Cheryl Williams immediately suspected foul play after her son mysteriously disappeared off the face of the earth during a duck hunting trip in the winter of 2000.
“From the minute he disappeared … I knew the police’s explanation wasn’t true,” Williams said of her son, Michael Williams, whom authorities speculate was devoured by alligators after falling out of his boat while solo hunting in Lake Seminole near St. Petersburg, Florida.
Yet, despite an unprecedented search of the muggy lake waters, investigators never retrieved the 31-year-old real estate appraiser’s body.
Now, almost 16 years later, Williams’ mother told the Daily News she hopes a shocking turn of events involving her son’s then-wife will provide some answers.
Michael Williams, married to Denise Williams with an 18-month-old daughter, left his Tallahassee home for a hunting trip in the early morning of Dec. 16, according to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement report obtained by FoxNews.com.
Police were contacted after Williams never returned home and investigators eventually found his deserted boat in a cove on the western side of the lake. The investigation folded after cops theorized he was eaten by alligators.
Cheryl Williams thought police jumped the gun on concluding the investigation — especially after finding out from local alligator experts the warm-blooded creatures hibernate during that time of year.
Over three relentless years later, Cheryl managed to persuade police to open up a criminal investigation into her son’s case after she found out he was sold a $1 million life insurance plan a few months before his disappearance.
Cheryl Williams suspects a criminal element in her son’s disappearance.
The person who sold the insurance: Brian Winchester — a now 45-year-old man who ended up marrying Denise Williams in 2005.
“I lost my son, his daughter lost her father and Denise is the only one who got hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Cheryl Williams said. “She and Brian are the only ones who profited from his death.”
Denise, who changed her name to Winchester upon remarrying, separated from Brian in 2012. Despite fishy details surrounding the life insurance sale, neither of the two were considered persons of interest in Michael’s disappearance.
Cheryl Williams hopes that might now finally change.
Brian Winchester was arrested on Aug. 5 for kidnapping, domestic assault and armed burglary. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Denise Winchester told investigators Brian, whom she’s in the process of divorcing, hid in the backseat of her car while she was out shopping. Upon entering the car, Brian stuck a gun to Denise’s chest and ordered her to drive to a remote location.
The two drove to a CVS parking lot where Denise managed to calm her armed husband.
Brian told her he didn’t want to get a divorce and expressed suicidal thoughts. Denise promised not to report Brian but dialed 911 after dropping him off by his truck, which was parked nearby.
Brian Winchester was arrested on Aug. 5 and Cheryl Williams suspects he might have something to do with her son’s disappearance.
(Leon County Clerk of Court)
At a court hearing last week, Denise persuaded a judge to keep her husband in jail — saying she feared for the safety of herself and her daughter, who is now 17.
Cheryl Williams — who has sent hundreds of letters to Florida Gov. Rick Scott about putting more pressure on the investigators handling her son’s case — said she’s praying Brian will spill information about what really happened 16 years ago while in custody.
“He’s not going to let Denise run around alone with all that money,” she said, referring to her son’s life insurance, which was paid out in full to his then-wife. “I’m praying he doesn’t commit suicide, I’m praying he’ll tell us what actually happened.”
Williams, speaking through tears, told The News she also prays her son is somehow still alive.
“Everybody in law enforcement says he’s dead, even his own brother says he’s dead. I’m the only one who holds that hope that he’s alive somewhere,” she said. “I want my story out and I want everybody to know about it because if he’s alive somebody might know him.”
Williams noted she hasn’t seen her granddaughter in over a decade as Denise has barred her from visiting.
“She was the only part of Michael’s life I had left,” Williams sniffled.
“If Michael’s dead, I want them punished,” she added, referring to Denise and Brian Winchester. “I don’t want them to get away with this.”