(“A Welcome Intrusion,” Forensic Files)
Last week’s post told of how Mark Winger leveraged his reputation as a respectable middle-class husband and father to pull off a double homicide with impunity — but only for six years.
On Aug. 29, 1995, the Illinois Department of Nuclear Safety engineer murdered his wife, Donnah, with a hammer and shot to death a hapless young man named Roger Harrington. Then he told police he killed Harrington because the 27-year-old suspended airport-shuttle driver invaded his home and was attacking his wife.
Winger profited by Donnah’s life insurance policy and basked in public sympathy and his new status as a hero who valiantly confronted a deranged killer.
That party ended in 2001, when police opened a new investigation that unwound Winger’s story and landed him in prison for life.
Tempting tale. The story of the Mr.-Perfect-gone-psycho drew interest from the entertainment media. The ABC-TV drama Silent Witness dedicated a 2012 episode called “The Devil You Know” to the Winger crimes. CSI: NY featured a 2006 episode, “Open and Shut,” loosely based on the case.
Celebrity attorney F. Lee Bailey included Winger in his 2008 book, When the Husband Is the Suspect, written with Jean Rabe.
For today’s post, I’d like to detail how, in the time span between those two broadcasts, Winger managed to obliterate any lingering doubts about his guilt.
Budding bromance. It seemed that Winger wasn’t enjoying the daily grind of the Pontiac Correctional Center and wanted a way out that didn’t involve digging a tunnel.
At some point after his stay commenced in 2002, he established a rapport with another inmate.
Unlike Winger, Terry Hubbell lacked a degree from the Virginia Military Institute and didn’t come from a family prominent enough to land a wedding announcement in the New York Times.
But the biographies of the two men overlapped in that each had beaten someone to death, in Hubbell’s case, a teenager named Angel Greenwood, in 1983.
Eliminate them all. Winger asked Hubbell to execute a murder-for-hire project intended to exonerate Winger and exact revenge on those who had offended him. According to an Illinois state court document filed in 2011:
“In May and June 2005, [Winger] approached Hubbell in the recreation yard and mentioned his desire ‘to get rid of a witness in his case.’ Defendant [Winger] named the witness as DeAnn Anderson or Shultz. Hubbell initially blew it off ‘because everybody that is in prison pretty well says they would like to get rid of a witness in their case.’ Hubbell stated the issue came up ‘repeatedly’ and he eventually contacted a private investigator who worked on his case. Hubbell hoped to receive consideration for himself. In June 2005, Hubbell received a written plan from defendant [Mark Winger]…”
Winger’s 19-page handwritten note called for a hitman to kidnap Jeff Gelman — a well-to-do childhood friend who had declined to bail Winger out of jail in 2001 — and extract a huge sum of money in return for promising not to hurt Gelman’s family.
That jackpot would pay for the kidnapping of DeAnn Schultz, Winger’s former lover and a witness for the prosecution. Schultz would be forced to write and record statements saying that she lied during the trial and Winger was innocent.
Another provision in Winger’s plan, as paraphrased by Donnah’s step-father, Ira Drescher, during his 48 Hours interview: “Oh, by the way, if there’s any money leftover, kill Ira Drescher also because he’s the son-of-a-gun father-in-law that I dislike.”
Grave expectations. Winger also wanted Gelman and Gelman’s family killed once they came up with the cash. The hitman would murder Schultz, too, but make it look like suicide.
The hired killer would need to follow elaborate instructions every step of the way. Winger’s plan specified, for example, that the hitman ensure that the only fingerprints on Schultz’s suicide note and its envelope would come from Schultz herself and only her DNA could be found on the stamps and flap of the envelope.
Given Winger’s past crimes and his background as an engineer, the elaborateness of the blueprint doesn’t seem too surprising. But his belief that he could phone in a plan with that many moving parts does. It sounds like a job for a team of CIA agents and Navy Seals, not some freelancer hired sight unseen.
Also, in his fixation on the details, Winger seemed to forget the larger picture. Once the hitman received the ransom from Gelman, what would keep him from taking the money and running? Why would he risk committing all those capital murders?
And wouldn’t investigators connect the dots between the Schultz, Gelman, and Drescher murder victims? No one but Winger would have a motive for seeing all of them dead.
In the end, Winger hurt no one but himself with his intricate scheme.
No Johnnie Cochrans. In the resulting 2007 trial, Winger claimed that his plans were just a fantasy, fueled by anger over his belief that Springfield police detectives had lied about his murder case and that his conviction was in part politically motivated.
He also blamed his own bloodthirsty reveries on the dehumanizing conditions at maximum security prisons. “They are warehouses of men, but they’re also insane asylums,” Winger said.
Winger characterized Hubbell as a “sly fox” whom he feared. Hubbell was scamming him, he alleged.
Apparently, Winger’s parents couldn’t or wouldn’t help him get a lawyer for this, his latest trial. Livingston County public defender Randell Morgan represented him.
In a twist, a special agent who had helped arrange for Hubbell to wear a concealed recording device while talking to Winger in the prison yard ended up testifying for the defense. Casey Payne said that Hubbell came forward in the first place only because he wanted his mother’s phone bill paid and a transfer to another prison.
The jury took three hours to convict Winger.
As reported in a story by Chris Dettro in the State Journal Register, Morgan asked for a minimum sentence, arguing that no money changed hands between Winger and Hubbell and that none of the kidnap-murder plans came to fruition.
In his presentencing statement to Livingston County Circuit Judge Harold Frobish, Winger insisted he was a sociable soul, not a sociopath. “I love people,” Winger said. “The only thing I love more than people is more people.”
Nerves calmed. Frobish handed Winger — then 44 years old and already serving two life sentences without parole — two sentences of 35 years. The judge called him a “threat to the public.”
Donnah Winger’s mother, Sara Jane Drescher, told 48 Hours that the additional sentence eased her worries that her former son-in-law would go free if a technicality caused the murder convictions to be overturned.
Ira Drescher recalled looking at Winger in chains after the trial and telling him, “Your miserable life is over.”
But here at True Crime Truant, Mark Winger’s story will continue in upcoming weeks with a postscript on his latest maneuvers from his super-max cell and an update on the lives of some of the survivors, including second wife Rebecca Simic.
Until then, cheers.
Update: Read Part 3 of the Mark Winger story.