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Missing Man: Jerry Michael "Mike" Williams - FL - 12/16/2000

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Name: Jerry Michael Williams
Classification: Endangered Missing Adult
Alias / Nickname: Mike
Date of Birth: 1969-10-16
Date Missing: 2000-12-16
From City/State: Tallahassee, FL
Missing From (Country): USA
Age at Time of Disappearance: 31
Gender: Male
Race: White
Height: 70 inches
Weight: 170 pounds
Hair Color: Brown
Eye Color: Blue
Complexion: Medium

Identifying Characteristics: Chicken pox scar on left cheek, previously wore braces on teeth and corrective shoes.

Clothing: Possibly wearing camouflage hunting clothes.

Jewelry: Possibly wearing a "St. Christopher" medal on a gold chain, a watch, and a wedding band on left ring finger.

Circumstances of Disappearance: Unknown. Jerry, also known as Mike, was last seen leaving his residence in the vicinity of the 5000 block of Centennial Oak Cir. in Tallahassee, FL. He allegedly was going duck hunting at Lake Seminole. His boat and vehicle, described as a green and tan 1994 Ford Bronco, were later found at the lake as well.

Investigative Agency: Jackson County Sheriff's Office
Phone: (850) 482-9624
Investigative Case #: 00-121624

If you believe you have any information regarding this case that will be helpful in this investigation please contact:
Jackson County Sheriff's Office at (850) 482-9624


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Eight years later, still no trace of missing hunter Mike Williams

By Jennifer Portman • DEMOCRAT SENIOR WRITER • December 15, 2008

Cheryl Williams won't do anything different Tuesday. She'll watch the babies at her home day care and wonder what happened to hers.


Eight years ago Tuesday her 31-year-old son, Mike, vanished.

And even though one investigator remains assigned to the cold case, and cadaver-sniffing dogs have been tromping in nearby woods, any hope that the Division of Insurance Fraud could break it open is gone.

"It makes me sick in my stomach," Cheryl Williams said. "I don't actually know a whole lot more today than I did eight years ago."

The Tallahassee real-estate appraiser was first thought to have drowned in Lake Seminole early one morning while on a solo duck-hunting trip. When his body failed to float as expected, fish-and-game officials said he must have been eaten by alligators.

Despite extensive searches, no trace of his body has ever been found. Law-enforcement officials today dismiss the alligator theory: It was far too cold for gators to be feeding and, if they had, there would have been remains.

They think Williams was the victim of foul play and have suspects in mind, but they won't name them.

"There are leads that are being developed," said FDLE spokesman Mike Morrison. "We are optimistic that we will bring this case to a close."

But the Division of Insurance Fraud, which took a fresh look at the case in February, has closed its Williams file.

"Our job was extremely difficult, and we were simply unable to develop enough evidence to proceed with the investigation," said Mark Schlein, senior attorney with the division.

Williams had life-insurance policies with two companies when he disappeared, and his wife, investigators said, collected at least $2 million.

Williams' best friend, insurance agent Brian Winchester, wrote him a $1 million policy about six months before he disappeared, investigators said. In 2005 Winchester married Denise Williams, whom he has known since preschool.

The two have declined to comment, saying in previous e-mails that they loved Williams and asking that their privacy be respected.

"At the very least, we wanted to bring some closure.... That is not the case," said a frustrated Schlein. "If there is new information that comes to light, a case can be reopened. We have suspicions, but what we need is evidence."

Morrison declined to elaborate on what leads FDLE is exploring, saying that the case is active and ongoing. Williams was included in this year's edition of the department's cold-case playing cards, which are distributed among convicts in an effort to generate tips.

Kentucky-based forensic psychological profiler Carrie Cox said she provided information to FDLE this fall that Williams' remains could be in a rural area of Wakulla County. She provided map coordinates that correlated to an area near a boat ramp.

While a search with cadaver dogs did not turn up any hard physical evidence, Cox said, "There was some validating stuff to say that we are moving in the right direction.... I think something is there."

Morrison confirmed that FDLE, which assumed the lead role in the case this year, has no physical evidence in its custody. Williams' disappearance was not considered suspicious at first and his boat, Ford Bronco and other items found at the lakeshore in Jackson County were returned to his former in-laws and friends.

Williams was declared dead at the request of his former wife six months after he disappeared.

