Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

A "Perfect" Life: Mary Winkler Story

To The Beach

The following morning, as Matthew lay drawing his final breaths, Mary Winkler herded her daughters into the family's minivan and drove away. She packed nothing, although she did take along the shotgun.

She lied in telling her eldest daughterconcerned about Matthew's well-beingthat help for him was on the way.

She drove that evening to Jackson, Miss., staying at a Fairfield Inn, and then continued the next morning to a Sleep Inn on the Gulf of Mexico in Orange Beach, Ala., a popular regional vacation destination.

"The only reason I headed towards (Orange Beach) is that I wanted to take them to the beach and play with them as long as I could," Mary Winkler later said. "I planned on coming (back) when we were through. I knew I would be caught...I didn't tell the girls the truth that I had shot Daddy. I said he was in the hospital, just anything to make up him not being with us."

She paid for hotel rooms, gas and food with cash from the $500 she had withdrawn. She did not use credit cards and did not phone anyone.

Matthew Winkler was found dead by church members about 15 hours after he was shot, when he failed to show up for his regular Wednesday night prayer meeting.

Tennessee authorities issued an Amber Alert for the daughters, and Orange Beach Police Officer Jason Witlock spotted the Winkler family van Thursday afternoon on the beach highway.

Orange Beach police personnel entertained the daughters, Patricia, then 8; Allie, 6, and Brianna, 1. The girls, described by police as bright and inquisitive, were turned over to the custody of Dan and Diane Winkler.

Mary Winkler's demeanor at arrest and her police mug shot appeared to indicate depression, repressed feelings, shock or some combination of each.

Police were puzzled by her lack of emotional reaction as she was being taken into custody for slaying her husband.

"There were no tears shed that I know of," said Greg Duck, assistant police chief in Orange Beach. The arresting officer said the woman seemed "relieved."

Greg Duck
Greg Duck

Tennessee police drove to Orange Beach and interviewed Mrs. Winkler after midnight. With folksy language, she calmly and precisely explained what she had done and why.

She said she had accepted abuse from her husband "like a mouse" for many years. Then she said, her "ugly came out."

In her statement to police, Winkler said she had been beaten down by her husband over "stupid stuff" until she was bullied to the brink of insanity.

"I love him dearly, but gosh, he just nailed me in the ground," she said, "and I was real good for quite, quite some time."

Mary Winkler
Mary Winkler

Police and prosecutors said the statement indicated that she had given the killing some forethought, and this apparent premeditation brought a first-degree murder charge.

Winkler agreed to return to Tennessee, where she waived her right a preliminary hearing, based on advice from her Dixie dream team of Memphis lawyers, Farese and Ballin.

They agreed to take the case without retainerat least initially. A cynical view is that they agreed to work free in exchange for the priceless publicity that the case brought.

But Farese said he did it as a favor to Memphis attorney Mike Cook, a cousin of Mary Winkler.

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