Mark and Donnah Winger seemed to have it all. He was a nuclear engineer, and she worked as an operating room technician. The love birds were loyal members of the community, and friends even dubbed them the “perfect” couple. The Wingers were ready to start a family and couldn’t have been more excited.
Unfortunately, Donnah wasn’t able to have children. She was heartbroken because she really wanted kids. However, she understood that there were other options and ready to explore them. In June 1995, they adopted their daughter, and their life was complete.
It all began on a hot summer afternoon when Mark Winger frantically called 911 asking for help. The terrified husband cried, “Somebody killed my wife. I shot him.” Springfield police rushed over to the residence, which was just a few miles away from the state capital.
The modest neighborhood with ranch-style homes was known to be safe. The crime rate was extremely rare, and the neighbors looked out for each other. In that summer of 1995, the big news on the block was that the Wingers had adopted a baby girl named Bailey Elizabeth Winger.
When the police arrived, the front door of the Winger’s red brick house was open. When they walked into the dining room, they found Donnah Winger. Blood was pouring out of the injuries in the back of her head. Her 32-year-old husband, Mark Winger, was in tears, crouched over her body.
On the floor, just a few feet away, was Roger Harrington. A 27-year-old shuttle driver who had taken Donnah home from the St. Louis airport just six days earlier. He was shot in the head twice. There was a bloody hammer right next to his body and a .45 caliber pistol on the table.
Harrington was pronounced dead upon arrival at the Memorial Medical Center. The medical team at the emergency room worked on Donnah for almost 40 minutes. One doctor actually recognized her as a delightful operating technician in the hospital’s day surgery unit. She wasn’t breathing, and, tragically, with no pulse, she was pronounced dead at 5:39 p.m.
Meanwhile, detectives headed over to the Winger home. The devastated husband was sitting at the foot of his bed, a bloody T-shirt in his hands and more blood dripping from his neck and arms. Police said he was distraught.
Mark kept asking how Donnah was doing and if she was OK. He was dealing with a lot, but he was able to give his statement of the grisly events that fateful day: Mark was in the basement running on a treadmill that afternoon when suddenly, he heard a strange thud coming from above him. He ran upstairs and grew more concerned when he saw his 3-month-old baby on the bed unattended.
He grabbed a gun from his bedroom and ran into the dining room, where he found a man beating his wife with a claw hammer. He shot the intruder twice and ran to try and save his wife. Then he hit the man with the hammer to stop his groaning.
When he was told that the man was Roger Harrington, police quoted him saying, “Oh my God, this guy’s been harassing us all week.” He said they received strange phone calls from a man asking for Mrs. Winger. He went on to say that he complained to Harrington’s company about his erratic behavior when he drove his wife home from the airport.
Mark claimed that he called Harrington that morning, telling him to stay away from his family. There was a note in Donnah’s handwriting on the refrigerator detailing her disturbing ride home that previous week – backing up Mark’s story.
She hired a Missouri-based shuttle service, BART Transportation, to drive her 100 miles from Lambert International Airport after visiting family in Florida. Her husband told her to write down what happened. She said Harrington was speeding, and he scared her when he spoke to her about his ability to speak with the dead, wild sex parties, and violent fantasies.
He had no criminal records other than a few minor arrests, but he did have a history of psychiatric issues, and police said he spent time in a local mental-health facility. He was a high school dropout and was renting a room in a trailer at the time of the murder.
Winger, on the other hand, seemed like the model citizen. He graduated from the Virginia Military Institute, served in Korea, and remained in the Army Ready Reserve. A year after walking down the aisle in 1989, Mark and Donnah moved to Springfield. They quickly made friends and were active members of the city’s close-knit Jewish community.
In fact, police records say that after officers entered the home, he asked for his rabbi. By the time Michael Datz of Temple B’rith Shalom arrived, so had detectives. He became Winger’s spokesman; he was comforting him at every chance he could and helped the detectives.
Donnah and Mark seemed to have a happy marriage, according to their friends and relatives. They were openly loving and affectionate with each other and incredibly excited to start a family. They were over the moon with that new baby.
