tv Dateline MSNBC November 28, 2021 8:00pm-10:00pm PST
my parents always told me that monsters don't exist. i can tell you with absolute certainty that is 110% false. he is a monster. >> a wife and mother killed in her own home. >> i get a phone call from a screaming, irrational voice on the other end. i said is it rachel. >> what do you mean somebody came into her house and murdered her? who murdered her? >> police discover rachel had a
complicated love life. >> she said, "i've fallen hopelessly in love with you. it's hard to keep a love triangle secret. >> finally come around this turn. the whole side of the mountain is on fire. >> marriage, money and murder, some say more than one. >> when people say "i know how you feel," you have no idea how i feel. i don't want you to know who i feel, because no one should ever feel this way. >> the night forest was profoundly dark. even the meager moonlight was shut out.
s a the driver rushed too fast down the track inches from the inky black, desperate to save the a person's life. what were they doing out there, so far from civilization, from safety, and what answers did the fire consume? as one of them was launched on a path as dark and twisted as the mountain road itself, one evil begetting another and another, until -- >> this whole story is a mixture of murder and blood and failings and grace and heaven and god. there ace some real craziness to it. but to begin, 2500 miles west of that remote mountain trail in georgia is one of the more civilized places on earth -- napa, california. world famous wineries, michelin starred restaurants. here lived a beautiful woman, who loved four admiring men. her father, the prominent artist.
her husband, the ex-fighter pilot and pharmaceutical executive. her lover, the handyman, former marine and firearms expert, and her first boyfriend, the would-be impressionist painter. his name is tim cherington, and she, the woman at the center of all that happened was rachel, rachel hatfield. >> so rachel. tell me about her. >> oh, [beep]. i'm sorry. we're starting, huh? >> well. just -- whatever. >> hmm -- start again. >> what'd that do to you when i said that? >> my heart just went, "boom." >> the subject of rachel, as you can plainly see, is painful for tim cherrington. a pain that might lessen if he'd only learn to forget. but all he can do is remember. like the night they first met. >> it was a july night, a party. and -- she was -- dancing. and i said, "wow, i'm gonna meet that girl." >> how old were you?
>> i was 18 and i think she was 17. >> oh. wow. >> love-drunk teens. they set up house together. that's tim during those giddy years, rarely serious. looking like a character from the movie "dazed and confused". and there's rachel, unconsciously glamorous. like some movie star in her own romantic comedy, with a plot that was all too familiar. aspiring artists waiting for their break. >> could she see making a life as a painter? >> yeah, she could. >> rachel could picture it because she had seen it happen. her own father, don hatfield, made a big name for himself painting the romantic, bucolic beach scenes that for years have graced living rooms around the country. you may have seen his "how to paint" courses on youtube. >> this is called, "for me." it's called, "aiming your shot." >> rare is the artist who, like don, could comfortably raise four kids in the napa valley.
>> but, though many are called, few are chosen. tim's artistic hopes were disappointed. >> it wasn't happening. it wasn't happening. >> so he and rachel lowered their sights and hustled up any work-like murals that might help cover the rent. >> we were, you know, doing murals, and that's all the income we had. >> murals doesn't pay all that well. >> no, it doesn't pay much at all. >> she was under-girding and supporting, loving, and directing tim. >> don hatfield thought his daughter would outgrow tim. after all, rachel, unlike tim, buckled down and went to college. >> you know, graduates at top of her class at sonoma state, recruited by deloitte and touche and they started her out at $80k. "we want you --" "not, i wanna do a little business of my own," you know? and she and tim would run around and do stuff. >> paint murals and so forth? >> yeah. >> were they any good? >> not really. >> but she loved him nonetheless.
fourteen years this went on. rachel wanted to get married and have kids. >> and i haven't asked her to marry me yet. and -- >> did you wanna have kids? >> i did. i did. i did, but i just wasn't there yet, you know what i'm saying? >> well. it's an old story, isn't it? tim was blindsided by what happened next. rachel met another man, someone who was everything tim was not. todd winkler. focused, disciplined. a former f-16 fighter pilot, who was on track to be a corporate leader. tim scrambled. >> and i went and bought a ring real quick to propose to her. and -- i did. >> it was too late by then, of course. rachel turned him down, and announced her engagement to todd. >> it was really hard, you know, because the love of my life was leaving me for some guy that had a good job and a house and a boat and a nice car. >> tim, to me, was rachel's soul
mate. he was nothing but loving and kind to her. >> we were both 21. >> hard to watch, said rachel's closest friend, shannon thurman. >> she called me when she broke up with him and said, "you know -- we're done. i wanna have a family, he's not ready to have a family. and so, you know, we're done." and then literally like two months later, she called me and said, you know, "you need to be here in two days, i'm getting married." and i was like, "oh, great. you guys made -- made up." and she's like, "no, we didn't make up. we -- you know, it's -- it's this other guy, his name is todd, and you need to be here in two days." >> tim didn't go to the wedding, couldn't handle it, went to a bar to escape it. no idea the wedding party would swoop into his bar for a round of toasts. >> it was hard, man, watching -- your girl on this big guy with her hot pink dress on and he was carrying her. >> he's the guy that's got it going on and she's a pretty girl. and they look like a great couple. >> i just -- i mean, i can't imagine what -- what that would
be like. i just can't. >> yeah. its hard. >> to be the guy who gets dumped is bad. >> it's bad. i quit painting, you know, as soon as i found out she married todd. and i just had no energy. i had no "oomph." i no inspiration. i had given up. >> so, what does this broken-hearted love story have to do with a fiery mountain crash? more than you could possibly imagine. >> in my mind, this was not an accident. our friend was -- was murdered. i -- i truly believe that. >> coming up, a married woman's complicated love life. one of rachel's lovers is gone, but not forgotten. >> i thought maybe you know later on down the road, we can,
you know, get together again and share life again. and there's a new lover on the horizon. >> i couldn't get her off my mind. >> when "dateline" continues. tis ...demands a lotion this pure. new gold bond pure moisture lotion. 24-hour hydration. no parabens, dyes, or fragrances. gold bond. champion your skin. your eyes. beautiful on the outside, but if you have diabetes, there can be some not-so-pretty stuff going on inside. it's true, with diabetic retinopathy, excess sugar can damage blood vessels, causing vision loss or even blindness. so remember this: now is the time to get your eyes checked. eye care is important to your long-term diabetes management. see a path forward with actions and treatments that may help your eyes—
>> history, for all we may try to slip its inconvenient grip is a sticky business. rarely as done with us as we would choose to be with it. we make debts we must pay. rachel hatfield turned her life as if on a dime, left her past behind and embraced an existence that was everything it wasn't with old boyfriend tim. when she married todd winkler, the ex-fighter pilot turned corporate executive, she also married into a very different lifestyle. there were private airplanes, boats, and motorcycles. a big house in a development east of sacramento called an air-park. cessnas in garages, piper cubs on the curb.
