On a warm summer evening in 1983, twenty-five-year-old Sharon Winker and her fiancé, twenty-one-year-old Kevin Paule, headed to Silver Creek in Mascoutah, Illinois. The couple planned to fish, as they had many times before. When Sharon did not return home that night, her mother grew concerned. Sharon’s mother decided to go look for her daughter the next day. She drove to the spot where Sharon and Paul typically went to fish. In her horror, she found her daughter’s fiancé tied to a tree with a fatal gunshot wound to his head. Fearing she may find her daughter in similar fashion, the woman flagged down passing car and summoned police. This is the story of Kevin Paule and Sharon Winker, the victims of the Silver Creek Murders.
Sharon Winker was born April 28th, 1958, to Don and Ann Winker of Mascoutah, Illinois. Her parents later divorced, and Sharon would remain living with her mother. She was one of four children, with two brothers and a sister. Sharon graduated from Mascoutah High School in 1976. She then attended McKendree College, graduating with a degree in education in 1982. She worked as a pre-school teacher at Tree Hut Preschool in Belleville. During the Christmas of 1982, Sharon attended a Christmas party for employees of the City of Mascoutah with her mother, a city treasurer. There, she met Kevin Paule.
Kevin Paule was born in 1961 to Kent Paule and Sandra Fischer of Mascoutah, Illinois. His parents were also divorced, and like Sharon, Kevin had multiple siblings. Kevin had a sister, stepsister, and three stepbrothers. Kevin was a 1980 graduate of Mascoutah High School. Following some time in the United States Navy, Kevin returned to Mascoutah to live with his grandmother. He got a job as a custodian at the Mascoutah Senior Service Center. When he attended the employee Christmas party in 1982, he met the love of his life. By April of 1983, Kevin and Sharon were engaged to be married.
On Saturday, June 18th, 1983, Sharon and Paul went fishing. The couple both enjoyed fishing and frequented Silver Creek, just outside of Mascoutah. This fishing trip, however, ended in absolute tragedy. Sunday morning, Anne noticed her daughter did not come home the night before. This was extremely unlike Sharon, who was known to be very responsible. She decided to go to their frequented fishing spots to try to find Kevin and Sharon. As she approached a spot near the Silver Creek Bridge over Highway 177, she found Kevin tied to the tree and shot once in the head.
Fearing her daughter had suffered the same fate, Anne tracked down a motorist and summoned for help. She asked police not to have EMS respond because her two other children were emergency medical technicians and were working that day. She didn’t want them to have this image in their heads. The ambulance did, however, arrive, but Sharon’s siblings were kept from the murder scene. Sharon Winker’s body was found twenty feet away from Paul’s, tied to another tree and with a gun shot wound to the head.
Very few violent crimes occurred in Mascoutah at this time. Like most small towns, following the discovery of the victims, rumors swirled. There was initially speculation in the community that Marshal Wayne Stauffer, the believed murderer of Michael Morrison and Debra Means after prom in 1968, was out of prison and responsible for the crime. The murder of Michael Morrison and Debra Means was covered in an earlier episode and blog post, entitled the Mascoutah Prom Night Murders. While Stauffer was indicted for murder, he was never charged and instead imprisoned for a rape in Breese, Illinois. He later was paroled and killed again. Police denied a connection between Stauffer and the murders of Kevin and Sharon.
Police did respond to another crime in the area in the early morning hours of June 19th, leading some to suspect a connection. This crime was the robbery of a local tavern at gunpoint. The owner had tried to chase the assailant down, ramming the robber’s vehicle with his own. The robber shot at the bar owner’s truck but did not hit him. After the vehicles collided, the robber escaped into the darkness. The thief was known to the bar owner, however, and he quickly identified him as Charles Walker. Inside Charles’ vehicle, police found items they believed belonged to Kevin Paule and Sharon Winker. By the time a connection was made, however, Walker had fled out of state.
