The Absurd Alligator Story: An Update on the Disappearance of Mike Williams

When I first heard about the disappearance of Florida resident Mike Williams on “Disappeared” a few years ago, I couldn’t help but hear the alarm bells go off in my head. Nothing in the story felt right with me.

Williams, a 31-year-old real estate appraiser, went missing on Dec. 16, 2000 after his wife told police he had failed to return from an early-morning duck hunting trip on Lake Seminole. It was his wedding anniversary, and he and wife Denise were supposed to have dinner plans that night. His truck was found at the lake, and his fishing boat was found in the water, but there was no sign of Mike. Upon an initial search, authorities believe Williams fell into the water and drowned, and was possibly eaten by an alligator.

Here’s the thing that made me pause. His wife didn’t seem to be sad that he went missing. In fact, even though Mike was her high-school sweetheart, after the birth of their daughter a rift grew between Mike and Denise and Mike’s family. They reported that Denise didn’t seem to be interested in maintaining a relationship with them. Mike tried to keep the peace by taking their toddler to visit his family, often without Denise. After Mike’s boat and truck were found, Denise seemed ready to move on with her life and presume Mike dead. Mike’s best friend Brian Winchester was often by Denise’s side, consoling her and trying to explain to the police his theory about how Mike died.

Mike’s mother Cheryl, however, was not so quick to presume her son was gone. She consulted with experts at Florida State University who theorized alligators would have been hibernating in the cold December weather–they wouldn’t have been out in the waters while Mike was duck hunting. But she was warned by Denise’s family that it was time for Denise “to move on.” In fact, six months after Mike went missing, Denise put together a memorial service for Mike and petitioned the courts to pronounce him legally dead. This usually takes at least five years. She won her case, and received more than $2 million in Mike’s life insurance. But guess who had sold Mike the hefty policy? That’s right. Brian Winchester. He sold it to Mike about six months before the disappearance. Cheryl also never saw her granddaughter again–she was told if she kept looking into Mike’s disappearance that would happen, and Denise followed through on the threat.

In the episode of “Disappeared” that I watched, I found it interesting that Denise and Brian chose not to participate in the episode. They declined to answer any questions from producers. They also got married a few years after Mike’s disappearance, once Brian was divorced from his wife. The mystery of what happened to Mike may have remained unsolved if Denise and Brian’s marriage hadn’t eventually fallen apart. (I mean, what do you expect though? Look at the circumstances that led to their marriage!) They separated in 2012. In 2016, Brian got desperate and held Denise hostage in her car at gunpoint for several hours, trying to talk her into a reconciliation. Upon her release, she pressed charges and Brian was arrested. In October 2017, he was sentenced to 20 years for the kidnapping. The day after he was sentenced, investigators finally found Mike Williams’ body buried in about six feet of mud near a boat landing not far from his mother’s home. He had been murdered. And on his wedding anniversary. It doesn’t get much colder than that.

He had probably never been at Lake Seminole in the first place.

At the beginning of this month, I was shocked to come across a news article that Denise had been arrested for conspiring to have Mike murdered. This was the first I had heard about the divorce, the charges against Brian, and the discovery of Mike’s body.  In a way I can’t help feel like it’s karma that finally caught up with Denise Williams. It makes me sick to think about the three childhood friends (they had all gone to high school together–and Brian and Denise may have even known each other since preschool) and the plot to kill a man who seemed like a hard worker, dutiful husband and doting father. When he signed that insurance policy he thought he was probably just doing the right thing and having a plan for his wife and daughter in case anything ever happened to him. I’m glad the truth finally surfaced, although it won’t surprise me one bit if it comes out that Denise told Brian she or her daughter were being abused. And Brian decided to be the hero. I can only hope his conscience led him to tell investigators where Mike’s body was, and not just the temptation of a plea deal.

I hope the Williams family can finally find some peace now.

 

 

True Crime Wednesday: An Update on Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman

Jay and Laurene Bible know their daughter is dead. Now, they just want to bring her home once and for all.

This case has always baffled me. In 1999, Sixteen-year-old Lauria Bible only wanted to spend the night at Ashley Freeman’s home in Welch, OK, eat cake, and celebrate her best friend’s 16th birthday. But hours later, the Freeman home burned to the ground, and as investigators sifted through the rubble, they found the bodies of Ashley’s parents, Danny and Kathy. Autopsies revealed the Freeman’s had been shot to death.

The girls were nowhere to be found. Laura’s purse was found on the property, though, with $200 cash inside along with her driver’s license. Her car was also still parked in the driveway.

When I first read about this case, I was perplexed. Had the two girls managed to escape the fire? If so, where were they? All sorts of conspiracy theories floated about. Danny Freeman had a history of being involved in drugs. Was it a drug deal gone bad? He had also been feuding the local sheriff’s department and was planning to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the county. His son Shane had stolen a pickup drug and been shot and killed during the pursuit. Or was it a murder-suicide and the girls saw what happened and fled?

Over the years, Jay and Laurene Bible tracked down every lead they could think of, only to be met with heartbreak at each turn. A death row inmate claimed to have murdered the Freemans, kidnapped the girls, murdered them and then abandoned their bodies in a mine shaft. After an exhaustive search of the mines he pinpointed, he finally admitted he had made the whole story up.

Ashley’s surviving family members moved to have her legally declared dead in 2010.

Last week, there was a huge break in the case along with an arrest. Investigators arrested a man named Ronnie Dean Busick, who they believe killed the Freemans as part of a drug dispute and then kidnapped the two girls. Two other suspects, Warren Phillip Welch and David Pennington, were also implicated but both are deceased. The arrest of Busick comes after old case notes were discovered. Apparently, over the years, different women who were involved with the three suspects claimed they knew the two girls were abducted, held captive for several days, raped, and then murdered. These witnesses were said to have been in fear for their lives, which was why they never came forward officially. One woman has claimed to have seen a briefcase full of polaroid photos of the girls, some with Busick posing with them. No actual evidence of these photos has been found.

Investigators and the Bible family are now hoping for closure and to find out where the girl’s bodies are so they can have a proper burial. So while there are answers, but closure has yet to be found.