tim charrington versus todd winkler? "no contest," said her dad, don hatfield. >> the guy's an air force academy graduate. he's successful in business. he's a family man. he's -- you know, from the midwest. he's gotta be great. >> good, solid upper-middle class guy? >> up yeah, no. >> and he's got a plane and he's got -- >> planes and boats and -- you know, all over the place. >> what tim, the starving artist could offer, beyond love and loyalty, was a whole lot of nothing. todd, on the other hand. >> we went to orlando with them -- to disney world. >> and he was picking up the bill for this stuff? >> yeah. most of the time, yeah. >> don had no way of knowing that tim was, for a time, still in rachel's life. sort of. >> you didn't lose touch completely. >> no, we really kept in touch, >> and why would they do that? maybe because her marriage, rachel led tim to believe, wasn't all "apple pie and ice cream". >> because she wanted to share with me what was going on. >> what did she tell you? >> she shared with me that --
todd took her credit cards and maxed them all out and bought a plane and just put her in debt for, like, $45,000. >> whoa. >> i was, like, "whoa". i'm all, "aren't you freaking out?" and she said, "yeah, but we -- he'll take care of it." >> which sounded less like complaining than maybe boasting. tim, after all, could barely qualify for credit at all. eventually, being on the outside looking in was just too hard. >> i couldn't take it no more. it's, you know -- it was getting harder and harder. >> so he asked her to stop calling him. he had to move on, start painting again, forget her, though as he admitted to us, he wasn't very successful. >> i thought, you know, maybe later on down the road, we can, you know, get together again and share life again. >> wishful thinking, of course. tim simply failed to understand that rachel's life with husband todd was getting more exciting by the day.
when todd's company sent him to live briefly in australia, he invited rachel's dad to visit and paid his way. >> every night, after work, boom, we're going to cirque du soleil, to comedy clubs, to dinners. i mean, it was a big -- it was a six-week party down there. >> but it was back home in the airpark, where the winklers' social life blossomed. >> gosh, we have all kinds of things, from oktoberfest in october where the neighbors get together. christmas parties, easter, valentine's day parties. >> ice cream social and paper airplanes. >> ice cream socials. these were the neighbors. rich and linda johnson. lina and marion cockrell. >> todd had one airplane in the hangar and one in the driveway. they loved having an ex-fighter pilot for a neighbor. >> todd was always -- i mean, he was just a genuinely interesting guy. he would make eye contact with you. he always wanted to know about my job. "what sorta cases are you working on? what kind of law do you
practice?" >> i had actually kind of looked at todd as kind of a "guy's guy". >> you enjoyed their company. >> we did. >> enjoyed todd a little more than rachel, maybe. >> i knew her less well than i knew todd, i feel. i feel like we were both in the same place in our lives, but sort of moving in different circles and -- >> and she wasn't one of those people who kind -- you immediately were attracted to or what? >> no. i don't -- i really liked her but she always seemed a little bit distant. very polite, very friendly but a little bit distant. >> you want to go over there? >> yeah. >> let's go over there. >> by 2009, rachel and todd had two little daughters eva and ariel. >> he always seemed very involved and very engaged with the kids and to me, always seemed to be trying to help rachel and give her a break. >> rachel and todd to us were like the perfect little family. >> mh-mm. >> they were both very proactive parent. >> yes. >> loving parents, caring parents as well to each other, a
couple. they seemed like the perfect couple. >> and in our experience, we saw todd more on a social level with the kids than we saw rachel. >> not every day, mind you. todd landed a lucrative job with an international pharmaceutical company. grew expense account soft on his desk-bound track toward what he called a "c" suite as in c-e-o. the only catch was, his office was a long drive away in the san francisco bay area and, not wanting to uproot his family, todd got an apartment in town, returning home to the airpark for the weekends. which meant of course, that rachel was now anchored to home, and two toddlers, monday through friday. she was soon quite restless. so she put her kids into day care and got a full time job managing the airpark. >> how was she as a mother, by the way? >> oh, she was okay, i guess. >> was that harsh?
don, you should know, has firmly rooted religious beliefs. >> i tried to lead all of my children to the love of jesus christ. >> it was an article of don's brand of faith. a mother should be at home with her kids. >> i was really pretty frustrated that she had them over in day care and that she was working full-time. >> mh-mm. >> i didn't like it. >> but of course, it wasn't the only thing he didn't like about rachel's job. there was also "him". >> the first thought i had was, you know, "wow, what a beautiful woman." and i still remember what she was wearing. i remember the way her hair was. >> his name is james white. former-marine. gun enthusiast. airpark handyman. >> she was just the most perfectly nice, most beautiful woman i've ever met. i couldn't get her off my mind. >> intoxicated by a married woman.
well, no good can come of that. >> coming up. i wanted her to get out of the marriage as soon as possible because i wanted to be with rachel. >> the attraction was mutual. and the fact they were both married was just one problem. another was soon to arrive. >> how did she feel about carrying todd's baby? >> when "dateline" continues. c. certified from headlamp to tailpipe. that's certified head turns. and it's all backed by our unlimited mileage warranty. that means unlimited peace of mind. mercedes-benz certified pre-owned. translation: the mercedes of your dreams is closer than you think. you've been taking mental health meds, and your mind is finally in a better place. except now you have uncontrollable body movements
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>> service in the military, as so many americans have come to know, can form a person. as it did james white. >> i was a marine for life. it never leaves you. >> once a marine, always a marine, they say. and james white loved everything about the corps. >> i miss the marine corps very much. >> though not so much his next job as a mississippi deputy sheriff. what was it you didn't like about it? >> i don't like seeing human suffering on a day to day basis. >> so, after a failed marriage and with his young daughter in tow, he moved back to the place he started out, northern california. that little girl, katelynn white is all grown up now. >> we're more best friends than father and daughter. we fight like siblings, and we're just -- we -- we're more focused on having fun and not really caring about what other people think.
>> james and katelynn set up house together here in the foothills of the sierra nevada mountains, coincidentally, just a few miles from rachel and todd winkler's airpark. james started a handyman business and again, pure coincidence, got some jobs at the airpark. he also started a website called ammosmith.com. not so much about guns as about the craft of creating custom ammunition. >> we have an automatic pistol that shoots a rimmed revolver cartridge. >> and that was his life in the spring of 2010, a nicely varied little business. a second marriage, that was not going terribly well, oh, and he had a secret mad crush on the beautiful young woman who managed the airpark. rachell winkler. >> and then one day she called me into her office. this is in june, beginning of june of 2010. she said, "have a seat." and i said, "okay." i thought i was in trouble.
and she leaned over from her chair and she grabbed my hand and says, "james, i got something i really need to tell you." i thought i was, like, "you're fired." [ laughter ] no, she said, "i've fallen hopelessly in love with you, and i don't know what to do about it." >> what was it like to hear that? >> it was a huge relief. >> relief? >> yeah. >> because you were in love with her. >> i was already in love with her at the time, but i couldn't tell her. i didn't feel that i should tell her. you know, i wouldn't know how she would react. i'd rather have her as my friend than have her as nothing at all. >> so having left artist tim to marry ex-fighter pilot todd, rachel now launched into an affair with ex-marine james. this, by the way, wasn't one of those sneak off into a closet and steal a kiss kind of affairs. with todd living and working in the san francisco bay area
during the week, james and rachel were together almost constantly. >> we tried to spend as much as time as possible we could together. >> what'd it feel like when you did? >> it felt like we were family, felt like we were one -- one heartbeat. europe, our hearts were intertwined together like i can't describe. indescribable love, never loved someone so intensely in my life. >> their children were soon in on the secret. katelynn was beguiled by rachel. >> you could be talking to her, like we're talking, and she would make you feel like the most important human being on this earth. >> how did that make you feel? >> special. loved. i could open up to her. >> if todd suspected anything he didn't let on. but rachel's dad, don, began to get a queasy feeling during his visits to the airpark. tell me what you thought about him, at the time. >> he came across as this christian guy. and he -- you know, he's helping rachel. >> yeah.