Charles Thomas Walker was born April 28th, 1940, sharing a birthday (different years) with Sharon Winker. He was the son of Jesse Walker and Lucille Keck. Charles was quite intelligent, with an IQ of 130. Charles’ father was an alcoholic who gave eight-year-old Charles his first taste of alcohol, moonshine, at age eight. “I started drinking when I was knee-high to a pissant” Charles later said (Belleville News Democrat, 1990). When he was twelve, Charles was regularly going to taverns with his father and stepfather, drinking alongside grown men. By age fourteen, he was committing burglaries to pay for a growing addiction to alcohol.
Charles got in trouble at age fifteen for buying beer for his younger cousin. Soon after, he dropped out of high school and moved out of state. After only a brief stay in Florida, Charles returned to Southern Illinois, living in Fayetteville with family. He once again began to commit petty crimes and burglaries to support his alcohol addiction. At age seventeen, Charles committed burglary and landed him in Menard Correctional Center for about six and a half years.
Following his parole from Menard, Walker once again committed burglary. This time, he robbed a tavern of money and alcohol. This landed him back in prison for an additional four years. After his release in 1969, Walker continued a dangerous pattern of alcohol consumption and crime. Just two months after his release, Charles got into a shootout with police in Whiteside County. Charles was shot by an officer in the face, resulting in the loss of his right eye and a return to prison. This time, Walker was charged with attempted murder but served only six years. Shortly after his release, Charles committed another armed robbery and was sent back to prison for four more years.
By the summer of 1983, Charles Walker was once again free from state custody and living in Southern Illinois. His alcoholism remained severe, consuming his life and ending his marriage. On the morning of June 18th, 1983, Charles Walker started his day with vodka and beer. He decided to go fishing at Silver Creek that day, where he consumed approximately 36 cans of beer and a pint of vodka. As the afternoon turned to evening, Walker was joined by a young couple, Kevin Paule and Sharon Winker.
Walker chatted with the couple as they all fished. Despite the couple being kind and social with Charles, he decided to rob them. He needed more money for alcohol. He pointed his .25-caliber pistol at them. Kevin surrendered his wallet, which contains $40, willingly. Charles than told them to walk a few feet into the woods where he tied them both to separate trees. He explained that he was going to leave them there, but Kevin Paule had something to say about that. “You can’t get away with this because I know who you are. You are Chuck Walker”, Kevin allegedly said to Charles.
At this point, Charles said he feared being turned into to the police and sent back to prison. He shot Kevin in the right temple, killing him instantly. He then shot Sharon Winker behind her right ear, another fatal shot. In a senseless and cowardice act, Charles Walker ended the lives of two young people with a promising future ahead of them. What did he do next? He went drinking, of course.
Charles ended up at the Runway Lounge near Scott Air Force Base. He spent the entire evening talking with the owner, Richard Jones. “He did not even act like anything was wrong. You would never think he had just killed two people”, the owner later said (Belleville News Democrat, 1990). After all the patrons left, Walker hung back and pulled his pistol on Richard Jones, demanding money. Jones reminded him that he was easily identified, but Charles allegedly said, “Dick, it don’t make no difference. The police are already looking for me” (Belleville News Democrat, 1990).
Walker fled in his vehicle with $300 he had stolen from the tavern, but Richard Jones was not about to just give up. He jumped in his own vehicle, following Charles. Charles shot at Jones, shattering his windshield. Jones was not hit and rammed his car into Charles’s vehicle. Following the crash, Walker escaped on foot and headed to his sister’s home. He asked his sister to take him to a bus station and out of state he went. He was later captured in Colorado and extradited back to St. Clair County, Illinois.
In July of 1983, Charles confessed to the murders of Kevin Paule and Sharon Winker after being captured in Colorado. On July 27th, he plead guilty to two counts of capital murder. Charles Walker blamed his alcoholism for his actions and asked a jury to have mercy on him. In October of 1983, just four months after the double murder, a jury convened to decide if Charles Walker would be executed or sent to prison for life.
The defense team called a psychologist who had evaluated Walker to testify. According to the psychologist, Charles Walker suffered mental disturbances and alcoholism. The defense lawyer claimed this was sufficient evidence to mitigate the aggravating factors of the crime. The state presented the evidence of aggravating factors which included numerous prior felony convictions, the fact that the murder was of two people and committed during a robbery, and the robbery of the tavern following the murders. The jury sentenced Charles Thomas Walker to death for the murders of Kevin Paule and Sharon Winker.