Although the adoption wasn’t finalized before Donnah died, they had had custody of Bailey since early that June, and Donnah was on maternity leave from her job at the hospital. She even went to show off the baby at Mark’s office earlier on the day she was murdered.
In his report, Detective Charles Cox wrote, “It was very apparent that he and his wife were very much in love and that this should never have happened. The police reached their conclusions quite quickly. After driving Donnah home that day, Harrington became obsessed with her, then stalked and killed her.
On August 30, one day after the crime, Sangamon County State’s Attorney, Patrick Kelly, announced that Harrington’s death was a justifiable homicide. Winger would not be charged; he had acted in self-defense. It looked like an open and shut case.
The coroner’s jury reached a similar finding a week later, saying that Harrington walked into the home and attacked Donnah with the hammer – which, according to her husband, he had left on the kitchen table to remind him to get a hat rack.
However, not everyone thought the pieces of the puzzle added up. One of them was a new detective in the Springfield Police Department’s major case unit: Sgt. Doug Williamson. He went to the crime scene to get some witness statements. One neighbor said that the Wingers had a “rock-solid” marriage, but something didn’t sit well with him.
Williamson had a problem with Winger’s version of events. Although it was pronounced a justifiable homicide, Sgt. Williamson and his partner continued working on the case. Cash Brown, Donnah’s father from Boca Raton, Florida, was another skeptic. He didn’t think his son-in-law acted like a mourning widower.
“When he told me the story, at no time did tears come to his eyes, even though I was crying,” the grieving father said. He also felt that “there were too many unanswered questions” about what really went down that day. Could there be more to the story?
First of all (according to many accounts), Donnah ALWAYS kept her doors locked, So why would she have unlocked it that afternoon? According to her dad, she was always alert and looked out her window whenever someone was at the front door. She definitely wouldn’t have opened it to Harrington after that scary ride home.
According to her father, Donnah’s sister and a friend went into the house to test Winger’s story. One woman went into the basement and ran on the treadmill, while the other stayed upstairs and fell on the floor. The woman downstairs wasn’t able to hear anything over the sound of the treadmill.
But that wasn’t all. There was something off about Harrington’s behavior at the crime scene. He parked outside the house in broad daylight and left weapons behind in the car – a crowbar and a knife. Wouldn’t he have brought those things along if he was planning an attack?
Harrington also told people where he was going and had a note with the Winger’s address in the front seat as if he had an appointment or something. On the dining room table, he placed a soft drink and cigarettes as if he expected a sit-down conversation.
Mark told police that he shot Harrington twice. The first time he was several feet down the hall, and the bullet hit his head when he looked up from assaulting Donnah. The next shot was to his face seconds later. However, forensic studies showed that he was first shot in the upper back of his head.
Harrington’s friends who lived in the trailer with him said they were certain that Mark Winger called him that morning and told him to come to the house – but not to warn him to stay away, as Mark claimed.
Trisha Ray, whose mother owned the trailer, explained that Harrington was clear about his appointment at the Winger’s to talk about Mark’s complaint to her employer. He was actually happy to resolve the situation so that he could keep his job. Ray and others told investigators all of this and added the fact that Roger was harmless.
They noted that he was actually a gentle, kind person. “It was frustrating that no one would believe us,” Ray expressed. “I know what the police were thinking—here’s this man with a good name and good job, living in a nice house, this nice couple with a new baby, and look at us, they thought we were trailer trash, and Roger was crazy.”
For Mark Winger, life went on. He registered for financial aid through the Crime Victims Compensation Act and received $25,000, the maximum allowed by the state. Texas-based USAA, which insured military families, gave him over $150,000 in life insurance.
He also hired a live-in nanny – whom he later married. And he put the house his wife died in on the market. He was promoted at work to be in charge of the section that supervises Illinois’s nuclear power plants. He also wrote a letter to the local newspaper six weeks after Donnah died, thanking the community for supporting him in light of this tragedy.
Exactly four months after Donnah’s death, on December 29, 1995, he filed a lawsuit in Sangamon County Court against BART Transportation, the company that Harrington worked for. He claimed that BART was negligent in hiring the driver and should have known he was dangerous.