>> he was helping her around the airport. okay, fine. after about the second time, i said, you know, "is this guy trying to bed you or what's going on?" and she says, "he'd like to. but it's not happening." >> there were whispers around the neighborhood, too. people do notice things. >> i think we suspected. >> suspected what? that something was going on? >> that maybe something was going on. >> 'cause you saw the two of them together a lot, she and james? >> i didn't see them -- as a couple, you know, outwardly as a couple. even though you'd see them together. >> but rachel and james had more than todd, don and the neighbors to worry about. you were married to somebody else. >> i was. >> what did you do about that? what'd you think about that? how troublesome was that for you? >> i wanted to get out of that marriage as soon as possible, because i wanted to be with rachel. >> so you told your wife? >> no. my wife discovered us, and then we separated. >> you will perhaps not be
surprised toe hear that james' wife, angry and betrayed, made a phone call to todd winkler, who begged rachel, end it with james. she, in a rush of guilt and shame, agreed. >> she tried to call it off and i tried to call it off. we couldn't stay apart from each other more than two days before we went crazy for each other. >> how would you try to call it off? what would you do? >> she would say, "i need to work it out with my husband," and i'd say, "i need to work it out with my wife. we can't talk to each other." two days later she'd text me, said, "i love you and i miss you." and i said, "i love you and miss you, too." we had a real strong spiritual bond. >> and then, all love-sick, they'd sneak off to see each other or leave longing messages on the phone like this one from rachel. >> one of the great things when you're in love with somebody is that those feelings come to the surface more. your feelings about work, about your heart, about your spirit,
about everything. and we -- we can share those with each other, okay? and i love you. take care. bye. >> during their heart-to-hearts, rachel complained that her todd was not so perfect as people seemed to think. did she lay it on a little thick for the sake of her other man? wouldn't be surprising of course. anyway, james relayed to us what he said she told him that todd was stingy, emotionally distant, that he was so devious, he actually faked having cancer, twice, to avoid deadlines at work. that on a business trip to amsterdam, he feigned some sort of catatonic state the day he had a presentation due. and worse, as james related rachel's story, todd talked about staging a serious car wreck as a pretext for suing his own company and collecting a big settlement. now, all this may just have been
trash talk about the husband whose mere existence was an impediment to their happiness. but, wrapped up in their fog of love, they began talking about running away from it all together. and then, it was just about a year into their affair, oh-oh she was pregnant, with todd's baby. so, did rachel and james end it then? why no. they did not. what did it do to your relationship? >> brought us closer. she said to me, "who in their right mind want to take on a woman with two toddlers and an infant?" i said, "i would, without hesitation." she started crying and so did i. >> well, how did she feel about carrying todd's baby? >> she said that the life in her was a gift from god, and no matter who the father was, she's going to love that baby no matter what.
because half that baby was her. >> sure, of course. >> and i told her i would love that boy, and her and her daughters just like my own. >> but wait a minute. there was, after all, a husband. todd was not about to take this lying down. and sure enough, he recruited a powerful ally. and one tense and anxious day, they braced themselves and set out to confront his wife's lover. and james white was ready for them. >> i had a nine millimeter on me, and i know how to use it extremely well. >> coming up, witness to a showdown between an angry husband and his wife's pistol-packing lover. >> i see these two men walking up the driveway and i was like, "oh my god, what are they doing here? and what was about to happen?" when "dateline" continues. s.
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hello, i'm dara brown. here's what's happening. the omicron variant of the coronavirus has officially made its way to north america. two people in canada who had recently been in nigeria tested positive for the variant that news comes as president biden met with his covid-19 response today to talk about only kron. it's estimated it will take about two weeks to have more definitive information about the variant. for now, the team says both vaccines and booster shots continue to be our best bet for protection. now back to "dateline." todd winkler, distressed by his wife's infidelity, found an unlikely ally as he prepared to confront her lover, james white. but in this case, rachel's dad don hatfield was only too happy to help. he did not approve of his daughter's behavior -- just too much like his own once was. and don was a guy who'd been
carrying his guilt like a cross for years. >> i tried to lead all of my children to the love of jesus christ. there was only one major obstacle to that ever occurring in a way that -- that i would be happy with. and that was my hypocrisy. >> what do you mean? >> huh? >> your hypocrisy? >> my hypocrisy -- chasing women >> uh-huh. >> blowing my marriage. >> as don tells it, women found his role as an ascendant artist quite appealing. never mind he was a married father of four. >> and that kind of thing destroyed this - literally, destroyed my family. >> by the time rachel was in middle school, don's string of affairs led to a home-shattering divorce. >> i think that the -- the obliteration of the nuclear family had a profound effect on rachel. >> now, he feared, the apple hadn't fallen far from the tree. his daughter rachel was in the middle of an affair herself and it was putting her marriage at risk.
>> you know todd had been calling me, you know, "what am i gonna do? you know, how am i gonna save my marriage?" and i said, "todd, have you just told him straight up to stay away from your wife until this thing is worked out?" he said no. and i said, "well, have you thought about that?" he says, "well, not til right now. sounds like a good idea. will you come with me?" "yeah, i'll go with 'ya." and -- so we drove over there. >> james' daughter katelynn, 16 then, sounded the alarm as rachel's worried father and betrayed husband pulled up at the entrance to james's isolated mountain property. >> we just got done shooting. and i just hear this car roll up. i was like, "wow, that sounds like rachel." and i see these two men walking up the driveway. and i was like, "oh my god. what are they doing here?" and i ran out. i'm like, "dad, todd's here. and so is don." he goes, "all right. let's get this over with."
and i grabbed the nine -- or i didn't grab the nine, i grabbed the m4. >> katelynn is talking about the guns she had at the ready, a nine millimeter pistol and an m-4 rifle. and james? he had a pistol holstered in the small of his back as he walked out to greet todd and don. >> i had a nine millimeter on me, and i know how to use it extremely well. >> here is james' memory of a confrontation so tense it sounds almost surreal. as the two men approached the house, he said, they hid behind todd and rachel's children. >> he had ariel in his arms, using her as a human shield. and don had alex in his arms, hiding on the other side of the car. >> they were afraid that you were gonna shoot them. >> perhaps. and i can't remember whether or not todd actually went to the door with the kid or i went to the door or whatever. but he was a human shield. he was going to stop the bullets, right?
>> that's a little scary. >> yeah, it is scary. >> todd was holding ariel, and don was holding alex. and todd came up, he looks -- just a wreck. >> todd confronted me, he said, "rachel and i aren't divorced yet, and i would appreciate it if you would stay away from her." >> and? >> nope. >> you said no? >> i said no. >> there was a pause. if something was going to happen, this would be the moment. >> and then he turns to me and he goes, "hi katelynn." i was like, "get off this property." >> and suddenly, it was over. todd and don and the kids got back into the land cruiser and drove off. what was the feeling like as this was going on? >> the feeling for me was, "god, i hope that-- this clears the air." i think -- you know, he -- he's asked him to stay away so maybe he'll stay away and maybe they can figure out what to do. >> was it a civilized conversation? >> yes. yes, very. >> they didn't yell at each other? >> no. >> didn't stare daggers -- >> no. there was zippo.
i didn't like the fact that here's a marriage in trouble. and there's -- guy's will prey on that, you know? if he's a gentleman, he says, "i'll wait in the wings. and if this flies, fine." but -- you know, he didn't. >> no. apparently, nothing could keep the lovers apart. james emailed rachel, "hey, my love. i miss you something awfully bad. i've be crying on and off since sunday. i'm dying inside. my heart is shattered. i love you endlessly my sweet love." no, this wasn't over. not the affair. not the marriage, either.. and not the confrontation. something was coming. watch out. >> 9-1-1, what's your emergency? >> i'm calling to report a fatality. >> where did this occur? >> it's in the cameron park airpark. >> coming up -- >> i was in my yard and saw the
sheriff's department pulling into the neighbor next door, taking kind of tactical position, donning flak jackets and pulling out ar-15s. >> who had been killed? >> i get a phone call from a screaming irrational voice on the other end. >> and who was the killer? when "dateline" continues. ntinu. when you hear, cough cough sneeze sneeze. [ sneezing ] it's time for, plop plop fizz fizz. alka seltzer plus cold relief. dissolves quickly. instantly ready to start working. so you can bounce back fast with alka-seltzer plus.
