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Diabolical Deceit: The Murder of Donnah Winger


When an intruder entered Donnah Winger’s home in Springfield, Illinois in the summer of 1995, two people would lose their lives. The tragic and senseless attack on a new mother devastated an entire family and left a baby without a mother. The woman’s husband, Mark Winger, was left without his beloved wife to raise his newly adopted daughter by himself. He was also left with the emotional repercussions of shooting his wife’s attacker. As time went by, however, what really happened would be called into question and leave a community in shock.

Donnah Ellen Brown (left) was born November 10th, 1963, in Florida. Donnah was the oldest of three girls. She was beautiful, smart, and successful in her career as an operating room technician. She met Mark Winger, a nuclear engineer, and they married in a traditional Jewish ceremony in 1989. Shortly after they married, Mark took a job in Springfield, Illinois, and the couple moved to the capital city. Donnah took a job at Memorial Hospital in Springfield.

Donnah and Mark seemed to be a picture-perfect couple. They were successful and owned a nice home in a nice neighborhood. They both wanted to have a child but were devastated to learn that Donnah was unable to have children. As fate would have it, a young teenager gave birth to a baby girl in the hospital that Donnah worked at in 1995. She was looking for a loving family for the child, and Donnah and Mark jumped at the opportunity to adopt the baby. In June of 1995, Donnah and Mark adopted the baby they named Bailey Elizabeth Winger. Donnah, Mark, and their entire extended family were overjoyed with the new addition to the family.

In August of 1995, Donnah took baby Bailey to Florida to visit her family. After an amazing visit, Donnah’s parents said goodbye to her and their granddaughter as they boarded the plane back to St. Louis. St. Louis is about a two-hour drive from Springfield, Illinois. Since she had a young child to attend to, Donnah hired a shuttle driver to bring her and Bailey from the airport to their home. The two-hour drive was filled with strange conversation, erratic behavior, and left Donnah Winger terrified.

Donnah had been driven home by the shuttle employee, Roger Harrington. Roger was born in 1967 in Illinois and worked for the Bart Transportation Company. He had a history of domestic violence as well as mental illness. During the ride home, Roger scared Donnah by talking about having multiple personalities, voices telling him to do violent things, and by driving erratically. Donnah was scared and upset but made it home safe. Roger dropped her off at her home, which scared Donnah because the man knew where she and her child lived.

Donnah immediately told her husband and family about the disturbing experience. Mark was very upset and made a complaint with the transportation company. Roger Harrington was put on suspension as a result of the complaint. Throughout the next week, Donnah received disturbing phone calls from an unknown caller. Mark suspected they were from Roger Harrington. Donnah told her family she was frightened.

On August 29th. 1995, Mark Winger made a 911 call. He was clearly upset and panicked. He said he had just shot an intruder who was killing his wife. He said that he found the man attacking his wife and shot him in the head. He then said he had to go because his baby was crying. Police arrived at the scene and found Donnah Winger, age thirty-one, lying on the floor covered in blood with a hammer beside her. She was deceased. Lying close by was twenty-seven-year-old Roger Harrington with two gunshot wounds to his head. He did, however, have a pulse. After quickly snapping a few pictures, Roger was transferred to the hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

Mark Winger’s account of the day was that he had been downstairs on the treadmill when he heard something upstairs. As he walked up the stairs, he found baby Bailey lying on the master bed by herself. He went to the dining room area where he said he saw a man he didn’t know attacking his wife with a hammer. He shot the man in the head. He said the man was still making noises, so he shot him another time immediately, then called 911. He was not aware of the identity of the man, he said, until the police told him it was Roger Harrington (right). At that time, he explained that Roger was harassing his wife.

At the scene, a hammer was found which belonged to the Winger family. Mark said that Donnah had gotten the hammer out that day to remind him to hang some pictures. They also found the gun on the table. Also on the table was a package of cigarettes and coffee cup belonging to Roger Harrington. His car was parked in front of the Winger house. The crime scene was very bloody and clearly demonstrated a struggle between an attacker and Donnah. Donnah died of multiple traumatic injuries to the head from the hammer.

