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Indictment: Florida man missing for 17 years was killed by wife, friend

Florida authorities arrest widow in 2000 murder case

Mike Williams
Mike Williams

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A Florida man reported missing 17 years ago didn't suffer a duck-hunting mishap, and he wasn't eaten by alligators.

An indictment made public Wednesday accuses Mike Williams' widow of plotting his death for months before his best friend shot him.

Denise Williams was ordered held without bond Wednesday after pleading not guilty. She was arrested Tuesday on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and accessory after the fact in her husband's December 2000 killing.

"These are all punishable by life offenses," a judge told her during the first appearance.

The indictment by a Leon County grand jury alleges that she conspired with Brian Winchester for more than nine months to kill Mike Williams. Winchester helped him write a $1 million insurance policy six months before he disappeared, and later married his widow.

Tallahassee attorney Ethan Way said Denise Williams had nothing to do with her husband's disappearance and murder.

"The most troubling is the indictment spells out that Winchester killed Mike Williams and he has not been charged. Obviously, Mr. Winchester has admitted to killing Mike Williams," Way said. "Denise has had to live with the drumbeat of speculation for 17 years. She has cooperated with law enforcement from the beginning."

The case has been considered suspicious for years.

"We just assumed there was an accident in the lake," Mike Williams' co-worker, Brett Ketcham, said.

Denise Williams and Brian Winchester
Denise Williams and Brian Winchester

Without a body, Denise Williams later petitioned to have him declared dead due to accidental drowning while duck hunting alone and being eaten by alligators. She married Winchester in December 2005, but the relationship soured and they divorced in 2016.

Last year, Winchester pleaded no contest to kidnapping his ex-wife at gunpoint, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

"I know I deserve punishment," Winchester told a court in December.

The very next day, authorities announced that Mike Williams' remains were found at the end of a dead-end road after they received "new information."

The body had been discovered two months earlier, but the state's Department of Law Enforcement needed to confirm through DNA tests that it was actually the body of Mike Williams.

Winchester's lawyer, Tim Jansen, wouldn't comment on the indictment, but said his client will testify truthfully if subpoenaed or given immunity.

When asked whether Winchester would be indicted, prosecutor Jon Fuchs said, "No comment."

Denise Williams and Winchester could also face insurance fraud charges. Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said Wednesday that he has directed the state's Division of Investigative and Forensic Services to investigate alleged life insurance fraud in the case.