winkler had a miscarriage, prior to the birth of their youngest daughter, Breanna.

But Brothers said he could not say Mary Winkler was unhappy, although she would not be the type to discuss it with others, Brothers said.


Anonymous said...

Even though I am not a ministers wife, I am a wife. We have been through some terrible times in our marriage. I too, had depression after the birth of my children. I am a Christian, a struggling Christian, but aren't we all? The only thing that I can think of that would make me kill my husband would be if he "messed" with my children or any child. I do not believe in murder, I can't kill a bug in my house, I catch him and let him go outside. But if someone, ANYONE messed with my children, I would KILL them. I would suffer the punishment, I would deliver myself to hell just so my someone knew I would NOT abide with the abuse of my children.

Anonymous said...

I am a minister's wife, and while this so sad, just another indicator of how far the church removes themselves from what is really going on in peoples lives.

I've lived on the cusp of nearly snapping, not to the extent of wanting to kill my husband, but to a level of total hatred of church life and anything that related to it.

She has a child that is close to a year old. Which may indicate post-partum issues, they haven't been in this new church very long, they were youth pastors previously.

All of this is like a mirror of my life 20 years ago. I was horribly depressed after the birth of my first child, and all I could hear was well meaning church folk telling me how to raise my baby, what I was doing wrong...on and on, no one ever asked me how I was, what was happening with me, what was going on inside of me.

We were youth pastors during this time, so my husband was contiunally suround by perky high school girls, while he did nothing to indicate any involvment with then, I felt old, tired, used. Life revolved around church, and I was beginning to hate it, and him.

We left youth ministry, to take a church pastor position. I worked full time because the salary was so poor. We had 3 small children. Every waking moment was tied to everyone who went to the churches needs, I was moved into second and third place behind, "the church". I've heard it all--"giving up wife and family for my name" "The work of the ministry" "Sacrificing for Jesus" whatever...time to find something that I felt fulfillment in

I pursued my career, I knew that I loved my husband, but was not cut out to be a "ministers wife" I decided that I had to do what was right for me. Now I show up to church when it works for me, and if it dosent I dont care what people say or think.

I still to this day get people telling me what they dont like about my hair, my my grown children do or don't behave.

And really I don't give a shit.

Reading, watching, hearing of this woman's story--I can place myself in her shoes, and think it's really just the grace of God that has helped me not walk out from being the "good christian wife, who seemed so happy"