airpark that last sunday of february 2012. todd and rachel winkler's marital issues did not noticeably ruffle the surface of normal suburban life. a neighbor bumped into todd that afternoon. >> he stopped and talked to us for, you know, a couple a minutes and, you know, wished us well and kept going. he was pushing the two strollers with all three kids and he didn't look particularly cheerful. >> todd had no way of knowing that sunday afternoon that rachel was back at james' mountain house, double-checking her divorce application. >> she finished the paperwork and she says i'm going fax him the next morning. >> you're continuing the relationship. she is filling out divorce papers. he's trying to block her. she's determined to do it. >> uh-huh. she turned to me that day, she say, "you know what, james? whether you're in the picture or not, i'm divorcing todd. i want out." >> whether you're in the picture or not? but was there some doubt about that? >> no. she said the reason why she wants to be with me is because she wanted to be with me, not because she had to be with me. >> i'm trying to imagine what you were feeling like. >> i was elated.
we were finally going to be able to start the life together we've talked about and dreamed about and wanted together for so long. >> rachel headed home to tell todd they were history, that she was leaving him for the man she loved. evening fell. it was sunday night. no one who drove past the winkler's home in the gathering dark would have noticed anything untoward. but come monday morning it was a day unlike any the airpark community had ever seen. >> 911, what's your emergency? >> i'm calling to report a fatality. >> where did this occur? >> it's in the cameron park air park. my understanding, it was a domestic -- >> it was just so surreal. it almost -- it seemed like a dream. >> what was going on? the neighbors watching anxiously from their windows didn't know, of course. >> i was in my yard and saw the sheriff's department pulling into the neighbor next door, between our house and the winkler's house, and taking kind
of tactical positions, donning flak jackets and pulling out ar-15s. >> there were five sheriffs in the backyard with their guns drawn facing todd's house. >> what happened next floored marion cockerell. >> and i saw todd walking backwards across the street. >> stop right there. turn around. put your hands on top of your head. drop down to your knees. keep your hand on top of your head. you understand me? >> yes, i do. >> who else is inside the house? >> there's no one else inside the house, sir. >> and where's your wife? >> my wife is inside the house. >> you said nobody else was inside, though. >> my wife is dead. >> how could it be? rachel winkler was just 37 years old, with those three little children to whom she meant the whole world. >> where is your wife? >> she's in -- when you enter the house, you turn to the right. the first bedroom on your right. >> you sure she's dead? >> i'm positive. >> how can you be -- how are you sure? >> no pulse, no breathing.
>> amid the chaos, frantic calls, one of the neighbors reached rachel's father. >> and i get a phone call from a screaming, irrational voice on the other end. i said, "is it rachel?" "yes, it's rachel." i said, i have a question for you." "is there a yellow ribbon around the property?" "yes." "is there a big white van in front of the house?" "yes." >> don was in the middle of moving. the movers tried to calm him down. >> and the guys says, "we don't know that she's dead." i said, "count on it, he killed her." and i got there and, you know, she was gone. >> he was right to begin with. rachel was dead. the horrific news spread. >> i got a call from a friend and i said, "it can't be." and the next thing i knew, i woke up on the floor. >> you fainted? >> i completely blacked out, hit the floor. so i called the sheriff's department and asked them if they knew what was going on. and they said just stay right
where you're at. >> james' daughter katelynn got a message at school. >> i walk outside, and i call a family friend, and he goes, "are you sitting down? i think you need to sit down, katelynn." i was like, "what's going on?" and all i remember is just dropping to the ground. >> rachel's friend shannon couldn't believe what she read online. >> i found out through facebook. i was scrolling and saw someone post something, "r.i.p. rachel." >> all right. >> and i was like, "what the hell is going on?" so then i called her younger brother, and he said somebody came into her house and murdered her. and i said, "what do you mean somebody came into her house and murdered her?" >> coming up -- rachel's death threat. what hat half not that in house? an eyewitness account from todd. >> get the children out of here.
>> and what does this box have to do with a long ago fire and death on a dark mountain, when "dateline" continues. ateline" cs with voltaren arthritis pain gel. my husband's got his moves back. an alternative to pills, voltaren is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory gel for powerful arthritis pain relief. voltaren, the joy of movement. we're carvana, the company who invented car vending machines and buying a car 100% online. now we've created a brand-new way for you to sell your car. whether it's a year old or a few years old. we wanna buy your car. so go to carvana and enter your license plate answer a few questions. and our techno wizardry calculates your car's value and gives you a real offer in seconds. when you're ready, we'll come to you, pay you on the spot and pick up your car, that's it.
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>> stop right there. turn around. put your hands on top of your head. drop down to your knees. keep your hand on top of your head. you understand me? >> yes, i do. >> the scene that played out in front of the todd and rachel winkler home in the airpark that monday morning, february 27, 2012, grew more bizarre by the moment. as neighbor marion cockrell watched the police surround todd, he saw something quite incomprehensible. >> they handcuffed him and took him off and we didn't know what was going on. >> todd, under arrest? charged with murder for killing rachel. what about her lover, the man with all the guns? no, it was todd in handcuffs. the investigators disappeared into the house and found a bloody crime scene.
and rachel winkler, dead in her baby's bedroom. they found the couple's three young children safe and sound across the street at a neighbor's house. todd had dropped them off there before the police arrived. soon, todd himself was sitting in an interview room at the sheriff's department. where he admitted, yes, he killed rachel. but, he said, he had no choice. and then he told the police a harrowing story of rage and violence and self-defense. the trouble began the night before, sunday night, he said, as he was preparing to leave early the next morning for work. rachel told him straight out, she was leaving him for james. >> and she'd go back to the arms of james white. >> and then, a few hours later, 3:30 monday morning when todd went into the baby's room where rachel had taken to sleeping, they argued, bitterly about custody of the children. >> i said, "i'm not going to
agree to you having the kids up here and having primary custody on that. i'm going to fight you on this." and, she said, "no, you know, i'm looking to have my boyfriend get rid of you." her boyfriend is a big gun collector. >> as todd told it, when rachel said that when she threatened to send james white to get rid of him, whatever that meant, he overreacted and punched rachel. >> where did you hit her? >> i hit her right by the face. >> after she had told you basically she was going to have this, her boyfriend take care of you. >> yeah, yeah. >> todd said he tried to apologize. >> and i'm rubbing back saying, "i'm sorry, you know, i'm just so sorry, there's not -- i'm sorry." >> but then, he said, rachel turned around and attacked him with a deadly weapon. >> she was coming at me with a vee of scissors. >> uh-huh.
>> and i got a hold of them. and we had a struggle on the bed and rolled off onto the bed. >> uh-huh. >> and got into this struggle over the scissors. i took some cuts just on my hands trying to get them away from her. >> they wrestled on the bedroom floor, he said. just a couple of feet from the crib where 7-month old alex was sleeping. and, overweight and out of shape, said todd, he was fighting for his life with his much fitter wife. >> it was a long, long, long protracted struggle. >> uh-huh. >> i don't know how long, but it was a long time. she's a very strong girl. >> uh-huh. >> she's an extremely strong girl. and she had me on the bottom. and she was on top of me. like, back and forth between bottom and top in this struggle over the scissors. >> then he said he finally got control of those scissors.