It took Cheryl Williams three years to get the attention of law enforcement and persuaded them to look into the case, but its initial handling and lack of hard evidence has hamstrung investigators and left her with few answers.

"I still hold out hope that child is alive," she said, "but everyone thinks he's dead."

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The search continues


While Williams was first believed to have fallen from his boat and been eaten by alligators in a stump-filled cove of the Jackson County lake, investigators today consider him a suspicious missing person.

A decade later, his case, now assigned to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's homicide and violent crimes unit, continues to consume his family and vex law enforcement officials.

FDLE officials say they continue to actively work Williams' case, following new leads and taking a fresh look at old information.

"We aren't going away," said Special Agent in Charge Don Ladner in an interview last week. "Our goal is to find out what happened, and, if we can, to find Mike."

Hard work, not 'ah-ha's'

Two FDLE investigators currently are assigned to the case. But several department agents, who know Williams' story well, are called in when needed to work tips and decipher angles. Other agencies, including Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Jackson County Sheriff's Office, also remain involved.

Recently, an inter-agency team of investigators convened at FDLE headquarters in Tallahassee to discuss the case and renew efforts to solve the mystery. While such cold cases can be frustrating, Ladner said they can be cracked with patience, persistence, thoroughness and tenacity.

"We have solved cases like this as old as 26 years," he said. "The investigators assigned to this case have all those qualities."

Ladner declined to provide details about the ongoing investigation, such as the number of witnesses interviewed or possible new search locations. But he was emphatic that progress is being made. Persons of interest have been identified, but not publicly disclosed.

"We all want the 'ah-ha' moment," Ladner said. "Our job is to investigate this and find out what happened to Mike Williams, wherever that truth may lie."

'Not in that lake'

Based on the alligator theory, Mike Williams' wife petitioned the court six months after he disappeared to have him declared dead. She subsequently received life insurance payments and death benefits. In 2005, Denise Merrell Williams married the couple's longtime friend Brian Winchester. The two have said in e-mails that they continue to mourn Mike's death and have asked that their privacy be respected.

The state Division of Insurance Fraud investigated the matter, but closed its case in 2008 for lack of evidence.

As criminal investigators continue to search for answers, Mike Williams' mother, who pressed law enforcement and in 2004 finally got them to pursue the questionable circumstance of his disappearance, remains hopeful her son is alive.

"I don't know how to explain to anyone what it feels like to not know where your son is for 10 years," said Cheryl Ann Williams, who has taken out advertisements and picketed street corners seeking information about the youngest of her two boys. "I want him to be alive, but I don't know if he is or not."

Investigators have believed for some time what Williams says she knew from the early days of his disappearance: "Michael is not in that lake."

Finding closure

The years of uncertainty have taken a toll on Cheryl Williams, the widow of a Greyhound bus driver who lives in a tidy double-wide trailer on a big lot in northern Leon County and scrimped to send her kids to private school.

Her efforts to find out what happened to Mike have soured relations with her son's former in-laws and she said she has not been permitted to spend time with her now 11-year-old granddaughter. She has written politicians, anonymous donors have paid for billboards and friends have posted fliers, but she has been frustrated by a lack of communication from FDLE officials.

Ladner sympathizes with her, but said investigators can't tell her everything that is happening with the case.

"Our overall goal is to give her closure," he said.

Williams said she is happy that law enforcement officials haven't given up. She goes about her life, taking care of children at her in-home day care, tending to her pets and spending time with her eldest son and his family. But the uncertainty never wanes.

"It's always in my head, 'Where is Michael? What happened to him?' " she said last week. "All I've got on my side is God. I believe everything that is hidden will become known."

Now that 10 years have gone by, Cheryl Williams said some people tell her that she should move on and put Mike out of her mind.

For all her efforts, that is one thing she says she cannot do.

"How do you forget a child?" she said. "How do you forget your child?"

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Mike Williams

Missing since March 15, 2000

Posted Image

31-year-old Jerry Michael Williams is a successful businessman in Tallahassee when he reportedly goes out on a solo duck-hunting trip to Lake Seminole and disappears. Searchers find his truck, his boat and his shotgun, but they can't find Mike. It is assumed he is the victim of a tragic boating accident but officials are perplexed that his body doesn't surface. Mike is the only drowning victim on the Lake who has never come up. Lake Seminole is infested with alligators, and some of the searchers begin to pass along a frightening theory of what might have happened to Mike. They tell his mother that alligators must have eaten him. But she doesn't buy that explanation. While she hopes her son is alive she begins to think he may have been the victim of murder, not misadventure.