It was a fateful decision. In 1998, a BART driver said that the lawsuit launched an investigation by the company attorneys, which kept the “you know the husband did it” rumors about the case alive. The BART lawyers were working hard to gather new information. Within a year, they were working with the police, exchanging evidence, and even splitting the cost of forensic experts.
Randall Wolter, an attorney representing Harrington’s family, says that suspicions about Winger’s story may never have been investigated without his lawsuit. “The timing makes it look like this thing lay dormant until BARTS attorneys got involved,” he said. However, the police say they had other reasons for reopening the case.
Winger’s lawsuit played a role in the events that followed, and throughout the next several months, The open-and-shut case of August 1995 would start to unravel. In February 1999, detectives got a huge break when a woman came forward and admitted that she and Winger were having an affair in 1995.
The woman – whose name is blacked out in court records – was extremely close friends with Donnah, which is why she didn’t come forward sooner. She admitted that Mark straight up told her that he wanted his wife dead. In fact, she quoted him saying, “We could be together if Donnah just died.”
She also gave a statement to BART attorneys several months later. She admitted that once before the murder, Mark told her, “I’ve got to get that van driver in my house.” Furthermore, Mark called her at work on the day of the deaths and asked, “Will you love me no matter what?”
She said that they went to the rabbi’s house after the murder, where he privately told her, “I think the police believe me. I did it for us.” He then warned her not to tell investigators that they were having an affair or “our gooses would be cooked.”
The woman didn’t elaborate on why it took her more than four years to come forward, but in a sworn statement, she said that she was seeing a psychiatrist. Sources close to the investigation say that the therapist encouraged her to come clean and contact the police. She wasn’t charged for any crime and was reportedly promised immunity from prosecution.
This woman’s account of an affair was corroborated with hotel and phone records. The fling began just one month before Donnah died. It went on for six months after that. Apparently, they even exchanged wedding bands and vowed to be together.
Although her name is blocked out in the court documents, Donnah’s family and friends know her well. She refused to be interviewed. Her name has since been released: DeAnn Schultz. But Mark ended up marrying his much younger nanny, Rebecca. They were raising Bailey and even had more kids together (we’ll get into all that).
The investigation was reopened, and Tom Bevel, a well-known crime-scene analyst, was asked to look at the case. In October 1999, he came to a conclusion and reported that Donnah’s death was likely “a staged domestic homicide” – Mark lured Harrington over there in order to frame him for Donnah’s murder.
Bevel also pointed out that not a drop of Donna’s blood was found on Harrington’s body. He also added that Harrington’s gunshot wounds were inconsistent with Mark’s recollection. So basically, the holes in Mark’s story were becoming difficult to ignore.
Bevel had his own theory: Mark Winger forced Harrington to his knees before shooting him from the back. After he fell, Mark shot him again on the forehead. Then, Donnah came into the room, and Mark attacked her. He came to that conclusion based on blood splatter found on the wall as well as on Mark’s clothes.
In his report, Bevel said, “This accounts for the very unusual distance between the two bodies.” At this point, things weren’t looking good for Mark Winger. Is it possible that he did it? Did Mark Winger really get away with murder for all these years?
By December 1999, BART attorneys filed documents in Sangamon County Court accusing Mark Winger of killing his wife and the driver. Harrington’s parents filed a wrongful-death lawsuit just one day after the allegations went public. Also, their innocent child was accused of being a murderer when he was also a victim.
Mark finally came to his senses two months later and dropped his lawsuit against BART. He also got ahold of Tom Breen, a famous defense attorney who helped save Ronaldo Cruz from death row. Upon Breen’s request, the judge agreed to halt proceedings in the Harringtons’ lawsuit during the criminal investigation.
It took another 18 months for Sangamon County prosecutors to charge Winger – and the waiting process was agonizing, especially from Brown, Donnah’s father. He lost his patience on several occasions and threatened to hang himself at Springfield City Hall. He even bought the chains.
But who could blame him? He explained how incredibly frustrating it was to know that his former son-in-law was “allowed to run around and enjoy life when he bludgeoned my daughter to death.” I don’t think anyone would disagree with him there.
