Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

A "Perfect" Life: Mary Winkler Story

The Big Boom

The drone of an alarm clock roused Mary Winkler awake at 6:15 a.m. on March 22, 2006.

As her preacher husband, Matthew, 31, lay sleeping, the diminutive woman slipped out of their marital bed and padded quietly to the bedroom closet at their parsonage in Selmer, Tenn. There, she withdrew a loaded 12 gauge shotgun from its case.

She walked a few paces back toward the bed and leveled the barrel on her husband's back.

"The next thing I remember was hearing a loud boom," Mary Winkler would later say. "I remember thinking it wasn't as loud as I thought it would be. I heard the boom, and he rolled out of the bed onto the floor."

It was a brutally efficient shot. Matthew Winkler took 77 pellets of birdshot that ravaged his sturdy body, breaking his spine and puncturing several organs.

Matthew Winkler
Matthew Winkler

Yet he was not dead.

He lay on the floor with blood bubbles at his mouth and managed to utter one final word to his wife of 10 years: "Why?"

"I told him that I was sorry and that I loved him," Mary Winkler said. She dabbed the blood from his mouth with the sheet.

The blast startled the couple's three young daughters, sleeping in another bedroom in the family's small home in Selmer, Tenn.

The oldest, Patricia, cautiously crept into her parents' bedroom to find the source of what she called the "big boom."

"My daddy was face down on the floor," the girl said. She heard him groaning, and she asked her mother what had happened.

"I told her daddy was hurt," Mary Winkler said. "I told her we were leaving."

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