Matthew Brian Winkler was born November 21, 1974 and
died March 22, 2006. His parents were Dan and Diane Winkler of
Huntingdon, Tennessee. Matthew grew up in a Christian home. He and his two brothers, Daniel and Jacob, were active in church activities all their growing up years. Matthew played football in High School and had the talent to go further, but he decided to set aside a potential career in sports for Bible studies. With his father Dan, uncle Mike Winkler, grandfather Wendell Winkler, and great-grandfather, Merlin Paul Winkler, Sr., all of whom were gospel preachers, it seemed a natural thing for him to pursue the ministry. He attended Freed-Hardeman University. It was there that he met his wife to be, Mary Carol Freeman. They were married April 20, 1996. Two years later their first child, Patricia, was born. Then in 2000 their second child, Mary Alice was born.
After graduating from Freed-Hardeman in 1999, Matthew was youth minister for Central Church of Christ in McMinnville from 2002 through 2005. In January, 2005 he was hired as the pulpit minister for the Fourth Street church of Christ in Selmer, Tennessee. While at Selmer Mary gave birth to their third child, a little girl by the name of Brianna, March 9, 2005.
The events that surround the death of Matthew Winkler quickly rose to national attention when it was discovered that on March 22, 2006 that he had been killed in his Selmer home. It was on a Wednesday evening when the church recognized that the Winklers did not show up for mid-week Bible Study. The elders trying to contact them, decided to go over to the preacher's residence, where it was discovered that Matt had been shot in the back, and that Mary and the girls were nowhere to be found.
Not knowing the nature of the brutal killing, a nationwide amber alert was put out on Mary and the children. Very quickly the news that shocked the nation as to the disappearance of Matthew's wife and children soon turned to further shock when it was discovered that Mary had actually pulled the trigger. For, the following day her van was discovered by police in Orange Beach, Alabama, four hundred miles away from Selmer. She was then taken into custody, and by way of investigation and her confession, she was charged with the murder of her husband. The children were placed in the custody of Matthew's parents, Dan and Diane while Mary was extradited back to Tennessee within a few days.
Over the next few days, weeks and months, the name Winkler, that had been a household name in churches of Christ, became a household name throughout the nation for very different reasons. The court of public opinion was being carried out on both Matthew and Mary as the days drew nearer to the actual trial. She was released on bond August 15, 2006 to await her day in court. Memphis attornies Steve Farese and Leslie Ballin picked up the case pro bono, and proceeded to prepare a case for the defense.
The trial commenced on April 9, 2007 in the courthouse in McNairy County, Tennessee. A jury of ten women and two men were selected, and over the next nine days deliberations were made on both sides. The prosecution sought a charge of 1st degree murder. On April 19, 2007 the jury, after deliberating for eight hours returned a verdict of voluntary manslaughter. The sentencing took place on June 8, 2007. The Tennessee judge sentenced Mary Winkler to 210 days in prison for the conviction of voluntary manslaughter. Having already been incarcerated for five months, the judge credited the time toward the sentence. She was placed in the custody of the Western State Mental Health Hospital in Boliver, Tennessee for sixty days, and placed on probation for the rest of her sentence. She was finally released on August 14, 2007.
The following month, Mary was interviewed on the Oprah Winfrey television show, September 12th. Within a week Mary was given supervised visitation rights with her children. Nearly another year passed before she was given full custody of the children, August 4, 2008. Since the Winfrey show, the ordeal has been played out in different investigation based television shows. On November 6, 2010 the Winkler murder and trial was brought to the attention of the public once again in a 2 hour documentary. In it Mary was interviewed, and the public was updated on her life since the death of her husband four years earlier.
Matthew Winkler was 31 years of age when he passed from this life. His funeral took place in the church building of the Fourth Street church of Christ. His father, Dan eulogized his life before a filled auditorium. Shackleford Funeral Home then moved his body to its burial location in the Carroll Memorial Gardens between Huntingdon and McKenzie, Tennessee.
Thus ended the life of a gospel preacher. Only eternity will determine the answers to the many questions that have been raised since his untimely departure. May God richly bless his daughters, parents and relatives he leaves behind.