Denise Williams, who was working as an accountant at Florida State University, is accused in the murder of her first husband, whom authorities once believed was eaten by alligators but now believe was slain by in a murder plot that included his best friend.
Now authorities allege that Williams and her second husband, Brian Winchester, conspired to slay Mike Williams, 31, her high school sweetheart, perhaps so they could claim his life insurance proceeds. Leon County court records show that Denise Williams has been held in the jail since May 8, 2018 on a charge of conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree.
“She’s the coldest person I’ve ever been around,” former Jackson County Sheriff’s Office Detective Derrick Wester, who interviewed Denise Williams in 2004, told the Tallahassee Democrat. “I hope they’ve got a good case and she gets what she deserves.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Mike Williams Vanished While Duck Hunting 18 Years Before His Wife’s Arrest
The case was more than cold for years. The death dates to 2000. It’s now alleged that Brian Winchester, then Mike Williams’ best friend – and later Denise Williams’ second husband – pulled the trigger and murdered Mike Williams, and that Denise Williams helped concoct the murder plot and covered up the crime after the fact, prosecutors say.
For years, that was not the story that authorities believed. Mike Williams went “on a solo duck hunting trip the morning before he was to celebrate his sixth wedding anniversary with a romantic night in Apalachicola, fell from his boat and tragically drowned,” possibly eaten by alligators, the story went, according to The Tallahassee Democrat.
Williams vanished in 2000 on Lake Seminole in Florida.
2. Williams’ Lawyer Maintains That Winchester Pulled the Trigger
Ethan Way, the attorney representing Denise Williams, said after a court appearance that Brian Winchester is the killer, not Denise.
“My client had absolutely nothing to do with Mike Williams’ disappearance and had absolutely nothing to do with any of the crimes that Brian Winchester committed,” Way said, according to The Tallahassee Democrat. “We will fight this until the end. And I’m certain when a jury hears from Denise Williams and the facts come out, the inescapable conclusion is that Brian Winchester killed Mike Williams.”
Authorities have not specified how they believe Mike Williams was murdered, but they accuse Winchester and Denise Williams of conspiring for nine months to do so. A grand jury indicted Denise in the homicide.
3. Mike Williams’ Mother Questioned the Death Especially Due to Life Insurance in the Case
Mike’s mother, Cheryl, never believed the story that Mike drowned and was eaten by alligators. According to The New York Daily News, she suspected foul play for years.
“I lost my son, his daughter lost her father and Denise is the only one who got millions of dollars,” Cheryl Williams said, according to the newspaper. “She and Brian are the only ones who profited from his death.”
Key to her doubts: The life insurance policy in the case and the manner in which both Denise Williams and Winchester were allegedly tied to it.
According to WFLA-TV, Denise Williams “reportedly collected more than $2 million in life insurance and married his best friend, Brian Winchester, who sold her former husband a life insurance policy six months before his death.”
4. Mike Was a Real Estate Appraiser & Denise, When Arrested, Was working for a Florida University
Denise was arrested at Florida State University, where she worked at the time of the arrest. She was an accountant for the university, according to The Tallahassee Democrat.
According to Mike’s mother, he was studying political science and city planning and was “smart, he was good looking, he had a personality.”
5. The Break in the Case Came When the Marriage of Denise Williams & Winchester Fell Apart & the Body Was Finally Found
The case unraveled in 2017, when the marriage of Brian Winchester and Denise Williams ruptured in divorce and then a kidnapping charge. “Winchester was charged with kidnapping Denise Williams at gunpoint. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. FDLE announced it had discovered Mike Williams’ body the day after Winchester was sentenced,” CBS News reported.
According to Fox News, Denise alleged that Brian “hid in the back seat of her gold 2002 Suburban and waited for her to get in the vehicle before sticking a gun to her ribs and ordering her to drive to a remote location,” but she talked him out of it.
It’s not clear whether Winchester played any role in law enforcement finding the body. Authorities stated that “new information” finally led them to Williams’ burial spot.
Mike Williams’ remains were located at “the dead end of Gardner Road in Leon County. Investigators also announced that his death had been ruled a homicide,” according to WCTV.