A few months after Donnah’s death, Mark knocked up the nanny, Rebecca. And no more than a year after his wife’s murder, Mark married the nanny. Rebecca adopted Bailey and had three more children in the following years. They seemed like a big, happy family.
They bought a huge farmhouse near Springfield and did some extensive remodeling with luxury items. The home even included a whirlpool and gym. He gradually dropped the friends tha the and Donnah had had, including Rabbi Datz. He cut contact with Donnah’s family and left Judaism to become Christian at Rebecca’s request.
But the good times wouldn’t last. Finally, Winger was indicted for first-degree murder by a Sangamon County grand jury for both deaths. In the highly publicized arrest, the balding father of four was handcuffed at his state office and booked into Sangamon County jail. He was held on a $10 million bond.
At his arraignment a few days later, Mark pleaded not guilty. His attorney fought for a bond reduction so that he could go back to his $72,500-a-year job and support his wife and children. He even called his client “a rock-solid member of this community.”
Breen pointed out the fact that Winger was cooperating with police and he that the bond reduction was to take care of his family. He also noted that he believed a jury would agree with the initial findings of the case – it was self-defense, and what Mark did “was justified back then.”
Bevel’s forensic analysis was dismissed by the judge who called it, “pure speculation that would not be admissible in court. When Breen’s motion to reduce bond was denied, Donnah’s father whispered a joyous “Yes!” and Roger’s mother, Helen Harrington, cheered out loud!
In 2002, the trial began. Mark Winger was charged with two counts of first-degree murder. The prosecutors presented convincing evidence, including a recorded phone conversation between him and Roger Harrington planning to meet up that day.
They said the defendant invited the man into their home under the pretense of wanting to smooth things over after getting him in trouble at work. But the real reason he lured Harrington over there was so that he could frame him for his wife’s murder. DeAnn Schult’s detailed testimony was also crucial for the prosecution.
Ultimately, in May 2002, a jury found Mark Winger guilty, and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. It should be noted that in 2006, he was charged for asking an inmate to arrange the murders of DeAnn and his childhood friend Jeffrey Gelman, whom Mark hated for not posting his million-dollar bond.
In 2007, Mark was found guilty of solicitation of murder and was given an additional 35 years in the slammer. Now, at age 58, he is expected to remain incarcerated at the Western Illinois Correctional Center in Mount Sterling for the rest of his natural life.
So, what about Rebecca Simic, Mark’s former nanny and mother of his children? She remembered that dreadful moment in the courtroom that completely changed her life. She said, “That guilty verdict solidified that, ‘Hey, your life’s over. Your kids don’t have a dad. It’s up to you. Move on.”
In 1996, Rebecca first came into the Winger home. She said that back then, she was a young woman with the world at her fingertips who really wanted to help people and work with children. And she found that… perhaps not in the most ideal way. But as a loving wife and mother, she wanted to put together a family torn apart by tragedy.
But after her husband was convicted, she struggled with her identity. On top of the fact that she was living with a murderer for this entire time, she’s was now a single mother to four kids and the wife of a convicted murderer.
Unfortunately, since this case was so high profile, she felt like the community saw her as guilty by association. They moved out of that town into a new city where the family was free of Mark Winger’s name. Rebecca found it hard not to let her husband’s vicious crime affect her.
With the loss of her husband came the loss of her financial security. After spending seven years as a stay-at-home mom, she searched for a job. Without experience and her home in foreclosure, she had no choice but to make the painful decision to go on welfare.
At the same time, her kids were growing up fast and beginning to understand why their father was in prison. She was so worried that the shame and trauma would affect them as it did her. But since they were so young at the time, they don’t have vivid memories of him.
Bailey, who is now 25 years old, recalls the day her mother sat her down and told her about the horrendous crimes her father had committed. As a preteen dealing with no father figure, it allowed her to close off all those unresolved feelings: “It kind of told me all I needed to know to just break things off.”
Rebecca tried to create a relatively normal and happy life for her children while dealing with a ton of her own grief. It’s crazy to think that Mark Winger got away with double first-degree murder for years. It really makes you wonder how many husbands get away with killing their wives. It’s a scary thought.