Wife Murdered Her Husband With His Best Friend — And Then Married Him

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Wife Murdered Her Husband With His Best Friend — And Then Married Him

In 2018, a Florida woman was found guilty of plotting her husband's death with his best friend, whom she later married. Her husband disappeared in 2000.

Denise Williams, 50, was convicted of the first-degree murder of her husband Mike Williams, conspiracy to commit murder, and accessory after the fact.

"We got justice for Michael," his mother, Cheryl Williams, told Assistant State Attorney Jon Fuchs following the convictions.

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According to testimony, Williams headed out on a solo duck hunting trip on Florida’s Lake Seminole on December 16, 2000. But the 31-year-old never returned and his disappearance sparked an 18-year investigation.

"The trip was doomed from the start," said Williams' best friend Brian Winchester, who confessed that he and Denise had devised a plan to murder him. Their motive sounds like something from a movie — a secret love affair and a whole lot of money.

Denise and Winchester, both married at the time, had been having a lengthy affair. And Williams was growing suspicious of his wife, Winchester testified.

So, the two came up with a plan to fix their problem, a plan that also happened to involved millions in insurance money.

Williams’ murder was also a way for Denise to avoid a divorce and shared custody of their child, who was 18 months old at the time.

The young father was to be pushed out of his boat and left to drown as his waders filled with water, Winchester had said.

But Williams was able to make his way to shore, where Winchester shot him in the face with a 12-gauge shotgun just three feet away. Then, he loaded Williams' body into his truck and drove back to Tallahassee, where he buried his friend’s body on Carr Lake.

For years, police suspected that he had drowned and been eaten by alligators. It made sense. Even Denise accepted the drowning.

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Denise collected nearly $2 million in life insurance money from her husband’s death. She then petitioned to have Williams' death ruled an accidental drowning, although a body had not been found.

She married Winchester in 2005, but their marriage fell apart and the pair divorced in 2016. In 2017, Winchester confessed to holding his ex-wife at gunpoint and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The next day, police confirmed Mike’s body had been found after receiving “new information” about the case.

The remains had been located two months prior, but the announcement was held off until they were confirmed to be Williams' through DNA tests.

It was then that Winchester decided to come clean about his best friend’s death and was given immunity to murder charges in exchange for his testimony.

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Williams' mother Cheryl did not believe her son had accidentally drowned and pursued the case for 17 years. Her commitment to finding the truth about her son’s death is why Denise is behind bars after all this time.

"Cheryl Williams was right for 17 years that it was not a disappearance, that Mike Williams was not eaten by an alligator,” Fuchs said in a 2018 court hearing.

In 2019, Denise was sentenced to life in prison without parole. For conspiring to murder her husband, she received an additional 30 years prison time. 

In a statement, Cheryl said, “My son’s horrific death demands justice. With today’s sentencing of Denise Merrell Williams Winchester, I believe justice will have been served.”

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Sarah Gangraw writes about all things news, entertainment and crime. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

Editor's Note: This article was originally posted in December 2018 and was updated with the latest information.