When odd items like a pair of waders, a jacket and a hunting license with Mike's name on it, suddenly pop up on the lake six months after Mike disappears, insurance investigators begin to ask questions. Just a week after they are found, Mike's wife uses the discoveries, as evidence to back up her petition in probate court to have Mike declared legally dead. The judge grants her request, and Mike's widow receives all of Mike's assets and cashes in on life insurance worth at least one and a half million dollars. She later marries Mike's best friend, the insurance agent who sold Mike a million dollar policy just six months before he went missing.

Mike's mother lobbies law officials to investigate Mike's disappearance. It takes three and half years, but finally the Florida Department of Law Enforcement picks up the case and opens an investigation. Other agencies join in but though they find lots of grounds for suspicion of foul play they don't have much hard evidence to go on. All these years later, Mike's widow and best friend aren't talking. Most daunting of all there is no body, no trace at all of Mike. Without proof of foul play, an insurance fraud investigation sputters and dies. Yet investigators become more convinced than ever that Mike Williams is a victim of foul play and that the original story that Mike disappeared on Lake Seminole was an elaborate setup, created to distract law enforcement and his family from the truth about what really happened to him.

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Mother of missing man sends 240 letters to Scott and not a single reply

September 6, 2012

Dec. 16 will mark 12 years that Tallahassee real estate appraiser, father and son  Jerry Michael Williams disappeared without a trace the day he was to have celebrated his six wedding anniversary at the Gibson Inn in Apalachicola.

Six years ago, I was the first reporter to write extensively about his case. At first, law enforcement officials thought the 31-year-old was the victim of a drowning, a simple case of a duck hunter drug to the bottom of Lake Seminole in chest-high waders and eaten by hungry alligators.

But unlike every other drowning victim on the lake, Mike’s body never surfaced. People knew then something was wrong, though most kept quiet. Not Mike’s mother, Cheryl Ann Williams. She knew her son was not in that lake. Not just because of a a mother’s sixth sense, but because of the facts. (You can read the first story I wrote at, but, just for starters, gators typically do not feed in the winter and certainly would not consume a six-foot, 180-pound man without leaving something behind.)

If not for her tenacity, Mike’s story might have stayed submerged like so many things at the bottom of that dark, weedy lake. It took Cheryl Williams three years to convince law enforcement officials to even begin investigating her youngest son’s disappearance.

All these years later, investigators – even those now at odds with her – say she was right. Mike did not die in the lake.

They now think Mike was the victim of human foul play, they just don’t have the physical evidence to prove it. The years-long delay in the start of the criminal investigation may make it impossible for charges ever to be filed. The cold case remains open and unsolved to this day.

In recent years, Cheryl Williams has grown frustrated over what she considers a willful mishandling the case and inaction on the part of some Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials. At the start of this year, she began a one-woman letter writing campaign to Gov. Rick Scott.

Since Jan. 1, she has penned and mailed one letter a day to the governor’s office, chronicling the case, her acrimonious meetings with FDLE officials and excerpts from her copious daily journals in the early days of the case. Her request: Scott assign her son’s case to a special prosecutor or investigator outside of FDLE.

The letters – approximately 240 – were addressed directly to the governor at this Capitol office on South Monroe Street.

After receiving not a single reply from anyone in state government, Cheryl Williams set out last week to find out who, if anyone, has been receiving her letters.

On Friday afternoon, after a runaround of bureaucratic proportions, she learned the terrible truth.

Not a single letter has reached anyone in Scott’s office, she said. The Office of the Chief Inspector General informed her the letters have all been forwarded to FDLE, the very agency from which she has been seeking relief.

“They could not have hurt me more if they had punched me in the face,” Cheryl told me this week.

Cheryl said she was later told, that in fact, her heartfelt letters had been given to one of the very investigators once assigned to the case.

I contacted the governor’s office and FDLE Wednesday for comment on the situation. I have not yet heard back from Scott’s office.  FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said in an email:

“ The case remains active and FDLE continues to look for answers.  FDLE Agents have had numerous meetings with Ms. Williams and will continue to meet with her as needed.  She can contact the case agent at any time if she has questions about the case.