At this time, no one had been executed in Illinois since 1962 following the federal ban on executions. Although this was lifted in 1977 and Illinois had reinstated the death penalty, none had been carried out yet. Following an automatic appeal in 1985, Charles Walker stated he did not wish to continue to fight his fate. “I’ve accepted the judge’s sentencing and the jury’s verdict. There is no light at the end of the tunnel for me. I don’t have any chance of ever getting out, and I can’t see myself laying here and suffering that misery and dying a broken-down old man” Walker said (Allan, 1987). Charles Walker was ready to be executed. While on death row, it is said that he befriended notorious killer John Wayne Gacy.
Despite this, appeals continued to be filed on his behalf including anti-capital punishment advocacy groups. Between 1987 and 1990, Walker gave multiple interviews in which he seemed to accept his fate and take responsibility for his crimes. “I feel sorry, but what good that that do? No one would believe me, and it wouldn’t change matters” he said (Allan, 1987). He also said, “I done crime, and I knew someday a situation like this might come down. I accepted it, so why can’t they stop lollygaggin’ around?” (Belleville News Democrat, 1990). Anti-death penalty advocates begged the Governor of Illinois to stop the execution and consider Charles Walker’s family.
However, the Walker family did not appreciate that as much as you might think. Charles’ brother Doug said, “I will never for the rest of my life understand why the prison board let him out on parole. If the parole board and the judges in this state would have done their job, there would be two kids alive and he wouldn’t be up for execution” (Belleville News Democrat, 1990). When asked if his brother should be executed, Doug said he did think it was just for him to be put to death. Carol, Charles’ mother, said, “We think they’re sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong. I think they’re causing a lot of anguish for all of the families—for the Winker family and the Paule family as well as the Walkers” (Belleville News Democrat, 1990).
On the afternoon of September 11th, 1990, protestors gathered outside Stateville Correctional Center to protest the scheduled execution of Charles Walker. Walker spent the day visiting with his family, including his brother and mother, doing needle work, and reading. He was given a final meal of his choice consisting of fried wild rabbit, biscuits, and blackberry pie. Illinois Governor Thompson elected not to stop the execution. Walker was brought to the execution chamber shortly after midnight on September 12th, 1990.
This execution would be Illinois’ first since 1962 and first since the federal ban was lifted. The execution did not go as planned, however. There was a kink in the plastic tubing of the machine that delivers the medications. This stopped the flow of chemicals into Walker’s body which is believed to have caused him unnecessary suffering. At least one source also says that the needle was inserted away from his heart, causing a prolonged process. The execution is considered botched. Nonetheless, Charles Walker was pronounced dead. Walker’s family had private services and he is buried in Lebanon, Illinois. He was fifty years old at the time of his execution.
While some people believe that Charles Walker was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment and that his life should have been spared, many others disagree, including his own family. Charles himself once stated that his punishment was fair and if he was on the other side, he would want him killed too. Others argue that death was the easy way out for Walker, who they believed would have suffered more from a punishment of life in prison. In 2011, Illinois abolished the death penalty.
Chicago Tribune (1990). Why Illinois killed Charles Walker. Chicago Tribune 13 Sep 1990
The Herald (1983). Charles Walker received the death penalty. 19 Oct 1983
The Breese Journal. Chas. Walker sentenced to death penalty. The Breese Journal. 27 Oct 1983
Karwath, R. (1990). Death’s arrival on of precision. Chicago Tribune. 11 Sep 1990
Allan, M. (1987). Why not grant his wish?. Herald and Review. 13 Dec 1987
Fennewald, P. (1983). Senseless murder rocks Mascoutah area. The Herald. 22 Jun 1983
Obituaries of Kevin Paule and Sharon Winker. The Belleville News Democrat. 20 June 1983
Krasnowski, M. (1992) Illinois’ death row grows since Walker’s death. The Belleville News Democrat. 20 Sep 1992
Belleville News Democrat. (1990). Walker End finally nears for convicted killer. Belleville News Democrat. 09 Sep 1990
The Journal Times. (1990). Illinois killer put to death. The Journal Times. 12 Sep 1990