An uncharged suspect in the McMartin Pre-School molestation case has been found dead in his Long Beach apartment, authorities said Wednesday, but the cause of death has not yet been determined. Foul play is not suspected.
Robert Hamill Winkler, 35, a sometime oil rigger and handyman who was free on bail while awaiting trial on unrelated child sexual abuse charges involving a Torrance baby-sitting service, died in the early hours of Nov. 6. However, his death was not disclosed until Tuesday when he failed to appear in court with co-defendants Timothy Paul Ricketts, 19, of Lomita and Angela Darnell, 22, of Torrance.
A spokesman for the Los Angeles County coroner's office said an autopsy was inconclusive and that toxicological test results will take several weeks.
The bearded, long-haired Winkler had been identified in photographs by several former McMartin pupils as one of "the ubiquitous strangers" who figure in the case, according to Deputy Dist. Atty. Lael Rubin.
A subsequent raid on the Lomita home of Winkler's girlfriend last February yielded a pair of rabbit ears, a black cape and cloak, and black candles, a find that prosecutors characterized as "tremendously corroborative" of some preschoolers' accounts of having been molested and frightened into silence by seeing rabbits' ears cut off and witnessing satanic rituals.
No charges against Winkler were ever filed in connection with the raid or McMartin, however. He, Ricketts and Darnell had been ordered to stand trial on 20 felony molestation counts involving six children left in their care at the Coco Palms Motel Apartments in Torrance. A new trial date for the two other defendants has not been set.
Winkler told The Times in a jail interview last February, while awaiting his preliminary hearing, that attempts to link the items with the McMartin case and cult activity were "nonsense" and "ridiculous."
He said the rabbit ears had belonged to a jack rabbit that he and a friend had shot while hunting in the San Bernardino Mountains; his girlfriend, Mary Sue Dorothy, described them as "a conversation piece that we attached to the television as a joke."
She added that the cape belonged to one of four other adults living at the Lomita house and that the candle belonged to a former roommate who was a nun. She said investigators had also seized a peace symbol carved on a piece of tree bark as another "cult" item.
Winkler said copies of Playboy magazine and two reels of "soft porn" movies found in the raid belonged to a friend.