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Shooting death of minister baffles Tenn. town

The killing in Selmer, a town of 4,600 about 80 miles east of Memphis, baffled friends and church members who knew Matthew and Mary Winkler as a happy, loving couple.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Members of a church planted flowers Saturday in memory of their slain pastor, while deputies went to Alabama to pick up his wife, who authorities said confessed to shooting him in their home.

The killing Wednesday in Selmer, a town of 4,600 about 80 miles east of Memphis, baffled friends and church members who knew Matthew and Mary Winkler as a happy, loving couple.

Matthew Winkler was found dead in a bedroom at the couple’s home after church members went looking for him when he did not appear for a service at the Fourth Street Church of Christ.

Mary Winkler, 32, was arrested on a first-degree murder charge Friday in Orange Beach, Ala., about 340 miles away, where she driven with the couple’s three daughters, authorities said.

On Saturday, authorities in Baldwin County, Ala., transferred her to the custody of McNairy County sheriff’s deputies who were expected to return her to Selmer later in the day, Baldwin County sheriff’s spokesman John Murphy said.

In Selmer on Saturday, members of Matthew Winkler’s congregation planted beds of pansies outside the church in his honor. The flower beds were part of a spring cleanup he had planned.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent John Mehr said police know why Winkler shot her husband, but he would not disclose the motive except to say police did not believe it was infidelity. He would not comment on whether Mary Winkler had accused her husband of abuse. Court papers offered no hint of a motive.

Matthew Winkler had preached at the Fourth Street Church for a little more than a year. His wife was a quiet, unassuming woman who was substitute teacher at an elementary school, church members said. They were married in 1996.

“Everything we saw belies what has happened,” church member Janet Sparks said. “It just doesn’t go together. Something is amiss, and we don’t know what it is.”

Authorities said that the couple’s daughters were at the house when their father was shot and that investigators had found the weapon used to kill him.

At a juvenile custody hearing in Alabama on Friday, a judge placed the couple’s daughters —Breanna, 1; Mary Alice, 6; and Patricia, 8 — with paternal grandparents Dan and Diane Winkler, who live in Henderson, about 20 miles north of Selmer.

“It was important these kids were placed in a loving and nonhostile environment,” said David Whetstone, a Baldwin County district attorney.

Orange Beach Police Lt. Rusty Roberts said the girls were “extremely sharp, bright children” and that Mary Winkler was very concerned about their well-being. She attended the hearing, but did not speak to reporters.

Dan Winkler spoke to reporters afterward.

“Thank you for your love, support and prayers,” he said. “Now we want to turn our attention to remembering our son and to the care of three young children.”