On December 16, 2000, a Florida native named Mike Williams went fishing on Lake Seminole at the Florida-Georgia line. The 31-year-old was never seen or heard from again and was presumed to have drowned in the lake while fishing alone. However, there was something off with the “drowning” theory: Williams’ body was never recovered from the lake.
At the time of his disappearances, authorities in the region conducted an exhaustive search to find Williams’ body. The lake was dragged thoroughly and search parties scoured the wilderness in the area for any sign of the missing fisherman. No sign of him was detected, so authorities presumed that Williams must have been the victim of an alligator attack.
At the time of his disappearance, the investigation was treated as a missing person case, and there was no suspicion of foul play. Six months after his disappearance, his waders and hunting license were both found in the lake, leading to Williams being declared legally dead.
Denise Williams, Mike’s widow, was the one who filed the petition to have him declared legally dead. She was the beneficiary of a sizable life insurance policy that she had recently taken out on Mike, along with the help of her husband’s friend Brian Winchester.
She later married Winchester, further raising the eyebrows of investigators. Mike’s mother, Cheryl Williams, felt that something was wrong with the story and pushed for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to reopen the case.
The “alligator theory” was debunked in 2004 when experts confirmed that gators don’t eat in the winter months. In the years following, numerous theories surfaced about what may have happened to Williams. He was the subject of numerous podcasts about missing persons, and the case was reopened two separate times with no evidence surfacing.
In 2017, Brian Winchester was arrested for kidnapping Denise, who was at that point seeking a divorce from him. The day after his arrest, police announced they’d discovered Williams’ remains at the end of a dead-end street near where he grew up. He had been buried under a pile of dirt on top of a plywood sheet, discarded in a rural area.
Upon the discovery of his remains, his death was ruled a homicide by the FDLE, and Denise Williams was charged with first-degree murder. During the trial, Denise’s defense team argued that she had no idea what had happened to her late husband and that Brian Winchester was solely responsible for any crimes that took place.
Winchester testified that the murder was Denise’s idea, but that he had lured Williams out to the lake on December 16, 2000. He testified to having pushed his friend out of the boat and shooting him with a shotgun, then burying him in the dirt pile where he would be found 17 years later.
Winchester went on to reveal his kidnapping of Denise was out of fear that she would tell authorities what he had done since she was seeking a divorce. Rather than let her get off the hook for her role in the crime, however, he decided to cooperate with authorities and make sure Denise was also taken down for her part in the murder.
Denise was found guilty and was sentenced to life in prison in February 2019. She later appealed the life sentence in January 2020 and succeeded in having her charges reduced to just conspiracy to commit murder and her sentence reduced to 30 years in prison. As of the time of this writing, she is imprisoned in Florida Women’s Reception Center.