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“Kill or Be Killed”: Man Who Stabbed His Wife to Death Claimed It Was Self-Defense
When California detectives investigated Rachel Winkler's death, they found her husband’s first wife also died violently and mysteriously.
A young mother of three was found stabbed to death in her baby’s nursery. But a question loomed: Was it self-defense or murder?
El Dorado County investigators faced that question when they arrived at the home of Todd and Rachel Winkler in Cameron Park, California on February 27, 2012.
At 10 a.m. Todd, 44, asked his neighbor to call police to report that he had been involved in a deadly dispute with Rachel, 37. The fight had occurred at 4 a.m.
Todd was detained in a squad car, while the couple’s three young children were placed with a neighbor.
What Happened to Rachel Winkler?
Inside the home, police looked for Rachel and found her in the nursery.
“I could tell immediately that she was deceased. There was blood everywhere,” an investigator said.
Detectives had to determine if Rachel’s death was planned or a tragic accident. She had a number of stab wounds in her neck and multiple defensive wounds across her body. Scissors covered in blood were found near her body. A blood-covered onesie was recovered from the laundry room. Warm ashes were found in the fireplace. All of the evidence was collected and sent out for forensic analysis.
As Rachel’s family grieved, detectives interviewed neighbors to learn more about Todd and Rachel’s relationship.
Extramarital Affair Revealed in Winkler Investigation
Investigators learned that Todd had been a former fighter pilot, a “top gun” with the U.S. Air Force. After the military he became a pharmaceutical rep. Todd worked in the Bay Area during the week and rented a home there. Rachel stayed with the kids in Cameron Park.
The general consensus was that they were a happy couple who’d been married for seven years, but one witness stated that Rachel was having an affair, according to Mike Lensing, a detective with the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office.
Detectives interviewed Todd. He knew that his wife was having an affair for over a year, said Lisette Suder, Deputy District Attorney for El Dorado County. The man she was involved with was James White.
According to Todd, on the morning of Rachel’s death, he’d gone to talk to her about repairing their relationship. Todd claimed that Rachel said that if he tried to keep their children, she’d have White “hurt him.”A struggle ensued.
Todd alleged that his wife came at him with a pair of open scissors. He wrestled them away from her and stabbed her a couple of times in self-defense. Then he ran out of the house.
Todd feared that Rachel might harm the kids so he returned, he claimed, and then there was another struggle. He described the situation as “kill or be killed.”
But Todd outweighed his wife and was stronger. Was this a fight that had to end in death? His fears about Rachel hurting her kids contradicted witnesses’ accounts describing her as a devoted mom.
Todd also told investigators he mopped up the bloody room and tossed the cleaning supplies into the fire. That action seemed highly unusual to detectives.
“It appears he took time to clean up evidence and did not ask the neighbor to call 911 until six hours later,” said Suder.
While Todd was held in custody detectives took a closer look at the photographs taken of his hands the night of the incident. The few scratches he sustained were superficial and just on his hands. The injuries that Rachel Winkler had versus the number of injuries that Todd Winkler had did not match the story of self defense, according to detectives.
Investigators interviewed White, who was distraught upon learning about Rachel. He was forthright about their relationship, which began two years earlier when they met at the airport where Rachel worked. He was a maintenance worker there. Their affair had began about a year earlier.
“James wanted to be with Rachel and her children; they had planned on spending the rest of their lives together,” said Jeff Leikauf, a detective with El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office.
White told detectives that he was helping Rachel with divorce papers the night before her death. He shared information about Todd she had told him, including that he tried to get her to fake a car accident for the insurance payout.
White then dropped a real bombshell when he informed detectives Rachel had discovered the ashes of Todd’s first wife in a box stashed under their bed. Todd told Rachel that his former wife died in a fiery car accident.
What Happened to Todd Winkler's First Wife?
It was confirmed through public records that Todd and Catherine “Cathy” Winkler were married for eight years before her death in 1999 at the age of 32.
El Dorado County detectives reached out to authorities in Georgia, where the fatal car wreck occurred. Ricky Johnson, former deputy sheriff for White County Sheriff’s Office answered that call.
When asked about Todd Winker, he said ,“Who did he kill this time?” Johnson told producers.
On September 26, 1999, Cathy was killed when the truck she was driving went over an embankment in a wooded area and burst into flames. Todd, who was riding in the back of the truck, was ejected and unhurt — no scrapes, bruises or cuts.
Todd never called 911 and relied on a third party to get help.
Todd claimed that they had been camping and he was bitten by an insect that caused him to have trouble breathing. That’s why, he said, he was in the back of the truck.
After the accident, Todd had no trouble breathing. There was no sign of an insect bite. The events raised red flags. But the autopsy determined that Cathy was alive at the time the vehicle caught on fire long enough so her lungs filled with smoke.
There wasn’t enough evidence to bring this case forward at the time back in Georgia, according to Suder. Cathy’s death was ruled an accident.
Todd Winkler gained $1.2 million in a life insurance policy that paid double in the case of an accidental death.
Todd Winkler Convicted of Murder
But for El Dorado County investigators, forensic blood analysis supported the theory that Todd’s claims of self-defense were false and that his injuries were self-inflicted.
Two days after Rachel’s violent death, Todd was charged with murder. His trial began on September 23, 2014.
The defense tried to claim self-defense and that Todd suffered from dissociative disorder, according to Sacramento Bee reporter Peter Hecht. Prosecutors, meanwhile, presented evidence that Todd was a pathological liar.
On October 22, 2014, the jury deliberated for an hour before returning with the guilty verdict, according to “Accident, Suicide or Murder.”
Todd Winkler was sentenced to 26 years to life for the murder of Rachel Winkler. He has not been charged with any crime related to Catherine Winkler’s death. That Georgia case remains closed.
To learn more about the case, watch Accident, Suicide or Murder, airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.