MARY QUITE CONTRARY
By Jon Christian Ryter
March 29, 2006
Thirty-two year old husband killer Mary Carol Winkler waived extradition and was returned to Selmer, Tennessee on Saturday. Selmer police officials drove to Orange Beach, Alabama to take custody of the confessed killer. On Thursday, the wife of slain Selmer Fourth Street Church of Christ minister Matthew Brian Winkler, 31, confessed to shooting him in the early afternoon of March 22, 2006, before school let out. At least one of the children, Breanna, was home. She appeared to be unaware that her father had been killed. Winkler told police authorities from Alabama and Tennessee that, after shooting him, she loaded her three young daughters (Patricia, 8; Mary Alice, 6; and Breanna, 1) into the family's minivan and headed for Orange Beach, Alabama—350 miles from Selmer.
Selmer police charged Winkler with first degree murder because of three facts. First, she fatally shot her husband in the back, negating any chance she might later have had to claim self-defense since, when your adversary is walking away, any prior threat to your safety has been minimized, and lethal force would no longer be a valid option in a family dispute. Second, Winkler rented the beach condo for herself and her daughters prior to the shooting, indicating to police that she pre-planned not only the murder of her husband but an escape route for herself and her children. And, finally, prior to the crime Winkler secured the murder weapon. All of the elements needed to support a legal argument before a jury that the murder of Matthew Winkler was premeditated exist. In her taped confession, Mary Winkler told authorities why she did it. But they aren't talking, fearing that allowing any information to leak out might jeopardize the prosecution of the case. They did, however, let the media rule out infidelity and physical abuse.
The people of Selmer, a quiet, peaceful rural community of 4,500 are puzzled. Townsfolk and members of the 200 person congregation of Winkler's church described Mary Winkler as "the perfect mother and the perfect wife." Matthew Winkler is a third generation minister. Before moving to Selmer in February, 2005, Winkler served as Youth Minister and taught Bible classes at a Church of Christ in McMinnville, Tennessee. According to Eva Ferrell, the principle of a Christian school in McMinnville where Matthew Winkler was employed as a teacher, the Winklers were the perfect family.
But, clearly, there was something wrong in Paradise. After she was charged the media began questioning the Orange Beach police about motive. The police were quick to squash the notion that infidelity—by either Matthew or Mary Winkler—played a role in the murder. When reporters raised the specter of physical abuse, asking whether or not Mary Winkler had ever accused her husband of abuse, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson said, "When something like this happens, you look at the history, the domestic violence, anything at all that gives you a clue as to what happened—or how it happened. We found nothing. No history of domestic violence." The question was rephrased by a reporter who asked if there was any evidence of verbal abuse. This time, the police sidestepped the question. This suggests that verbal, or emotional, abuse was likely the reason given by Winkler for planning the execution of her husband and carrying out her plans on the afternoon of March 22 while her two oldest daughters were in school.
Then, making no attempt to conceal the body or to clean up the crime scene, Winkler got into the van and picked her children up from school and headed to Orange Beach without, it appears, second thoughts about the mess she left on the bedroom floor at the parsonage—or, about the people who would ultimately find the body and, initially, assume that tragedy had also befallen Mary, Breanna, Mary Alice and Patricia.
When Pastor Winkler did not show up at the Fourth Street Church of Christ Wednesday evening, church members drove to the parsonage to see if something was wrong. They found him, dead, on the bedroom floor.
The Winklers—husband and wife—were much loved by their 200-member congregation. "They were a nice family," former Selmer Mayor Jimmy Whittington told the media. "They just blended in." "I can't believe this would happen," Pam Killingsworth, the assistant principle at Selmer Elementary who knew Mary Winkler both as a substitute teacher at her school and the wife of her pastor. "The kids are just precious—and she was precious. He was one of the best ministers we've ever had—just super charismatic." If Mary Winkler was an emotionally abused wife, the Winklers managed to keep their secret from all of those who knew them.
When news reached Selmer that Mary Carol Winkler had confessed to killing her husband, shocked residents greeted the confession with disbelief. "The Mary we knew," Church of Christ member Anita Whirley said as she planted yellow, red and purple pansies outside the church—the pastor's last planned project, that he did not live to complete, "didn't do this. She was a wonderful person. We just don't understand. They were a good Christian family. They always seemed so happy."
"Everything we saw," said church member Janet Sparks, "belies what happened. It just doesn't go together. Something is amiss, and we don't know what it is." What was amiss in the Winkler marriage was that which we can't see, can't gauge and, sometimes, can't imagine. It's called by a myriad of names: verbal abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, or just plain domestic abuse. In its most common forms abusive partners put down their spouse in a variety of belittling or demeaning ways: insulting them, calling them names, cursing them, threatening them, throwing things at them, or a hundred different things designed to psychologically hurt or humiliate their mate.
The Psychology Department of the University of South Carolina interviewed 234 women to assess the relationship between physical abuse and emotional abuse. The study included women in long-term and short-term abusive relationships. Many of the women believed that emotional abuse was worse than physical abuse. In a broad sense, those experiencing emotional abuse believed that ultimately, it always evolves into physical abuse.
Every year an estimated 2 to 4 million women in the United States become the victims of domestic violence—but twice that amount, four to eight million spouses—men and women—become the victims of emotional violence, more commonly known as verbal or emotional abuse. Emotional abuse and physical abuse share a root cause—one person is determined to exercise power and control over another. More time than not, the abuser "wins" by making his or her subservient partner the center of his or her existence and conversely, the abuser becomes the entire universe of the abused.
Typically, male abusers target the areas of his spouse's life that he knows are particularly sensitive. The emotional abuser will constantly attack those areas, mentally beating the spouse into absolute submission. Most of the time the abuser will successfully isolate his or her mate, cutting off their contact with the outside world.
A 1999 study, published in "Violence and Victims," revealed that psychological abuse, coupled with the threat of physical abuse deals a double blow to the female victim who has been expecting the back of her mate's hand, his fist, or just a shove into a wall. Each time the verbal abuse begins, the victim's body recoils as it gears up for the expected physical blows that generally do not come. This will likely be the defense offered by Winkler.
But claims of emotional abuse are much more difficult to substantiate than claims of physical abuse since the bruises left by emotional abuse are psychological, and generally, emotional abuse takes place in private. Whether this line of defense will succeed for Mary Winkler may well depend on whether she was close enough to her mother to honestly confide in her over the ten years of her marriage to Matthew Winkler. Most victims of verbal abuse suffer from self-esteem problems and tend to hide the abuse, believing it reflects more on her than him. The question her jury will likely face will be, does verbal abuse justify a bullet in the back? Most likely, her jury will say no.
© 2006 Jon C. Ryter - All Rights
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Jon Christian Ryter is the pseudonym of a former newspaper reporter with the Parkersburg, WV Sentinel. He authored a syndicated newspaper column, Answers From The Bible, from the mid-1970s until 1985. Answers From The Bible was read weekly in many suburban markets in the United States.
Today, Jon is an advertising executive with the Washington Times. His website, www.jonchristianryter.com has helped him establish a network of mid-to senior-level Washington insiders who now provide him with a steady stream of material for use both in his books and in the investigative reports that are found on his website.