The police were familiar with Roger Harrington and knew he had a propensity for violence and suffered mental illness. The crime scene appeared to support Mark Winger’s account of the events on that August day. Within forty-eight hours, the case was closed. They considered Roger the perpetrator in this case and cleared Mark of any wrongdoing as they felt he acted in self-defense. Donnah’s family fully supported this and believed Mark was acting in defense of Donnah.

The devastation of Donnah’s death was difficult beyond belief for her family. The family rallied around Mark and tried to support him and Bailey. Living in Florida, there was only so much they could do to support the now single father. They suggested that Mark hire a nanny to help with Bailey’s care. Mark hired Rebecca Simic. Although it was difficult to watch another woman care for Bailey, the family felt relieved that Rebecca truly cared for Bailey and Mark. Rebecca soon fell in love with Mark, and to everyone’s surprise, became pregnant in 1996. The couple quickly eloped, sold the house that Mark and Donnah had once shared, and moved out into the country.

In 1996, investigators also recalled Mark Winger stopping by the police station and asking for his gun back. “I just had an uneasy feeling about it” Detective Charlie Cox told ABC (Yang, Martinez-Ramundo, Haedrich, & Dimon, 2021). The detective felt that the case was closed, however, and Mark Winger was considered a local hero.

Rebecca officially adopted Bailey after marrying Mark. The couple then welcomed two more daughters and a son to their growing family. Rebecca said that Mark was a great husband and provider for her and the kids. He was loving, caring, and he seemed trustworthy. The unique family situation, however, was not without conflict. Rebecca remembers feeling tension between herself and a close friend of Donnah’s, DeAnn Schultz. DeAnn had been one of Donnah’s closest friends. Mark explained to Rebecca that DeAnn had a lot of difficulty accepting the loss of Donnah.

(Rebecca, Mark, and their four children including Bailey)

Mark Winger later filed a lawsuit against the shuttle company that employed Roger Harrington. This lawsuit would uncover new evidence that changed the way everyone looked at this case. This lawsuit led to another look at the forensic evidence collected to determine if the company was at fault for Donnah’s death. It also led to a witness coming forward with shocking allegations against Mark Winger.

DeAnn Schultz told detectives in 1999, four years after Donnah’s death, that she was having an affair with Mark Winger at the time of Donnah’s death. She said that Mark made several statements to her including “it would be better if she died” (Murderpedia). DeAnn said he tried to solicit her to assist in killing Donnah. Once the strange encounter happened with Roger Harrington, Mark allegedly told DeAnn that “he had to get this guy in the house” (Yang, Martinez-Ramundo, Haedrich, & Dimon, 2021). DeAnn fully believed that Mark Winger had killed Donnah. She said the guilt she felt for keeping his secret had taken a toll on her mentally and emotionally, leading her to spiral downhill in the years since Donnah’s death.

Then experts looked at the forensic evidence. The polaroid pictures taken at the time of the crime showed a major inconsistency. Roger’s body was lying on his back and at an angle that was inconsistent with how Mark described the scene. It would not have been possible for Roger to have been attacking Donnah at the time he was shot based on how he fell. Additionally, Roger did not appear to have any of Donnah’s blood on him, which would have been inconsistent with a frenzied attack with a hammer. The blood platter evidence related to Donnah’s attack also suggested that Roger could not have been the attacker. However, Mark’s clothing on the day of the murder showed consistent blood splatter patterns.

More evidence was examined on this second look at the case. A note was found in Roger Harrington’s vehicle with Mark Winger’s name on it, the time 4:30, and the Winger address written on it. It looked as if he was writing a reminder to himself of an appointment. Several weapons were also found in Harrington’s car. Harrington’s cigarettes and coffee cup were gently sat on the kitchen table on the day of the murder. Finally, dispatch records from the shuttle company showed Mark Winger had called the company earlier that day asking for Roger Harrington. Police now believed that Mark Winger had lured Roger Harrington to the house that day.

When reviewing the case, police found a neighbor who stated she heard the gun shots that day but stated the two shots were at least 5 minutes apart (Forensic Files). Police reviewed the 911 call and pointed out that Mark described the attacker as “having a bullet in his head” (Forensic Files), but not two bullets. However, during the call, you can hear a man moaning in the background before Mark hung up the phone to attend to his crying daughter. You cannot hear a baby crying in the background. Police wondered if Mark hung up the phone after realizing Roger was still alive and then fired the second shot while EMS was on the way.

