Newlywed dies after shooting in Palmyra; wife continues to recover

Newlywed dies after shooting in Palmyra; wife continues to recover
Tara Van Winkle's previous mugshot (Source: Harrison County Sheriff's Department)
Tara Van Winkle's previous mugshot (Source: Harrison County Sheriff's Department)
Travis Fentress' previous mugshot (Source: Harrison County Sheriff's Department)
Travis Fentress' previous mugshot (Source: Harrison County Sheriff's Department)
Rebecca Rowley spoke with WAVE 3 News reporter William Joy. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Rebecca Rowley spoke with WAVE 3 News reporter William Joy. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

HARRISON COUNTY, IN (WAVE) – Ralph Thomas and Rebecca Rowley were married just eight days when they were gunned down at their Palmyra home Wednesday.

Rowley didn't even have time to change her name yet.

"They had police tape surrounding her house, and that's how I found out that my daughter had been shot," Claudia Rowley, Rebecca's mother, said.

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Court documents reveal late Wednesday morning 911 dispatchers got the call from a home in the 1400 block of Huff Street.

On the line was Rebecca Rowley, 25. She had been shot in the face, but was able to identify the shooter to police. Ralph Thomas, 42, was nearby with a gunshot wound to head. He died early Friday morning.

"I just kept getting real light-headed because blood was just pouring everywhere," Rowley said Friday.

"Ralph didn't deserve to die this way," friend Stephen Hamm said. "I mean he wasn't an angel by no means, but he didn't deserve to die this way."

Hamm knew Ralph for more than 20 years.

"He enjoyed life," Hamm said. "I mean Ralph enjoyed life."

Harrison County Sheriff Rod Seelye says the public led them to Madison, Indiana. Police officers there were able to arrest Travis Fentress and Tara VanWinkle on Thursday.

"If not for the tips that came in, they would still be on the run right now," Seelye said.

Court records show Rebecca Rowley told detectives that Fentress and VanWinkle showed up at their house accusing them, along with others, of trying to poison them with illicit drugs that were tampered with.

"They thought we were trying to conspire against them or something," Rowley said.

She also said that VanWinkle then started choking her, before Fentress pulled the trigger.

"They shot Ralph and missed Ralph," Rowley said. "They shot me, and I felt my teeth fall in from where they shot me in the jaw. Then they shot Ralph in the head and I seen it go into his head and then they shot me again and then I just fell to the floor and laid there so they would leave."

"Drugs in Palmyra is a situation of its own," Hamm said. "I was a police officer here for four years, and town marshal here for four years, and I saw all kinds of things that went on."

Rowley said she and Thomas were moving away from that life.

"We were trying so hard to do good," Rowley said. "We were trying to stay away from these kind of people without being mean to them or anything, just not talk to them, separate ourselves."

She said she's still in shock over the loss of her husband.

"I still haven't been able to accept everything," Rowley said. "We were happy. We just got married"

VanWinkle has been charged with strangulation and Fentress initially with battery, but now that this is a homicide, the sheriff expects that will change.

"We anticipate that the charges will be changed to reflect that," Seelye said.

Rebecca Rowley is recovering well and was released from the hospital Friday.

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