(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.