SELMER, Tenn. – The preacher’s wife charged with murder in the death of her husband wanted his congregation to know “she was sorry for everything she has done,” said a friend who visited her in jail Sunday.
Church member Pam Killingsworth visited Mary Winkler after Sunday services and said the preacher’s wife gave no indication why her husband of 10 years was shot.
“She just said she was sorry and for me to write a note to the church saying that she was sorry for everything she had done,” said Killingsworth as she walked away from the jail in tears.
Winkler, 32, has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of her husband, Matthew Winkler, the preacher at the Fourth Street Church of Christ in this small town 80 miles east of Memphis.
Her initial court appearance is scheduled for Monday.
The congregation held its first Sunday services since the shooting death and were warned by elder Robert Shackelford not to speculate about why their popular, young minister was killed.
Friends have described the Winklers as a happy couple with no outward signs of discord, and authorities have refused to talk about a motive for the murder.
“Perhaps over time we will better understand why this has happened,” Shackelford said at an adult Sunday school class. “Be very cautious about what you say or even what you think.”
Mary Winkler was locked up at the McNairy County jail after being returned Saturday from the coast of Alabama, where she and her three young daughters were found by police following a multistate search.
Church members found 31-year-old Matthew Winkler dead in a bedroom of the couple’s parsonage Wednesday night after his family missed a church service. Mary Winkler and the children were nowhere to be found.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has refused to discuss a motive, but said investigators did not believe it was because of infidelity. The agency refused comment on whether Winkler had been accused of domestic abuse. Court papers offered no hint on a motive.
After Mary Winkler’s arrest, a Florida judge released her children – Breanna, 1; Mary Alice, 6; and Patricia, 8 – to the custody of their paternal grandparents in Henderson.
Neither the grandparents nor the Winkler children attend the church services Sunday. No relatives of Mary Winkler attended either.
Shackelford urged the congregation to pray for the children, their grandparents and Mary Winkler. “Mary is a member of this church family,” he said, adding that forgiveness is a cornerstone of their faith.
“If we don’t have forgiveness, then we don’t have anything,” Shackelford said.
Church elder Wilburn Ashe reminded members that only a few facts about the killing were known for sure – Matthew Winkler is dead, his wife is in jail, and their children are without their parents.
“Those children have got a good home that they’re in, but it’s not mama and daddy,” Ashe said.
The church must hold together, he said, and not be torn by speculation and loose talk about the slaying.
“We’ve got to do two things,” Ashe said. “We’ve got to remain close to God and we’ve got to remain close to one another.”
Members put up a large bulletin board in a church hallway covered with snapshots of the Winkler family.
Photos showed the older Winkler children playing basketball, posing with kittens and rolling in the snow with their father. Matthew Winkler flashed a big smile in one photo taken at a church social while balancing plates of food in each hand.
Other snapshots showed Mary Winkler laughing and holding her youngest daughter up for the camera.
Mary and Matthew Winkler were married in 1996. They met at Freed-Hardeman University, a Church of Christ-affiliated school in Henderson where Matthew’s father was an adjunct professor.
Matthew Winkler’s funeral is scheduled for Tuesday in Selmer.
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