Mark Winger: Life in Supermax

His Heart Will Go On
(“A Welcome Instrusion,” Forensic Files)

In recent prison mugshots, Mark Winger looks more like a department-store Santa or an organic food co-op manager than a killer.

Mark Winger no longer looks like the clean-cut small-town husband and dad he once was.
The formerly clean-shaven Mark Winger in an undated photo from

It seems that the onetime nuclear engineer from Springfield, Illinois, has lost just about everything except hope.

Two of the last three blog posts, starting with Mark Winger: No Great Catch, cover his life from his days as a small-town father and husband with a $72,000-a-year job to his time spent orchestrating the double-homicide and murder-for-hire plots that ultimately landed him in supermax for life.

Conspicuous consumption. Winger’s story left off in 2007, when a judge rejected his contention that he’s just a lovable victim. Winger explained that he was merely managing his anger when he did such things as verbalize his desire to cut out DeAnn Schultz’s tongue (and that’s just the tamer part of his reverie regarding his ex-girlfriend) for testifying against him.

This week’s post offers a glimpse of Winger’s existence since then.

Although audio tapes captured Winger complaining about becoming  ill from a “meat sandwich” served in prison, it looks as though he’s been able to find ample culinary delights.

The 5-foot-10-inch formerly small-framed prisoner now weighs in at 215 pounds, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections, which also notes he has an eagle tattoo on his left leg.

Menard Correctional Center, where Mark Winger’s incarceration costs taxpayers $21,655 a year, according to 2014 figures

Winger tried to make the most of his time in captivity by mounting a legal fight over where he can exercise. His litigation in its various incarnations dragged on for years.

The prison, Tamms Correctional Center (he was later moved to Menard), had not been allowing him to exercise outside his cell. He alleged that forcing him to stay in his concrete-walled bachelor pad all day constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Winger also contended that Illinois law restricted such limitations to 90 days.

Exercising authority. At some point during his incarceration, he also complained that running in place and doing jumping jacks in his cell caused his knees to hit the wall or bunk, sit-ups made his bed too sweaty, and the floor was too dirty for push-ups.

Back in 2006, Winger had contended that his exclusion from the exercise yard caused him “physical illness, depression, and panic attacks.”

Court papers noted that intent is essential for liability under the Eighth Amendment and there was no indication of malice toward Winger and no evidence the exercise restrictions caused his alleged psychological problems.

In 2013, a Chicago U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court ruling that defeated Winger’s suit. That seems to be the last of Winger’s efforts to shake things up from his home in a maximum security institution.

Happier times: Winger with his wife, Donnah, and his parents.
Winger with his first wife, the late Donnah Brown Winger, and his parents, Jerrold and Sally Winger

Professor’s insight. In other Winger-related news, I stumbled upon some interesting academic research online that suggested that, in some ways,  Mark Winger’s case was typical of husbands who kill.

In “Monstrous Arrogance: Husbands Who Choose Murder Over Divorce,” a 2008 research paper on the University at Albany website, Davidson College professor Cynthia Lewis identifies a number of ways in which Mark Winger’s actions after the crime fit a typical pattern. Winger:

1) Used the 911 call as a means of setting up his alibi. “I found this man in my house,” Winger told the operator. He also claimed his baby was crying as an excuse to get off the phone so he could shoot Roger Harrington again.

2) Visited the police to find out how the investigation was going, despite that he was not originally considered a suspect. Other wife killers, Lewis notes, have tended to check in with neighbors and family members to see what they know about the progress of the investigation. “He’s fishing for clues about suspicion toward himself,” according to the author.

3) Capitalized on his loss to gain sympathy. Winger took “his sense of injury one step beyond emotional loss to financial gain,” Lewis writes. Indeed, he profited by Donnah Winger’s $150,000 life insurance payout. “But even more pronounced about Winger — and a major element tying together spousal murders that circumvent divorce — is the arrogance he displayed in suing Harrington’s company [Bootheel Area Rapid Transportation], a move perhaps related to cultivating the image of the bereaved husband,” Lewis concludes.

Mark Winger, still smiling
Mark Winger in a photo from his current home in Menard Correctional Center in Illinois

Talking points. So it seems the man of science who thought he was smart enough to annihilate — without consequences — those who stood in his way, is in many aspects just a typical violent criminal with more in common with his 3,203 fellow Menard inmates than he probably likes to think.

One more note: The Perfect Patsy by Edward Cunningham contains transcripts of Winger’s conversations with Pontiac Correctional Center inmate Terry Hubbell. Some of the book’s content is available free online.

As murder-for-hire dialogues go, these are actually a little tiresome to plow through. They’re riddled with repetition and passages noting unintelligible spans of tape. But there’s enough incriminating conversation to ease the minds of any folks still worried that Winger is just a good guy victimized by the system. — RR

Note: This concludes a four-part series on Mark Winger. To read the earlier posts, you can go to Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

3 thoughts on “Mark Winger: Life in Supermax”

  1. Re: his complaint that there isn’t enough room in his cell to exercise, I think it says in the Constitution that he is entitled to a Swedish personal fitness trainer. Hair implants, too. Obviously, he has the authorities by the short hairs.

  2. Good piece. Respectfully let me suggest that no matter how heinous the crime, confinement conditions are often barbarous in this country. No one is saying that he deserves a country club. Instead, let’s agree that the way a society treats its most vulnerable is a measure of the society itself.

    1. I agree. I’m a fan of incarceration as a means for preventing criminals from reoffending and also giving victims’ families satisfaction. No need for suffering, other than loss of freedom, on the part of the prisoners.

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