>> i was able to get them turned around onto her. >> uh-huh. >> and give her some jabs. she was -- she was -- she was injured at this point, but probably not seriously. >> uh-huh. >> i poked her in the eye really hard and got her to break free. >> he retreated, he said, as quick as he could. >> and i got up and got out of there and then ran to my car. got to my car and thought, get out of here. i thought, "oh, my god. i didn't realize. get the children, get the children out here." >> his two daughters were in their room, but baby alex was with the wounded rachel. standing there in the garage, he said, he made a decision. he had to protect his children. he would go back in and rescue them from rachel. >> i grabbed my motorcycle jacket at that point. put it on, zipped it up. it's got pads over here for, like, breaking down the door. >> uh-huh. >> and i rushed into the room.
>> she must have been waiting, said todd, to pounce. he was, he told police, soon in a fight to the death to save his own life. i tripped and fell forward when i rushed into the room. she kicked me in the face and then we got into -- another subsequent struggle on the floor. and once i, you know, started to get the upper hand, i just, i pushed the scissors in as far as i could. >> and where was that, do you recall? >> in her throat. in her throat. i don't know how long. quite a very long time. >> okay, and why did you hold her there like that with the scissors in? >> i knew if i'd let go, i mean, she still had her hand on these scissors. i was also fearing for, you know, she was, it was probably kill or be killed kind of situation.
>> coming up, what really happened in that bedroom? the investigation revealed someone was keeping secrets. >> realizing wait, there was a former wife? >> and that was just the beginning, when "dateline" continues. nurse mariyam sabo knows a moment this pure... ...demands a lotion this pure. new gold bond pure moisture lotion. 24-hour hydration. no parabens, dyes, or fragrances. gold bond. champion your skin. your eyes. beautiful on the outside, but if you have diabetes, there can be some not-so-pretty stuff going on inside. it's true, with diabetic retinopathy, excess sugar can damage blood vessels, causing vision loss or even blindness.
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arrested for killing rachel, he claimed it was self-defense. he told the cops she came after him with those scissors. he had to protect his children and save himself, even. it meant a duel to the death. >> if was a kill or be killed situation. >> eventually todd got to his feet. he prepared a bottle for crying alex, he said. and he worried. >> and i just started just pacing around the house just saying, "god, i just killed their mother." >> by-and-by, ariel and eva woke up.
todd kept them out of the room where their mom lay dead. then, he said, he cleaned up the house as well as he could. and at 10:26 am, 7 hours after rachel died, he phoned a lawyer friend and asked him to inform the authorities. >> tell me exactly what you heard from your neighbor. >> what i'm willing to tell you is that i'm an attorney. i received a call notifying me of the situation. >> about the same time, 10:30 am, todd took his children to the neighbor's house. >> i said, "there's been -- " i didn't tell them rachel was dead. i said, "we have a very serious situation across the street. can you please watch the kids." >> murder investigations are of course based on more than just witness statements.
the csi team rushed over to todd and rachel's house and assistant d.a., lisette suder, joined them as they searched and documented the interior of a house that was strangely chaotic. >> what did it look like? >> the house is well-manicured. minus the fact that there's this yellow crime scene tape up. and then you walk through that and you walk into the doors and the house is in complete disarray. kitchen is completely undone. baseboards missing all over the place. the house is not put together at all. >> such an odd place. in the garage that doubled as a hangar, investigators found todd's mustang, rachel's suv, a boat, a bmw motorcycle and parts of a plane todd was refurbishing. back inside the house, in the master bedroom, in a night stand, they found something else, too. something quite unexpected. this blue box. inside? ashes. what? at the bottom of the box was a label that simply said, "cremated remains of catherine lynn winkler." and now, suddenly, there were two mysteries to solve. what really happened in the winkler baby's blood-stained bedroom? the prosecutors listened carefully to todd's version of
events and was skeptical. that's her job, of course. still, no one else in todd's house saw what happened, so there was no one to contradict his story. but then the investigators found that box with ashes in it. >> we're realizing, wait, there was a former wife? >> oh, yeah, there was. todd winkler had been married before and clearly his ex-wife was dead. so what happened to her? no choice, did the prosecutor, she would have to find out. and that's when she set out to follow a trail that led to a man in georgia. and gerald johnson, a jith nudg, but back in 1999, rookie detective. >> it really shocked me i was getting a call about a case that i had worked from that little town in white count. >> had you now forgotten about that case? >> no, sir. actually i thought about that case many times. >> the case, an auto accident in the fall of 1999. an accident that killed the first mrs. winkler, kathy. >> my father called me that
night and told me that kathy was no longer with us. >> what was that like for you? >> it hurts. still hurts. >> so many years later, charles carlisle still smarts from the loss of his big sister kathy, just never got over it. but then, kathy was also his menture, his protector, perhaps his only true friend. they grew up in california, charles painfully shy. kathy, outgoing, strikingly attractive and popular. kellyanne and kathy were school chums. they remember what a knockout she was, but that there was more to her than just that. >> she could have her choice of
young men. she was beautiful. >> inside and out. it wasn't just her exterior beauty, she was a beautiful girl. but she had a sweet, kind, caring personality that was attractive to everybody. >> it was a small miracle, perhaps, that she turned out so well, given what was demanded of her, said her friends. >> her mother left when they were young. her grandmother lives with her for a while, but she was the caretaker of her siblings. she had a younger sister and younger brother and kathy pretty much mothered them and cared for them. >> she definitely was the mom. >> except on weekends when the school chums remember sneaking around the base to get a glimpse of the true stars among the young men there. no surprise it was the macho fighter pilots. >> the man in the uniform. >> yes, the man in the uniform. >> the man in the uniform. >> definitely, the jumper suit, very hot.
kathy and i would always joke and say, do you think you're going to marry a pilot? wouldn't that be so cool? it's like top gun, marry a pilot. and of course she married one. >> it wasn't a direct route. first in her early 20s she struck up a seriously relationship with a pilot who, in the end, just couldn't seem to commit. and so, just like rachel, years later in napa, california, kathy was a young woman on the rebound when she met fighter pilot todd. >> where the first one didn't work out or perhaps it didn't work to the way you wanted it to, maybe she felt like this is what she needed to do. and todd came into the picture. i think having that pilot probably maybe is what caused her to marry todd. >> patterns. at that time too todd was ready to commit, right away. >> how long did they date before they got married? >> i wasnouldn't say it wasn't very long time at all. >> they got married within weeks of dating. >> she appeared to be happy, i didn't question that.
she had married her pilot and so i thought her fairly tale is coming true. >> the air force sent todd to japan soon after the wedding. it was an exhilarating time for kathy. getting married, heading off to live in an exotic place. >> she was excited about moving to japan and she was going to be an english teacher. >> later after todd left the air force, kathy's friends remembered how his friends were there for him as he tried to figure out what do next. >> she was supporting him in whatever different career he was going to choose. >> it was a difficult time for todd. >> we did spend thanksgiving with them one year and todd had put on a lot of weight. i know he wasn't working and he was depressed. >> but today always had a knack for making money and he figured it out, got into the booming wifi business. and pretty soon kathy and todd moved into a big lakeside house in georgia with a boat and fancy cars and, of course, an
airplane. kathy, always so nurturing, told her friends she was ready to take the next step. >> i remember kathy calling me and telling me that they were living in georgia and she was excited about it and she wanted to have children. i was excited for her because i can see her with little kids. >> but, nine years into what looked like a happy marriage, children had yet to arrive. and now we know because of what was in that blue box they never would. time to find out what happened. who knew that the discovery in that box would bring investigators all the way across the country to the blue ridge mountains of north georgia to a campsite high on a hill. here was a lonely place that had kept its secret long enough. coming up. >> i was sleeping in my tent and i heard somebody shouting from the road about a hundred yards away, help, help, help. >> we finally come around this turn.
the whole side of the mountain's on fire. >> did it look like it was possible anybody could be alive down there? >> no. >> no. >> i remember falling to the ground and i said, what do you mean she's dead? >> a mysterious death and suspicion. >> it just didn't add up. >> when "dateline" continues. ! like ge appliances up to 40% off rugs up to 80% off and lighting up to 65% off. plus get bonus savings with a wayfair credit card and free shipping on thousands of products. don't miss our cyber monday happening now through november 29th.
