Watch CBSN Live

Minister's Wife Jailed Near Home

The wife of a slain small-town minister has been brought back to her home state.

Mary Winkler was slumped over in the back seat of an unmarked police car as it pulled into a rear entrance of the McNairy County jail in West Tennessee this afternoon. She was brought from a jail in south Alabama.

Police say Mary Winkler, 32, confessed to shooting her husband to death in the parsonage in a crime that shocked the congregation and shattered the couple's happy and loving image.

Winkler 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.

Police found and her daughters late Thursday about 340 miles from home in Orange Beach, Ala., where she had rented a condo.

Matthew Winkler's body was discovered in his bedroom by members of his church when he failed to show up for a service. Police then started a search for Mary Winkler and the couple's three young daughters. They were found in Orange Beach, Alabama, on Thursday. She did not resist extradition.

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 believe it was infidelity.

He would not comment on whether Mary Winkler had accused her husband of abuse, but TBI spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson said. "When something like this happens, you look at the history, the domestic violence, anything at all to give you a clue as to what happened or how it happened. We found nothing, no history of domestic violence," reports CBS affiliate WTVF-TV.

Meanwhile Saturday, members of the congregation planted flowers Saturday outside the Fourth Street Church of Christ as they waited for their minister's wife to be brought home to face first-degree murder charges in the death of her husband.

The gardening project and a spring cleanup had been planned weeks ago by Matthew Winkler.

"We're doing this because Matthew wanted us to," church member James Turner said as he dug a spade into the dark soil of a flower bed. "It keeps us busy," said Jimmie Smith, a retired counselor.

She did not resist extradition, and Saturday afternoon McNairy County sheriff's deputies brought her to jail in Selmer, a west Tennessee town about 80 miles east of Memphis.

Mary Winkler said nothing and kept her head down as she was taken from an unmarked police car into the building.

Police said she confessed to the killing and she was charged Friday with first-degree murder, a crime that requires premeditation.

Authorities refused to disclose a motive.

"Listen, the Mary we knew didn't do this," Anita Whirley said as she planted purple, yellow and red pansies. "She was a wonderful person. We just don't understand."

An Alabama judge released the Winkler children — Breanna, 1; Mary Alice, 6; and Patricia, 8 — to the custody of their paternal grandparents. Mary Winkler was at the custody hearing Friday in handcuffs.

The family had moved to Selmer a year ago when Matthew Winkler was hired for his first job as the lead minister of a Church of Christ congregation. Church members described them as a devoted couple, good parents and good friends.

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

"Everything we saw belies what has happened," said Janet Sparks, a member of Church of Christ in Selmer. "It just doesn't go together. Something is amiss, and we don't know what it is."

Tired of the reporters and photographers who descended on this small west Tennessee town, church members locked the church doors and hung up a handwritten sign: "No more interviews today."

"We're grieving," Church of Christ member Judy Turner said. "This was a perfect family."

"It's a pretty hard thing to fathom, you know. Just because you're used to seeing a smile and seeing him around and seeing him having fun," a teenage boy told CBS correspondent Alison Harmelin.

Eva Ferrell, principal of a Christian school in McMinnville where Winkler taught Bible classes before moving to Selmer, said Winkler was a good teacher and seemed to have a "strong, solid Christian marriage."

Mary and Matthew Winkler were married in 1996. They had met at Freed-Hardeman University, a Church of Christ-affiliated school in Henderson where Matthew's father was an adjunct professor. Mary took education classes, and Matthew took Bible classes. Neither graduated.

Churches of Christ do not consider themselves a denomination since every congregation is independently governed by a group of church elders. They generally believe the Bible should be interpreted literally and that baptism is essential for salvation. The church is also noted for its prohibition on using musical instruments during services.