- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2006

SELMER, Tenn. (AP) — A minister’s wife was charged yesterday with fatally shooting her husband in the parsonage in violence that shocked the congregation and shattered the couple’s image as a happy and loving family.

Mary Winkler, 32, was arrested on murder charges and confessed to the slaying after fleeing to Alabama in the family’s minivan with the couple’s three young daughters, authorities said.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Agent John Mehr said authorities know the motive for the killing, but he would not disclose it. He said police did not think it was infidelity, but he would not comment on whether Mrs. Winkler had accused her husband of abuse. Court papers offered no hint of a motive.

Her husband of 10 years, Matthew Winkler, 31, a popular and charismatic preacher at a fundamentalist Christian church, was found dead in a bedroom at the couple’s home Wednesday night in Selmer, a town of 4,600 in western Tennessee.

Mr. Mehr said the couple’s daughters were at the house when their father was shot and that authorities had found the weapon used to kill him. He would not give any further details.

Judy Woodlee, a member of a church in McMinnville where Mr. Winkler had been a youth minister before moving to Selmer, said Mrs. Winkler’s arrest was a shock.

“They were a good Christian family. They always seemed happy,” she said.

After a daylong search, Mrs. Winkler and her daughters were found Thursday night leaving a restaurant in Orange Beach, Ala., about 340 miles from home. Orange Beach Police Chief Billy Wilkins said she had rented a condo on the beach after the slaying.

She agreed to be returned to Tennessee and is expected to arrive today.

A judge convened a hearing yesterday on whether the three girls — Breanna, 1; Mary Alice, 6; and Patricia, 8 — could return to Tennessee with their paternal grandparents. Mrs. Winkler was led into the hearing but did not respond to questions from reporters.

Members of the Fourth Street Church of Christ found Mr. Winkler’s body after he missed a Wednesday evening service.

Mr. Winkler was hired at the 200-member church in February 2005. The congregation quickly came to love his by-the-book sermons, said Wilburn Ash, an elder.

Church members also took to his wife, whom they described as a quiet, unassuming woman who was a substitute teacher at an elementary school.

The couple were married in 1996. They had met at Freed-Hardeman University, a Church of Christ-affiliated school in Henderson where Mr. Winkler’s father was an adjunct professor.

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