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>> a person can find what really matters up here, said mike hodnett and woody depew. up here so far from the raucous urban world are weekends steeped in the peace and beauty of a natural cathedral. >> we'd ride our mountain bikes, go sit in the river, hike, go rappelling. >> most of the time you're just -- you're out there by yourself. and you make your own rules. >> and at night? >> you can go up to the top of the mountain and you can see a lot of stars you didn't know were there. >> but down the sides of the mountain, under a thick canopy of leaves -- >> many, many nights it's just pitch black. >> this is the place, these are the conditions that california prosecutor lisette suder needed to understand. it was september, 26th 1999, one of those pitch black nights, the night mike and woody lived through one of the strangest experiences of their lives. mike and woody were asleep in separate tents around a common campfire. and both, same moment, were
suddenly startled awake. >> i was sleeping in my tent and i heard somebody shouting from the road about 100 yards away, "help, help, help, my wife is dead." >> this is the middle of the night. >> it's the middle of the night. >> and then i kind of was like -- just laid there and i was like, "nah, nah, i didn't just hear that." and then i heard it again. >> they got up fast and out of the black night-- >> some strange man come walking into their campsite going, "oh, help. help me. my wife is dead." >> the stranger was emotional, distraught, told them he and his wife had been camping a few miles further up the narrow mountain road. >> he said that he had been stung by a bee and that his wife was rushing him to the hospital. and he was laying in the back of the truck. he then told us that his wife lost control of the vehicle. >> and then the pick up went over the edge and tumbled down the ridge, he told them. >> and then, he was thrown out of the back bed of the truck. it just threw him out. and then he was able to walk away.
>> he said it crashed at the bottom and burst into flames with his wife still inside. the man looked disheveled but okay. he wanted to call 9-1-1 but didn't have a cell phone with him. and he wanted to try to find his wife, he told them. woody and mike told the stranger he could ride in the bed of their truck while they drove up the twisting track, looking for the accident site. >> i -- i kept asking, like, "where's the wreck? where's the wreck? " and then after that went on, you know, 20 or 30, 40 seconds, you know, going around different turns and stuff, we finally come around this turn and the whole side of the mountain's on fire. obviously, we knew we were there. >> it looked like several acres of forest were on fire. >> did it look like it was possible anybody could be alive down there? >> no. >> no. >> just the same, woody and mike climbed down the steep incline as far as they could. >> i don't see how anybody could've survived that wreck.
the cliff, the fire, but i'm still hopeful, okay? i got to do something. >> yeah. >> but there was no getting near the truck and no sign of a survivor. and then the firefighters came and the emts and, of course, the cops. they too heard the husband's bizarre tale. and they also learned his name was todd winkler. in their report they wrote that when they encountered todd, he was calling out for his wife cathy over and over. cathy, cathy, as if he was hoping she'd come walking out of that burning forest. the patrol deputies called in the investigators, which is how gerald johnson, a brand new detective at the time, found himself deep in the georgia woods early that autumn morning. >> what happened up there on the hill was -- well, you -- you can describe to me as best you understood at the time what had happened. >> sometime during the night, he had gotten up, according to his statement, to go outside to use the restroom.
and as he came back to the tent, he realized that he had been bitten by something or was having some type of reaction, that his throat was closing up and -- >> a sort of anaphylactic shock type reaction? >> well, that -- that's what i described it as. and she takes him out to this toyota pickup, if i remember correctly. he's crawling on his hands and knees at this point and having all these symptoms of some type of allergic reaction. >> johnson mostly just observed, he said, as the georgia bureau of investigation looked into what happened. but took no action. and eventually, the coroner ruled cathy's death an accident. and then, the life insurance company did the same. and as the more than half million dollar policy on cathy's life was a double indemnity, it paid double in the case of an accident. todd got close to $1.2 million. and the case was closed. but for the heartbreak, it was julie-lynn who told tanya what happened.
>> and she said, "tanya, cathy's dead. she's not alive anymore. she died." i remember falling to the ground and i said, "what do you mean she's dead? " >> cathy's friend julie-lynn felt not just for herself but for todd, too. >> and i wanted to console him and just let him know that we were there for him, supporting him, anything we could do for him. and he never returned any of my calls. >> tanya -- tanya tried to call him, too. for a different reason. >> it just didn't add up. my phone call was strictly to figure out and to pick his brain and ask questions. >> because, by then, tanya was a cop herself, who knew a little something about suspicious behavior. >> did i think he was going to answer that phone? no, and let me tell you, i tried that phone number
numerous times. and after about a month of calling it repeatedly, the phone number was disconnected. >> she didn't get anywhere. no. but sometimes, maybe, with a little help from curious prosecutor, you get a do-over. >> so, as the years went by, you thought about it? >> oh, yes, sir. >> it bothered you? >> yes. >> so, that must have made that call that you got from california all the more remarkable. >> when -- when i realized what they were asking me about, yes, sir. i thought, "oh, my goodness, what in the world is going on with this case? " >> coming up. so many questions about that long-ago case, starting with why was cathy even camping? >> i said camping? >> cathy was not a camper. the more we read, the more rerealized this was not an accident. >> it was some horrible acting going on. >> it wasn't believable. >> i recall him at some point mr. winkler saying, do you
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happened on this mountain path on a dark night more than a decade ago. >> we got all those police reports. >> out in california, 15 years later, prosecutor lisette suder was convinced. for the sake of her own case, she had to find out what really happened up here on this isolated mountain road in september, 1999. >> what is very important about the georgia case and our case is it goes to his intent in the rachel case. >> and before long she knew. this was going to be explosive. the georgia case could be her best evidence in the here and now in california to show that todd winkler was perfectly capable of spousal murder. because she soon believed he had done it before. >> the more we read, the more we realized that this was not an accident. >> todd's behavior up here on the mountain, said prosecutor
suder, was deeply suspect. for one thing, his stories just kept changing with each telling, like the one about where he was sitting in the truck as it headed down the mountain trail, in the passenger seat, holding cathy's hand, as he told the police, or back in the bed of the truck, as the campers insisted he told them. and when the truck went off the road? did he describe being thrown out of the vehicle? >> not to us, but there was another interview that was done earlier, where i think he described to someone as a twisting and turning motion. but in our interview, what i recall him sayin'is that when he came to himself, he was layin'on the ground, outside the vehicle. there was a huge fire. and he didn't know where his wife was. so from -- >> so that he didn't remember the accident at all, in your interview? >> right, right. >> but apparently he did in some other interview. >> and that's correct. >> there were differing stories about what sort of bug supposedly bit him. supposedly causing an allergic reaction so bad he had to ask
cathy to rush him down the mountain to a hospital. yet, when the cops asked to see the bug bite? >> he didn't know where the bug bite was. didn't know what bit him. >> didn't know where it was? >> no, sir. >> something serious enough to give him an allergic reaction that doesn't present anywhere is a bit odd. >> that was a big question in my mind. >> todd told the cops back then that he had a history of allergic reactions. always carried an epi-pen for emergencies. yet didn't take that to the wilderness that weekend. did that seem strange to you that he'd go camping without an epipen if he was subject to this sort of thing? >> it seemed strange to me that we were spendin'so much time talkin'about bug bites. it was almost as if we were tryin'to steer away from the real issue, which was a fatality crash involving his wife. >> it also seemed strange he said that by the time the campers saw todd, he displayed no evidence of an allergic reaction. of course, lisette suder and her people interviewed mike and
woody too. and they told her, as they told us, that they never forgot how strangely phony todd seemed when he arrived at their campsite that night. >> he was kind of -- kinda play-sobbing, i would say, you know? it was -- it was some horrible acting going on. >> it wasn't believable. >> they also wondered why, on a warm southern night, was todd dressed in several layers of heavy clothing? was he protecting himself from a fall he knew he was going to cause? >> he had a lot of extra clothing on. but i also remember he also had a toboggan hat on. >> the kind you pull down over your ears. >> the kind -- yes. >> and i'm standin'there in a t-shirt, shorts, and flip flops. >> also, why did the accident happen on the one spot in the whole drive that offered a long straight drop hundreds of feet into a deep ravine? >> the steepest cliff possible on that road. >> why did their toyota pick up erupt into flames? that might happen in the movies, but rarely in real life.
