Wife arrested 17 years later for husband’s death after police initially thought alligators ate him

A Florida woman was arrested on Tuesday in Tallahassee, in connection with the 2000 death of her husband; police initially thought the victim was killed in a swamp by alligators while on a hunting trip.

The Tallahassee Democrat reports that authorities placed Denise Merrell Williams, 48, in cuffs and arrested her on Tuesday afternoon at her office at Florida State University where she worked as an accountant, charging her with the murder of her husband, Mike Williams. Mike disappeared after going on a hunting trip on December 16, 2000. The victim, 31 at the time, was a real estate appraiser and well-liked within the community.

Authorities couldn’t find Mike’s body after he took the hunting trip alone to Lake Seminole in Jackson County, until five months ago, when his remains were found buried in six feet of mud and waste close to a boat landing off of Gardner Road in north Leon County. Although detectives didn’t say how Mike died, they did indicate that he didn’t drown and alligators didn’t eat him. He was murdered.

Detectives uncovered enough evidence to arrest Williams, who had planned to go to her daughter’s 19th birthday party on the day of her arrest. Authorities indicated she was taken into custody without incident.

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, a source said Mike’s body was still intact and he was found wearing gloves and “outdoor booties.”

Six months after his death, Williams collected over $2 million from his life insurance policy. Later, she married her slain husband’s best friend, Brian Winchester. In 2016, Williams and Winchester divorced, prompting Winchester to kidnap his former wife at gunpoint, reportedly in fear that she would tell authorities what really happened to Mike. Winchester is now behind bars on a 20-year-sentencing for kidnapping.

Mike’s mother, Cheryl, never bought the theory that alligators ate her son while he was out duck hunting. Crime Watch Daily reports that the mother always maintained that alligators don’t eat in cold weather and hibernate in the winter. It was brutally cold in December when Mike left to go hunting. Further, there was never a shred of evidence of an alligator attack.

“Alligators don’t eat people whole. If they do attack, the chew on people, they tear arms and legs off,” said Florida Department of Law Enforcement Special Agent Mike DeVaney. “There’s always parts found after an alligator attack.”

Williams remains behind bars at the Leon County Jail without bail. She’s charged with first-degree murder. Shortly after her arrest, FDLE Special Agent in Charge Mark Perez commended investigators for their work.

“We’ve had this case for 15 years, and the relentless effort in working with prosecutors and then ultimately the grand jury in bringing those responsible for Mike Williams’ (death) to justice is a great reward. Hopefully, this will bring peace and resolution to the Williams family.”

[Feature Photo: Denise Williams/Leon County Detention Center]