In 1999, the civil case against the transportation company was dismissed based on this new information. Mark Winger was now under public and law enforcement suspicion for murdering his wife. They investigators had to build a strong case as they had previously declared Mark innocent of wrongdoing. That took until 2001 and with DeAnn Schultz’s cooperation. No evidence linked DeAnn to the crime, so prosecutors agreed to grant her immunity for her testimony against Mark Winger.

In May of 2002, Mark Winger finally went to trial for the murders of Donnah Winger and Roger Harrington. DeAnn Schultz testified that Mark Winger wanted out of his marriage and told her that he was going to lure Roger Harrington to the house to frame him. The forensic evidence showed that Mark Winger was nearby Donnah when she was attacked, most likely because he was the attacker.


The prosecution’s theory was that Mark (left) used the strange encounter with Harrington to set his plans to kill his wife into motion. He called Roger Harrington, luring him to the house, likely to settle the dispute that was costing Harrington his job. Roger showed up to the Winger house and was shot in the head by Mark Winger. Hearing the shots, Donnah came in the room and Mark attacked her violently with the hammer. He then dialed 911, but during that call realized Roger was still alive. He hung up the phone, shot Roger again, and then waited for authorities to arrive. Mark Winger maintained his innocence and stuck to his original story of Roger attacking Donnah.

One June 5th, 2002, Mark Winger was found guilty of the murders of Roger Harrington and Donnah Winger. Helen Harrington, Roger’s mother, said “We knew that Roger was innocent, and it finally got proven” (Yang, Martinez-Ramundo, Haedrich, & Dimon, 2021). Roger’s family felt vindicated as their son was no longer considered a murderer, but a victim. Donnah’s family was glad to get justice but devastated by the realization that Mark Winger had deceived them so greatly. Mark was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.

Rebecca raised all four children on her own, changing their last name to Simic. She has since divorced Mark Winger. Bailey maintains a relationship with Donnah’s family. Baily, Rebecca, and the other children gave an interview in 2021 to ABC in which they described the devastation Mark Winger caused them (Yang, Martinez-Ramundo, Haedrich, & Dimon, 2021). Despite all of this, the children are all successful young adults thriving in the world. They have no contact with their father.

Mark Winger was once again facing criminal charges in 2006. This time, he had tried to arrange a murder for hire plot from the Pontiac Correctional Center. He was seeking to have DeAnn Schultz killed as well as another friend who had declined to pay his bail (Wikipedia). Winger was convicted on these charges and an additional thirty-five years in prison was added to his life sentence. Mark Winger will die behind bars.

(Above: Mark Winger in a recent mug shot)

This is a case in which things were not as they initially appeared. Had it not been for Mark’s greed in filing the civil suit, it is possible justice would have never been found for Donnah and Roger. Mark was very intelligent and convincing in 1995, but the evidence he left behind and his own arrogance eventually brought him to justice. This is a case of diabolic deceit.


References

IDOC (2021) Mark Winger; Retrieved at: Individuals in Custody (illinois.gov)

Forensic Files (2004) A Welcome Intrusion; Retrieved at: Forensic Files - Season 8, Episode 14 - A Welcome Intrusion - Full Episode - YouTube

FindAGrave (2021) Roger Lee Harrington; Retrieved at: Roger Lee Harrington (1967-1995) - Find A Grave Memorial

FindAGrave (2021) Donna Ellen Brown Winger; Retrieved at: Donnah Ellen Brown Winger (1963-1995) - Find A Grave Memorial

Murderpedia (2021) Mark A. Winger; Retrieved at: Mark Winger | Murderpedia, the encyclopedia of murderers

Wikipedia (2021) Mark Winger; Retrieved at: Mark Winger - Wikipedia

Forensic Files Now (2021) Mark Winger: Life in Supermax; Retrieved at: Mark Winger – Forensic Files Now

Yang, A., Martinez-Ramundo, D., Haedrich, J., and Dimon, L. (2021) Families torn apart by killer dad reflect on the years they believed he was a hero; ABC News; Retrieved at: Families torn apart by killer dad reflect on the years they believed he was a hero - ABC News (go.com)

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