Rebecca Simic wishes for nothing more than to be anonymous.
But that is impossible when her life is exposed on national television.
She wants to protect her four children from that exposure, but she daily places them in God’s hands because she knows she cannot do that without Him.
It was 10 years ago that Simic sat in a courtroom hearing a jury announce her husband, Mark Winger, was guilty of murdering his first wife, Donnah Winger, in 1995. They found it was premeditated, and that he created an elaborate scheme that also included the murder of Robert Harrington, whom the jury believed Winger framed as Donnah’s killer.
Simic’s faith was tested. She and Winger were part of a close church family. Friends there prayed for the couple when the case was reopened. Before the two were married, Winger left his Jewish roots, believed in Jesus and was baptized. He was a great husband and a great father to their four children, Bailey, Anna, Maggie and Ben who, at the time of his conviction were 7, 5, 3 and 2.
“It was hard for me to believe because then I would be the fool,” she said.
After the trial, she left the courtroom, got in a car with her brother, Tim Simic, drove to his home in Louisville with her four kids, and never went back.
The reenactment of the crime, in which he initially was not considered a suspect, was aired on CBS’ crime docudrama “48 Hours,” WE TV, truTV, and more. Headlines in the media drew relentless attention.
This summer, the family will be thrust onto the airwaves again when ABC releases another docudrama on its crime series, “Final Witness.” The program is expected to air in July.
Although an actress has been cast to play her part, Simic said she never has been interviewed by anyone to learn about her part in the story, which is all about God’s provision.
“But the networks don’t want to hear that,” she said.
She believes God brought her into Winger’s life because his daughter, Bailey, who was 3 months old at the time of her mother’s death, needed a caregiver. Simic was certified as a nanny, and had interviewed with many families when she met Bailey.
“I interviewed with a lot of wealthy families, but she was the only one who really needed me,” Simic said. “I knew I needed to be there for her.”
Winger hired her, and after several months, the two began dating. Bailey was 18 months old when Simic married her father and adopted her.
They were active in their church, and Winger did construction projects as a volunteer around the building. Simic said she believes Winger’s conversion was real. She never suspected him until he was sent to prison for life and she asked for a divorce. His letters, she said, were threatening and hostile.
“When he turned on me, I saw that side of him,” she said. “God didn’t deliver him the way Mark thought He should.”
Simic came to Louisville broke and lived with her brother for several months. She got a job at a dental office and received assistance for groceries. She changed her last name and the children’s to Simic, her maiden name, to help protect their identity. And she has remained single.
At times, however, she feels the void of not having their father present.
“God’s been able to do for them what I can’t,” she said. “God’s been able to fill in the gaps. I haven’t had to do it alone.”
All four of the children say they believe their lives are complete. They have each other, and they are tightly knit. Faith is woven throughout the family fabric.
“We don’t feel like we’re missing anything,” said Anna, 15. “Our earthly father is not here, but our Heavenly Father is.”
“If you don’t know someone, you can’t really miss them,” said Ben, 12.
Bailey, Anna, Maggie, and Ben shared an important day in April when they all were baptized together. They made that decision because they do everything together and wanted to share in the experience as a family.
“I see my kids making wise decisions. That’s Him working in them,” Simic said. “I can’t take any credit for that.”
The Simics had visited the Indiana Campus for a while. Rebecca Simic liked the teaching, and knew they were in the right place when Bailey repeated something Teaching Pastor Kyle Idleman taught during a sermon.
Her mom was going through a tough time when Bailey said, “It could be worse.”
Simic said Bailey is the reason she became part of the Winger family in the first place. She believed God was calling her to care for the infant, and she had no idea what events would unfold in the future. That she adopted Bailey after her marriage to Winger cemented their relationship and gave her full rights to Bailey as her adoptive mother.
Thinking about how the events turned out helps give Simic faith that she can trust God despite her doubts, fears and confusion. Now, when she believes God is asking her to do something that does not make sense, she makes a choice to put her doubts aside and trust Him.
“Why do I think He can’t use me? The Bible is filled with imperfect people. God used them. We can’t change our past, but don’t need to let it dictate our future,” she said. “I believe something positive can come out of something negative because I see these four children."