why did it look like the fire had been burning for a long time? >> it was -- the whole side of the mountain. it was a big mountain. it had to have been burnin'an hour or two. >> yeah, probably. i would think. closer to two. >> curiosities. why would he bring her up here to the very top of the mountain to go camping it's an hour's drive over a rutted track to the other campers farther down the hill. according to cathy's family she didn't like camping at all. so why would he bring her to the most remote possible place? >> no one camps up there. unless you want to be really secluded. >> and that, said cathy's brother, was not something she would have wanted. did she like to go camping? >> no. she'd rather be in a hotel -- any day over a tent, knowin'my sister. >> puzzled cathy's friends too. >> i was like, "camping? " >> cathy was not a camper. >> and there was this -- >> i recall him -- at some point, mr. winkler
saying, "do you think i killed my wife? " >> is that a question an innocent man would ask, johnson wondered? and when the investigator responded, johnson remembered thinking todd's behavior seemed off, inappropriate. >> if i remember correctly, special agent roberts says, "did you? " and then at that point he became very emotional, you know? "oh, i can't believe -- "and his body language and his demeanor was just so over the top. >> but though they may have had their suspicions back in 1999, suspicion alone didn't make the death of cathy winkler anything but what it was called at the time, an accident. insurance companies investigated and paid out, because they felt that it was a real accident, and the authorities there couldn't show that it wasn't a real accident. so why was it worth you looking at it again? >> well, we knew a lot more about todd winkler at this
point. we knew a lot more about how he goes about getting what he wants. the more she learned about cathy winkler's death, the more it seemed to her that todd must have planned it all. just as the evidence here in california was telling her that the killing of rachel winkler more than a decade later, was a case of history, todd winkler's history, repeating itself. but if she had some crusading idea of finding justice in that old case, and using it to solidify her own here in california, she'd have persuade a judge, first. coming up. disorder in the court. >> this is a case about a mastermind, a manipulator, a murderer. >> when "dateline" continues.
part of california was the epicenter of the gold rush. back then, as legend has it, at least, there was no wait for justice. you committed a crime, the punishment was meted out then and there. but not now. for more than two years after the bloody confrontation in the winkler's nursery, todd waited in jail to be tried for his wife rachel's murder. >> and i just started just pacing around the house just saying, "god, i just killed their mother." >> for those two years, todd maintained, as he had from the very beginning, that he killed rachel only to save his own life, to save himself and his children. from jail, he and his family fought a losing battle with rachel's father, don hatfield, who won custody of those
children. and here began atoning for the sins of his youth by devoting his life to three little kids, eva, ariel and alex. >> that's the baby brother. >> it was after all that that they held the trial. prosecutor lisette suder intended to portray todd as a manipulative and devious man who murdered not one wife, but two. that is if she could persuade a california judge to allow an old georgia case to be dusted off and brought back to life. >> i felt confident that i had the law behind me on that. and i submitted my brief, and i submitted the legal arguments that supported that. >> and? she won. and so, in september of 2014, when todd winkler went on trial charged with first-degree murder of second wife rachel, lisette suder could use the georgia story about first wife cathy's death 15 years earlier
against him. and the defense? dismissed the georgia case out of hand. irrelevant, said todd's attorney. cathy winkler's death was thoroughly investigated, he said. and it was not ruled a murder, because it was not a murder. >> there's no evidence of anything other than an accident. >> todd's attorney was able to explain away the things that had raised suspicion. cathy's family was wrong, said the defense. she loved camping. a ranger who saw them making their dinner way up in this remote spot, so far from any other living soul, said they seemed happy. and the insurance money, remember that? that wasn't motive, just business as usual for a pair of upper-middle class professionals. >> in addition to the insurance policy of about $1.1 million that cathy had at the time of her death on her own life, he had $1.2 million on his own life. >> no, cathy and todd were a young upwardly mobile couple. life insurance was cheap, easy to get.
they both had it. anyway, todd loved cathy. why else would he keep her ashes all these years. cathy's death, said the defense, had nothing whatever to do with the event for which todd was on trial, the death of rachel winkler, and he wasn't guilty in this case either. >> this is not a murder case, ladies and gentlemen. it's a self-defense case, or at most it's a voluntary manslaughter case. >> there were two good reasons to believe that, said the defense. reason one, self defense. as todd told the police that very first day -- >> it was probably a kill or be killed kind of situation. >> he was a good guy in a bad situation, said his attorney. he worked hard and long hours to support rachel. he wanted to make her happy, and he was a good dad. and for that she cheated on him, threatened him and then attacked with those scissors.
of course, by that point, todd told the police, she was a very unstable woman. >> started drinking, started binge drinking. i was afraid for the children. she was just spinning into this mental cycle of self-destruction. >> and then todd's defense revealed this little gem. >> she's signed up for california sweetheart, which is an adult connection kind of -- you can judge for yourselves what it is. >> married to a man she'd grown to hate, in an affair with a man she was maybe thinking of cheating on, said the defense. she was conflicted, said todd's attorney. she was telling people she was afraid of todd. and yet she sure didn't act like it here, todd and rachel look happy. >> compare it with this photograph taken in las vegas about just a few days before rachel died. >> but there was something else, said todd's attorney, and it was reason number two, that rachel's death was not murder. and that was that his client had a psychotic breakdown when
rachel attacked him. his ability to understand what he was doing was diminished. why should the jury believe that? well, as you'll remember, rachel herself described todd as unstable at times. and now the defense presented evidence of what they said was his history of psychotic episodes. the first one happened in asia, something like 20 years earlier when todd was married to cathy and was flying with the fighting samurai squadron. he was caught shoplifting from a base px. he claimed amnesia. so the air force sent him off for psychiatric tests. but then it got even more bizarre, and cathy called her friend tanya. >> she telephoned me saying, "i'm in hawaii. todd had a mental breakdown, and so he's in a psychiatric facility." she had said to me that he escaped and was in the wooded area in hawaii.