Letters from Ms. Williams have been forwarded to the case agent and are part of the case file.”

I would not be surprised if FDLE is irritated with Cheryl Williams. She’s been relentless in her quest to find out what happened to her son, seeking publicity from local and national media outlets, even soliciting the help of a psychic who wrote a book on the case. She has not been shy with her criticism of the agency.

But someone there – or in the governor’s office, where her letters should have been delivered – have a duty to acknowledge her correspondence.

All Cheryl Williams has ever sought is the truth about her son. Common courtesy from the leaders of this state is the least she should be afforded.

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Jerry is still missing.


Jackson County Sheriff's Office
Phone: (850) 482-9624
Investigative Case #: 00-121624

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Man with ties to cold case in jail on unrelated charges


Jennifer Portman, News Director 6:34 p.m. EDT August 8, 2016


A Tallahassee man with ties to one of the area’s most vexing unsolved crimes is in jail, accused of kidnapping his wife at gunpoint.


Brian Winchester, 45, was arrested Friday on charges of kidnapping, domestic assault and armed burglary. Denise Winchester, 46, told Leon County Sheriff’s Office investigators her estranged husband snuck into her car and held her against her will for about an hour. His defense attorney, Tim Jansen, of Tallahassee, says he is innocent of the charges.


Denise Winchester is the former wife of Tallahassee real estate appraiser Mike Williams, who disappeared Dec. 16, 2000, while duck hunting alone on Lake Seminole. Years after he vanished – law enforcement officials initially surmised he must have been eaten by alligators – Williams was considered a suspicious missing person.


Investigators today believe the 31-year-old father was the victim of foul play but have named no suspects or persons of interest in the cold case.


About six months before he vanished, Brian Winchester wrote Mike Williams – at the time his best friend - a $1 million life insurance policy. Six months after Williams was presumed to have fallen from his boat and drowned, his wife Denise had him declared dead and collected at least $1.5 million in death benefits. Denise and Brian Winchester, who have known each other since preschool, married in 2005. They have long declined to comment on the case.


After nearly seven years, however, the marriage began to fall apart. The Winchesters separated in November 2012 and last year Denise Winchester filed for divorce. Court documents indicate Brian Winchester opposed the divorce. Last month, a Leon County judge ordered he cooperate and allow an appraisal on the couple’s Millers Landing Road house where he lives, a sign of proceedings moving forward. He had until this week.


A little after 9 a.m. Friday morning, Denise Winchester pulled out of her Centennial Oaks subdivision south onto Miccosukee Road on her way to work at Florida State.


As she does every morning, she picked up her cell phone and dialed her sister. According to court records, she noticed a figure behind her climb over the third-row seat of her gold 2002 Suburban. Brian Winchester moved into the passenger seat behind her, grabbed her cell phone and started yelling at her what route to take.


She told investigators she initially ignored his demands, then he threatened to hurt her and brandished what looked like a semi-automatic pistol. He pushed the barrel into her ribs, she said. But instead of following his directions to an unknown location, she pulled into a CVS parking lot and parked in a spot close to the door.


Admonishing her not to cry lest she attract attention, she said her husband told her he didn’t want a divorce and “had to do this” because she blocked his calls and text messages. He said he had nothing to live for, Denise Winchester told investigators, and got the gun so he could kill himself.


“Denise asked if today was ‘the day the two of them died.’ ” the report said. “Brian stated, ‘Just me.’”


After 45 minutes to an hour, Denise calmed him down, and she reportedly drove him back to his truck parked at the Miccosukee Greenway at Edenfield Road. Before getting out of her SUV, he gathered from the back compartment a tan sheet, another sheet of a kind of plastic material, a spray bottle of bleach and a tool.


She told police she promised him she would not tell anyone what happened.  Brian Winchester drove away, first pulling up to her at a light and apologizing. She drove straight to the Sheriff’s Office.


In petitions for domestic violence protection filed Monday, Denise Winchester said she believed she and her 17-year-old daughter -- who was 18 months old when her father Mike Williams went missing -- would be in danger if Brian Winchester is let of out of jail.


“I believe and know that Brian will kill me and/or my child if he is released,” she wrote.


Brian Winchester will have a first appearance in court Tuesday morning.

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