Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Murder by the book: Murder by Deception

Unexpected Assault

To people who knew them, Mark and Donnah Winger seemed happily married and well established in their community of Springfield, Ill. Neighbors said they appeared quite contented, and they were actively involved in their synagogue. Both in their early thirties, she was an operating room nurse, and he, a graduate of Virginia Military Institute, was a nuclear safety engineer for a state facility. In June 1995, they realized a dream when they adopted a baby girl, Bailey Elizabeth. They had a nice home on West View Drive, where they had lived for three years, but in August 1995 something terrible happened that ended their idyllic existence.

It was a horrifying attack that shocked everyone in the neighborhood, more so after they learned what had precipitated it. A man entered the Winger home late in the afternoon of August 29 and apparently used a hammer to bludgeon Donnah Winger into unconsciousness. Mark was home at the time; he reported that he had been running on a treadmill when he heard the baby crying and something thumping upstairs. He explained that when he went to check, he saw Bailey alone on the bed, and then went into the kitchen where he found a strange man standing over his wife with a hammer. He told police that he retrieved his .45 semi-automatic handgun and shot the attacker, later identified as Roger Harrington. He then called 911 twice, hanging up after the first call.

Mark Winger's .45 semi-automatic handgun
Mark Winger's .45 semi-automatic handgun

Paramedics arrived and found two people on the floor, the man about five feet from the woman. A quick-thinking police officer, David Barringer, shot three Polaroids to record the scene before anything was moved. He noticed blood spatters on the wall and ceiling, and several pools of blood near both victims. Both were still breathing when they were transported to Memorial Medical Center. Mark Winger remained behind to speak with police rather than accompanying his wife in the ambulance.

Harrington died from two bullets to the head; Donnah succumbed directly thereafter to massive head injuries. The police towed away the dented and dirty maroon Oldsmobile that Harrington had parked in front of the couple's home. Despite a police road block, two women drove into the area that evening, one of them stopping and weeping inconsolably in her car. Presumably, she was related to Harrington.

Harrington's car parked outside the Winger home
Harrington's car parked outside the Winger home

Neighbors said that they had seen a man in a junky Oldsmobile drive up, park the wrong way in front of the Winger residence, and wait for a few minutes before going inside. There was no sign of forced entry, but no one seemed to know just how he got in.

Mark Winger had suffered no injuries. Winger told investigators that Harrington had been harassing the Wingers recently, but the story that unfolded made little sense. Certain facts soon came to light that provided a motive for the surprising attack, and the case was ruled a justifiable homicide in defense of home and family. Winger was regarded as a hero.

Sangamon County State's Attorney Patrick Kelley stated, "I anticipate that there will never be any charges filed against Mr. Winger." He couldn't have been more mistaken.

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