Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

A "Perfect" Life: Mary Winkler Story

Family Business: Faith

Religion was the Winklers' family business.

Matthew's paternal grandfather, Wendell Winkler, was a fire-and-brimstone evangelist who preached in the southeast for more than 50 years. His father, Dan, was a peripatetic Church of Christ minister and mother, Diane, a teacher. The couple has two other sons, Dan Jr. and Jacob.

The family moved frequently, following Dan Sr. from one church position to the next.

Matthew graduated from Austin High School in Decatur, Ala., where his father was a preacher at Beltline Church of Christ. Tall, handsome and fit, Matthew was a sports star at Austin High, and he continued to stand out in college.

Freed-Hardeman is a venerable Christian university with a picture-postcard campus set on a hill in Henderson, a small city in western Tennessee.

Freed-Hardeman Univ.
Freed-Hardeman Univ.

The school has 2,000 students who major in business, education, Bible study, fine arts or science and math. About two-thirds of the students are from Tennessee. The student body is overwhelmingly white, and 9 in 10 are Church of Christ members, according to the school's student profiles.

Matthew majored in Bible study, and Mary studied elementary education.

The university's website describes an austere student lifestyle at Freed-Hardeman, particularly when compared with non-religious colleges.

Matthew Winkler
Matthew Winkler

For example, the student handbook mandates "modesty and appropriateness" in fashion and grooming. A strict midnight curfew is enforced. Students are required to attend daily chapel service, and dormitories are segregated by gender.

The university website notes:

"Halloween provides a unique activity on campus. Students are allowed to trick-or-treat in dorms of the opposite sex. This is the only time during the school year when members of the opposite sex are allowed to visit each other's dorms beyond the lobbies."

Yet a classmate of Mary and Matthew Winkler told the Crime Library that the school was less restrictive in practice than it might seem on paper.

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