and for a week or two. and when he finally came out of the woods he said that he was a samurai warrior. >> back then, after months of psychiatric evaluation, todd was diagnosed with dissociative disorder, a neurosis that warped his view of reality. not exactly what the air force wanted in a fighter pilot. >> and because of events and the determinations by the air force psychiatrists, he was retired medically with a 50% disability. >> and there was that incident in amsterdam. remember? rachel told james about it. it happened just before he was due to make an important presentation at a conference. that time he appeared to black out, became catatonic, ended up in the hospital where they found nothing wrong with him and released him. rachel told james he faked the episode. but here at trial, a defense psychiatrist testified todd suffered from real mental issues, dissociative disorder,
conversion disorder, which meant he could be violent if he felt he was under attack. and that awful morning? first he told the police she threatened to sic her well-armed boyfriend on him. >> and she said, "no, you know, i'm looking to have my boyfriend get rid of you." >> and then -- >> she was coming at me with a v of scissors. >> rachel's dad, don, and self-described soulmate, james, watched as the defense argued that todd had no choice but to kill the woman they so loved. >> his state of mind is what you really need to pay careful attention to here. he knows she'll kill him. he knows if he stops, doesn't end it right then, it could end him. >> all very sad, said the defense, but not murder. and what would prosecutor suder say about that? simple. all that psychiatric stuff, she
said, was fakery. todd winkler may have had, or feigned, some disorder that got him out of the air force, she said, but he killed rachel. and it was murder, deliberate and planned, she said, committed by a man practiced at getting away with things. >> good morning, ladies and gentlemen. this is the case about a master mind, a manipulator. a murderer. this is a case about todd winkler and how he brutally murdered rachel marie winkler, his wife, mother of his three small children. >> todd winkler did not have to fend off a scissor-wielding wife, said prosecutor suder, so it wasn't self-defense. and rachel's death could not be blamed on any mental condition either, any more than the death of another mrs. winkler in those dark woods so long ago. but as she began to tell that part of the story, watch what happened. >> she's found burned to death
down a steep embankment where the car went. the car and she burned. and the defendant is very fine with just a few minor scratches on him. >> you are not samurai. >> stop, stop, stop. stop, stop, stop. judge -- >> you do not speak truth. you only want to destroy. you have no bushido. you have no bushido. >> bailliffs and his lawyer struggled to restrain todd. it looked like the whole trial would be over. coming up. whatever happens, somebody had already made up her mind. >> i was told that monsters don't exist. my parents auld tolways told me i can tell you with absolute certainty that's 110% false. he is a monster. >> when "dateline" continues.
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down a steep embankment. >> just as the prosecutor was laying out her case against todd winkler in the killing of his wife, rachel, a sudden, inexplicable outburst from todd. >> you are not samurai. >> stop, stop, stop. stop, stop, stop. >> you do not speak truth. you only want to destroy. you have no bushido. you have no bushido. >> bushido? in japanese, the "way of the warrior, " the honor-based code of conduct of a samauri. why was todd winkler raving about it now? was this another psychotic episode? >> judge, off the bench. stop, stop, stop. >> of course, the trial came to a screeching halt. a mistrial loomed. >> may we have the courtroom cleared? >> as i was saying, the
defendant's former wife cathy winkler went on a camping trip with this defendant. she died in a fiery crash. the only witness to the crime was, in fact, this defendant. >> were there parallels? you bet there were, said prosecutor sueder. the deaths were both cold blooded calculated killings. >> he's had two wives where he has been the one who has been only witness to a crime. >> but, she said, based on what investigators found, the events at 3:00 in the morning in the california air park were not so hard to determine. and she prepared the jury what happened that night was horrific. one, todd opened rachel's laptop and found the divorce she'd been working on with her boyfriend james. that laptop disappeared from its usual place in the winkler home.
number two, he grabbed the scissors from a craft box that was kept on a self right above the computer. and three-- >> i believe he took a pair scissors and went into that room with the intent to kill her. he attacked her while she was sleeping, stabbed her repeatedly in the face and neck area, and i believe at that point he thought he had killed her and he left her for dead. >> then, said the prosecutor, as todd prepared to leave the house, he saw a light had been turned on in the baby's room. >> so that's when he then goes, gets his motorcycle jacket on for padding, for protection, bangs in the door, finds her in that corner. >> cowering. >> cowering. >> trying to save her own life. >> correct. >> they knew that rachel had spent some time after the first attack trying to hold her baby. >> baby alex's onesie was examined. and you know there are dripped
blood, like dropped blood up on top of that onesie. that's how we though that rachel was holding that baby. >> then todd came back. >> she's in the corner there, she kicks at him. >> didn't stop him. >> he bear crawls up her body. he takes those scissors and this ex-fighter pilot jams them into her neck and he sits there and lays on top of her while she slowly dies. >> after that, for seven hours todd cleaned up, said the prosecutor, then took his kids to the neighbor's house. and then after dropping the kids at the neighbors but before the cops arrived, he took the time to cut his hands to make it look as in he'd been attacked by rachel. how did they know the cuts were self-inflicted? the neighbor said his hands weren't cut when he dropped off the kids. and then the prosecutor told the jury about the ashes, cathy winkler's ashes, which rachel
discovered months before she was killed. >> and learned how there had been a crash and he had no injuries and she had died. rachel was upset by this and said, well is this how i'm going to turn out? and this defendant's reply was, well, you're not going to get in my way, are you? >> rachel knew she was in danger, said prosecutor suder, as a doomed young women already told her friends and family. >> and that defendant said to rachel, if you divorce me you will end up like my last wife. she did. >> after 13 days of testimony, the jury got the case. they were out one day. >> we, the jury, empanalled will in the above entitled action find the defendant todd allen winkler guilty of the crime of first degree murder-- >> no outburse. time, no breakdown. the former fighter pilot sat quietly and listened.
he got 26 years to life. barring a successful appeal, it would be over for todd. but not for anyone else, not really. as james white's daughter caitlin told us. >> i was told that monsters don't exist, my parents always told me that. and after going through that trial and seeing what i had to see, i can tell you with absolute certainty that that is 110% false. he is a monster. >> and rachel's men, we weren't surprised to hear that james has his own idea of what justice might be. did you have any thoughts of what might happen if the justice system didn't look after todd in a way that seemed reasonable to you? >> he would have been dealt with. >> by whom? >> me. >> they could have put you in prison for life. >> it would have been a one-way mission. he and i are both going to go down together. i'm not going to shoot him, i'm
going to kill him with my two bare hands. i'm going to do to him what he did to rachel. >> the man who failed to commit and then watch the love of his life go on to her terrible end has his own way of taking revenge, mostly on himself. >> kind of a tragic love story from your point of view. >> it is. >> this is a woman you could have spent the rest of your life with. >> very, very easily could. yes, i should have pulled the trigger when i that chance, you know. i blew it. i didn't give her the ring earlier. >> you're still paying for it. >> yeah, yes, i am. yeah. that's a tough one. >> different kind of thinking across the country. among the friends of the other mrs. winkler, the one whose death on a lonely mountain road is still officially labeled accident. >> i mean this is a beautiful woman who gave so much, was so nurturing and caring, i don't feel like there's been justice
for cathy. >> i think about cathy's death all the time. >> about whether she could have somehow done more to prevent a second death. >> my heart breaks for those children. i wish i could hug them all and tell them i'm so sorry that i didn't press harder to make them open this case or be that strong person i was, i apologize. >> after the trial, don hatfield said he'd eventually find the words to tell the story of rachel to her children someday. >> this whole story is a mixture of murder and blood and failings and grace and jesus and heaven and god, and some real craziness to it. but that's -- that's the character of my life and some of rachel's life and it's just kind of life in general. >> in the meantime, he said, he's trying to be the kind of parent he wasn't with his own
children but is now for rachel. >> i believe it's my destiny to raise them. i intend do that with god's help. rugs up to 80% off and lighting up to 65% off. plus get bonus savings with a wayfair credit card and free shipping on thousands of products. don't miss our cyber monday happening now through november 29th. only at wayfair.com.
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