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Friday, March 24, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Wife Confesses in Pastor's Slaying

The wife of a popular preacher has confessed to shooting her husband in the bedroom of their parsonage in Selmer, Tenn. and will be brought back to the small city to face first-degree murder charges, officials said.

At a televised news conference, Chief Roger Rickman of the Selmer Police Department said Mary Winkler confessed to authorities in Alabama. No motive was announced.

Mary Winkler will be transported from Orange Beach, Ala., about 350 miles south of Selmer, from where she and the couple's three daughters fled after her husband was killed. She will be returned this weekend and will likely be arraigned on murder charges next week, Rickman said.

Matthew Winkler, 31, the minister at Selmer's Fourth Street Church of Christ, was found shot to death Wednesday. After he missed the popular midweek evening service, shocked church members called authorities.

Police said there was no evidence that the home had been broken into. Mary Winkler and the children - Breanna, 1; Mary Alice, 6; and Patricia, 8 - were missing, so authorities issued an Amber Alert.

Authorities in Alabama noticed the vehicle and contacted Tennessee police. Mary Wilkins, 32, who had rented a condo on the beach, was in the custody of Alabama police, who interviewed her.

The children were expected to be given to the grandparents at least temporarily. Rickman said the children did not witness the shooting.

Matthew Winkler had been the minister at the Fourth Street church for about 13 months. He and his family became key parts of the community in the city of about 4,600 in southwest Tennessee near Memphis. It is a rural area near the Mississippi border with horse and cattle ranches.

"They were the perfect family," said Pam Killingsworth, a member of the church and an assistant principal at the elementary school attended by two of the children.

She was "the perfect mother, the perfect wife. She brought her children to school every day. She volunteered at the school," Killingsworth said on CNN.

"It is just not real. In my heart, I can't believe this is happening," she said. "She was not this kind of person."

Two shocks have rocked Selmer, former Mayor Jimmy Whittington told CNN: The murder of a charismatic preacher, followed by the disappearance of his wife and children.

"Yesterday we were tied in knots, worrying where they [the family] were, what was happening. To some degree, there is relief that the children are safe," he said.

"I doubt there is anybody in the community who can tell you what happened," Whittington said. "Small communities have a tendency to think these type of things happen elsewhere. When it happens to you, you're shocked."