A Footnote on the Mary Winkler Case

Wayne Jackson
A recent book by renowned crime journalist, Ann Rule, has a one hundred-plus-page discussion of the 2006 sensational Mary Winkler case—the woman who shot her minister husband in the back. This is a brief review of Rule’s conclusions.

Ann Rule has been writing about crime for the past thirty-eight years. A former police officer, she teaches seminars to law enforcement groups, including the FBI, and has testified before U.S. Senate Judiciary Sub-committees. She has authored numerous books, some two dozen of which have been on the New York Times best seller list. More than twenty million copies of her books have been sold. Some of her volumes have dealt with high profile cases, e.g. serial killers Ted Bundy and Randall Woodfield (“The I-5 Killer”).

Mrs. Rule’s latest book is titled Smoke, Mirrors, and Murder. Among the five cases reviewed in this volume is that of Mary Winkler, the back-shooting minister’s wife who murdered her husband on March 21, 2006. The discussion of the Winkler case consumes 111 pages of the book.

A while back, as I could snatch the opportunity, I read the “Mary Winkler” segment of Ann Rule’s book. Clearly Rule, along with her Henderson, Tennessee-based research assistant, Beverly Morrison, did a considerable amount of investigation, doubtless reviewing the trial transcript and interviewing a number of people. She did a respectable job in presenting a balanced survey of the facts of the case.

While Mrs. Rule concluded that Matthew Winkler was controlling, and at least a verbally abusive husband—she conceded that the actual evidence for such was very thin and totally undocumented. On the other hand, she was tough on Mary. She argued that Mary alone was involved in the check-kiting criminal scheme that put her family more than $5,000 in debt, and that she “played dumb” on the witness stand.

She noted how the defense team groomed Mary to look like a bedraggled, almost dense-looking victim, and that the court dramatics were easily discernable. She acknowledged that it is perfectly permissible for a defense team to pull any trick in the book in the attempt to get its client off.

Rule didn’t believe that the murder was a long-planned, premeditated act. For example, when Mary fled the murder scene, she had made no provision for a protracted stay, taking only a pair of baby socks for the infant. But neither did the celebrated author fall for the “I snapped” defense.

Mrs. Rule suggested that two prime factors contributed to the murder. First, there was Mary’s panic over the next-day’s impending exposure of her fraudulent bank scam; second, there was her perception that her daughters were in danger of Matthew’s alleged abuse.

She argued persuasively, however, that all factors considered there was absolutely no justification for the cold-blooded murder of Matthew Winkler—shot in the back, possibly while he was asleep.

Mrs. Rule also included a brief discussion of that incident on New Year’s Eve when Mary was photographed in a bar with a beer, and holding a cigarette. The man who snapped the picture with his cell phone camera subsequently asked Mary: “Are you the preacher-killer?” Reportedly, Mary laughed, and said: “Yeah. You want to be next?”

This should be of great comfort to those who rushed to the defense of the “my-ugly-came-out” murderess, assisting her in multiple ways as she repeatedly perjured herself on the witness stand, and eventually escaped justice.

In her bio-sketch in the back of the book, Mrs. Rule, now 74, extended an invitation for reader responses to her books, and provided her e-mail address.

Since she misrepresented the church of Christ in the matter of divorce, stating that in the church, “divorce is not a choice,” (thus in Mary’s mind killing him was her only solution), I pointed out, in a very kind way, that she is mistaken about the divorce issue. I called attention to Jesus’ allowance for divorce in the case of marital infidelity (Matthew 19:9), and the fact that there are many divorced people within our churches who are not ostracized merely because of a past divorce.

However, I commended her for her research, balanced presentation, and her engaging writing skill. I subsequently received a gracious note from Mrs. Rule apologizing for her misrepresentation of the church on the matter of divorce. She had written about the “divorce” matter based upon a fuzzy childhood memory, rather than current research.

  • Rule, Ann. 2008. Smoke, Mirrors, and Murder. New York, NY: Pocket Books.