Mark Winger: Survivors’ Epilogues

Fallout from the Nuclear Engineer’s Crimes
(“A Welcome Intrusion,” Forensic Files)

Last week’s post and the one prior looked at Mark Winger’s two murder schemes (one fulfilled, the other failed) and the efforts of law enforcement to ensure he spends the rest of his days at the mercy of a prison commissary account and Nutraloaf.

This week’s post is devoted to epilogues for some of the people affected by the former Springfield, Illinois, nuclear engineer’s 1995 slaying of Donnah Winger and Roger Harrington:

• Sara Jane and Ira Drescher, Donnah Winger’s mother and step-father, took comfort in philanthropy. They raised $42,000 to build Donnah’s Playrooom in Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, Florida, in 1998.

donnahs-fund-cropAt that time, they still believed Roger Harrington was the hammer-wielding killer. Once the truth about their son-in-law came out, the Dreschers turned their attention toward domestic violence.

They established Donnah’s Fund at the Women in Distress shelter in Broward County, Florida, to help victims pay for security deposits, furnishings, and babysitting once they exit the facility and start anew.

In a 2010 story in the Happy Herald, the Florida publication noted that the Dreschers made themselves available to speak to organizations about domestic violence.

P.S. You can also read a couple of nice tidbits about the Dreschers’ work by way of a 2008 post on an eclectic blog I came across. John Connor’s convoluted (in a good way) recollection tells of how his random purchase of a 1964 souvenir record album eventually connected him with Sara Jane Drescher.

Rebecca Simic, whom Mark Winger married after hiring her to care for Bailey, the baby girl he and Donnah Winger adopted, seems to have kept a low profile since he went to prison in 2002. A Southeast Outlook story provided a few details about her life since then.

Rebecca Simic during the time of her marriage to Mark Winger
Rebecca Simic during the time of her marriage to Mark Winger

The 2012 article in the newspaper, a publication of the Southeast Christian Church, reported that Simic’s marriage to Winger had been a happy one. According to the piece by writer Patti Smith:

“They were active in their church, and Winger did construction projects as a volunteer around the building. Simic said she believes Winger’s conversion was real. She never suspected him until he was sent to prison for life and she asked for a divorce. His letters, she said, were threatening and hostile.”

After the 2002 trial, she immediately moved to Louisville, Kentucky, along with Bailey — whom Simic adopted — and the other two girls and boy she shared with Winger.

The newspaper story includes circa 2012 photographs of her and the children.

In a 2016 interview with the Southeast Outlook, Simic said that she’s begun to open up more about her history as a means of giving moral support to other single moms.

She explained life as a onetime spouse to a murderer:

“No one seems to think about the family when someone is incarcerated,” Simic said. “I call them living victims. It’s a humiliating, embarrassing role to play, although you have done nothing wrong. That spouse is alive but dead to the family.”

As so with the earlier story, the more recent article asserts that Winger threatened Simic’s life when she took steps to end their marriage.

Despite everything, she says that the whole experience has strengthened her religious faith and that she’s grateful to have brought up Bailey.

• Doug Williamson and Charlie Cox were lead detectives on the case, starting with the deaths of Donnah Winger and Roger Harrington. Williamson appeared on both Forensic Files’ “A Welcome Intrusion” in 2003 and 48 Hours’ “Invitation to a Murder” in 2008.

In more-recent years, it seems, life has not gone so well for Williamson. He failed firearms training and left the police force in 2011.

Doug Williamson during a Forensic Files taping
Doug Williamson during a Forensic Files taping

As of 2014, he was locked in a conflict with the city of Springfield over a disability claim, as reported in the Illinois Times.

Williamson, whose father and brother also were police officers, said the job brought on post-traumatic stress disorder and made him unable to function in his position.

Investigating murders, including one involving the suffocation death of an infant, gave him disturbing dreams and night sweats and caused other trauma, he said. (Interestingly, San Antonio detective Alfred Damiani, featured in a July True Crime Truant post, said that baby cases were part of the reason he left his homicide division.)

The city countered that Williamson’s problems stemmed from his drinking and willful wallowing in memories of homicide cases. He went on vacation with the surviving family of Donnah Winger.

Charlie Cox, it seems, has had an easier time. He retired as Springfield chief of police in 2009.

He later appeared in Final Witness. The 2012 TV series featured reenactments with actors along with real-life interviews of those involved in cases. The episode Cox participated in, “The Devil You Know,” told the story of Mark Winger’s double homicide.

  • Ralph Harrington, the father of Roger Harrington, lived until the age of 73 in 2010 — long enough for him and his wife, Helen, to see Mark Winger convicted of not only Roger’s murder but also the jail-yard plot to kill DeAnn Schultz and the Gelman family in 2007.

Next week’s post will provide the latest blips on the Mark Winger radar screen from the maximum security Menard Correctional Center. Until then, cheers.

Update: Read Part 4  of the Mark Winger story.

4 thoughts on “Mark Winger: Survivors’ Epilogues”

  1. There are worse foods than Nutraloaf, and I made a few of them. Sadly, it was with the best of intentions. Guests at my house, at least, have the option of ordering out.

    Thanks for another great article. I have an idea. People should have to take a brain scan before marriage. They don’t call it ‘an institution’ for nothing.

  2. It would make life seem a lot simpler if anyone who got anywhere near Mark Winger was a total degenerate — the bad people are on one side, the good people are on the other. Rebecca Simic sounds like a somewhat naïve but well-intentioned person. I hope that she’s found a happy and stable life and that the past does not intrude on her present circumstances in any substantive way. Such a shame that Det. Williamson’s career ended under a bit of a cloud. I can only imagine what people who investigate crimes like that are faced with — I guess you could include them along with the perpetrators’ other victims.

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