A Footnote on the Mary Winkler Case

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.
By Wayne Jackson | Christian Courier

No narration available

Ann Rule (1931-2015) was often called the “Queen of True Crime Stories.” A former police officer, she taught seminars to law enforcement groups, including the FBI, and testified before U.S. Senate Judiciary Sub-committees.

She authored numerous books, more than two dozen of which have been on the New York Times bestseller 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”).

In 2007, Ms. Rule’s published a book titled Smoke, Mirrors, and Murder:https://amzn.to/3wwjfKX. 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.

I read the “Mary Winkler” segment of Ann Rule’s book a while back. Rule and her Henderson, Tennessee-based research assistant, Beverly Morrison, did considerable investigation, doubtlessly reviewing the trial transcript and interviewing several people. She respectably presented a balanced survey of the case.

While Ms. Rule concluded that Matthew Winkler was controlling and at least a verbally abusive husband, she conceded that the actual evidence for such was fragile 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 an attempt to get its client no conviction for murder.

Rule didn’t believe that the murder was a long-planned, premeditated act. For example, when Mary fled the murder scene, she 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. Ms. Rule suggested that two prime factors contributed to the murder.

First, Mary panicked 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 no justification for the cold-blooded murder of Matthew Winkler—shot in the back, possibly while he was asleep.

Ms. Rule also briefly discussed the 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 wanna 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 on the back of the book, Ms. Rule invited reader responses to her books and provided her e-mail address.

Since she misrepresented the churches of Christ in the matter of divorce by stating that in the church, “divorce is not a choice” (thus, in Mary’s mind, killing him was her only solution), I wrote to her pointing 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 (Mt. 19:9) and that many divorced people within our churches are not ostracized merely because of a past divorce.

However, I commended her for her research, balanced presentation, and engaging writing skills.

I subsequently received a gracious note from Ms. Rule apologizing for her misrepresentation of the church on divorce. She wrote about the “divorce” matter based on fuzzy childhood memories rather than current research.

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