Jerry Michael Williams — known by Mike Williams to friends and family — went missing on Dec. 16, 2000, after he failed to return home after going duck hunting in Tallahassee, Florida earlier that morning. The 31-year-old real estate appraiser’s once-cold, but now solved, missing person case was featured on Season 2, Episode 1, The Voice in the Lake, of A&E’s Cold Case Files, now streaming on Netflix.
If you’re wondering what happened to Mike Williams, read on.
Was Mike Williams Ever Found?
Yes. Mike Williams’ body was found in 2017, buried in the mud near Gardner Road — 50 miles away from Lake Seminole where authorities had originally searched. His grave was just 5 miles away from the home of his mother, Cheryl Williams.
She spearheaded efforts to keep searching for Mike even after his boots and jacket had been found in the waters of Lake Seminole, causing a judge to declare him legally dead based on the theory that he had been eaten by an alligator after falling into the water while hunting alone.
Who Killed Mike Williams?
In 2017, Mike Williams’ best friend, Brian Winchester, confessed to murdering Mike on Dec. 16, 2000.
Let’s back up for a minute.
Five years after Williams went missing, his widow, Denise, married her late husband’s best friend, Brian Winchester, in 2005. A little over a decade later, they had separated and were in the middle of divorce proceedings when, in 2016, Winchester attempted to kidnap her and was arrested.
Facing a lengthy prison sentence for the aggravated kidnapping charge, he agreed to answer the police’s questions about Mike Williams’ disappearance in exchange for immunity from any charges connected to Williams’ disappearance and a lightersentence on his aggravated kidnapping charge.
Winchester ultimately confessed to murdering Mike Williams and told police where he’d buried Mike’s body.
In an interview with police, Winchester explained that he and Denise Williams began having an affair in 1997. Denise didn’t believe in divorce, and Winchester said it was her idea to kill her husband. Denise Williams has consistently denied the accusation.
“She wanted a situation where it wasn’t murder, it was by accident,” Winchester told police in an audio recording played in the Cold Case Files episode.
After Brian’s accusations against her, Denise Williams was charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in 2018, which she again denied. At her trial, Winchester was the star witness.
He described the day he killed Williams, explaining that he had been with him on the duck hunting trip on Dec. 16, 2000. He said he pushed Williams into the water and expected him to drown, but that he’d had to improvise when things didn’t go. asplanned.
“He was in the water and he was, like, struggling, but he was taking the waders and the jacket off, and he swam over to one of those stumps and held onto it,” Winchester said through tears in court footage featured in the Cold Case Files episode. “He was panicking and I was panicking. And I didn’t know how to get out of the situation. And so I loaded my gun and I just made one or two circles around and as I passed by, I shot him. In the head.”
It was also revealed that Winchester, an insurance salesman, had encouraged Williams to take out a $1,000,000 life insurance policy months before his death. The beneficiary of the policy was Denise Williams.
Denise Williams was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. But in November 2020, a district court of appeals overturned that conviction and sentence, ruling that the state hadn’t successfully proven that she had helped Brian Winchester carry out the murder.
Her other charge — conspiracy to commit murder — was upheld, and at the time the Cold Case Files episode aired, she was still in prison serving her 30-year sentence.
Brian Winchester ended up getting a 20-year sentence for aggravated kidnapping.
Though Denise Williams was not interviewed on the show, she denied having participated in the plot to kill her husband at her re-sentencing in 2021.
“I do want you to know that I have never and would never want anybody to be murdered,” Denise Williams said, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. “What I am guilty of is great moral failure in a time in my life when I chose to make [a] decision that affected my friends and family. There is nothing I can do to bring Mike back to his grieving mom or brother. There’s nothing I can do to bring his daughters’ father back. If I could trade my life for his I would.”
Denise and Mike’s daughter, Anslee Williams, told the court that she does not believe her mother is responsible for her father’s death.
“There’s no way my mother would conspire to kill my father with Brian. She could not bring herself to do that,” Anslee Williams said. “He acted independently of her. I never once saw him consult with her about anything.”
Season 2 of Cold Case Files is now streaming on Netflix.
Main Image: Mike Williams pictured in The Voice in the Lake episode of Cold Case Files. Credit: A&E/Netflix