Private investigators have a cultural reputation for many things—surveillance, infidelity, undercover operations—the exciting things we’re used to seeing in movies and television. Many people are unaware that private investigators also take a huge piece of their corporate pie from insurance investigation. Private investigators use their unique skillsets and experiences to pursue the truth in insurance claims to establish their merit and prevent insurance fraud.
There are many ways to commit insurance fraud. For example,
a homeowner might remove property from their home and then report it as stolen.
They might deliberately cause damage to their property and then report a freak
occurrence, or weather, as the culprit. When a suspect claim comes across a
processor’s desk, they can hand it over to a private investigator to perform
due-diligence and vet the claim.
Private investigators can use their famed surveillance
methodology to track the homeowner to a secure location where “stolen” property
is being stored. They could use their access to verified databases to look at
an individual’s various histories, such as criminal, transience, and
litigation. All relevant information is compiled and generated in the form of a
comprehensive report in which the private investigator provides clear
recommendations regarding the validity of the claim.
Sometimes insurance companies only want the private
investigator to take pictures of an accident site, or an injury, or maybe they
just want some spot-check surveillance on an employee claiming worker’s
compensation. Another way insurance companies can rely on private investigators
is with document review. Private investigators can comb repair receipts,
financial records, police reports, and social media for evidence the claim is
Some insurance companies rely on their own internal investigators to vet and process their claims. It may be more cost-effective to keep the investigation in-house, or leadership might be more comfortable using an internal investigator. The inherent problem with any internal investigation is that any investigating agents who have a stake—direct or otherwise—in the insurance company cannot be completely objective. In an industry where litigation is not only possible, but likely, insurers and guarantors of benefits must be sure their investigations are comprehensive and will hold up to scrutiny.
A common unforeseen issue with handling insurance claim
investigations internally is that it has the potential to slow down daily
operations. Claims gather and bottle-neck at the choke point in the process,
causing employees to feel overwhelmed and increasing their margin of error,
which may result in more lost time and resources correcting those errors. One of
the greatest advantages of hiring a private investigator to vet insurance
claims is their valuable autonomy. They have their own databases, their own
league of investigators, and their own processes. The investigations process
can move quickly because there is very rarely a chain of command and little
bureaucracy involved, leading to more closed claims and greater success for the
Contracting due-diligence out to private investigators means
less stress on internal employees and another layer of credibility for the
investigation. Whether as a replacement for an internal team or on a
case-by-case basis, private investigators can give insurance providers the
valuable information and expertise they need to close cases swiftly and
In the weeks following the capture of the infamous Golden State Killer, in which the survivors of the victims were finally given some closure, the family of a missing Florida man may finally have some answers as well after seventeen years of silence. Denise Williams, 48, was arrested on May 8th, 2018 for the first-degree murder of her first husband, Mike Williams. Her ex-husband, Brian Winchester, who is currently serving time for kidnapping her at gunpoint in 2016, was also identified in the court documents released on Tuesday as the person who shot his best friend, Mike Williams, on December 16th, 2000. The murder came just six months after Winchester had sold Williams a one-million-dollar life insurance policy, which his wife was able to collect, despite the fact his remains would not be found for seventeen long years.
In an astonishing coincidence, WCTV Eyewitness News in Tallahassee was able to locate archived footage from the year 1999, in which both Denise and Mike Williams appeared in a segment in early May as part of Mother’s Day. Their daughter was born in said year on the eve of Mother’s Day, prompting the media outlet to cover the new family as a human-interest story. In the footage, Mike Williams expresses how much more respect he has for his wife and women in general for their ability to bring a child into the world. This eerie footage is now being re-examined, with investigators and armchair detectives alike, wondering how this picturesque nuclear family unraveled in a story of greed, betrayal, and murder.
Investigators postulate Denise Williams and Brian Winchester started conspiring to kill Mike Williams less than a year after the human-interest piece aired on WCTV in Tallahassee. Six months before the fateful duck-hunting trip, Winchester sold Williams a life insurance policy in the sum of $1 million dollars, a decision raising no eyebrows at the time. Williams had a wife and 18-month-old daughter who would need caring for if something were to happen to him, so he purchased the policy.
When Williams did not return from his duck hunting trip on December 16th, the authorities were called. When the police found Williams’ abandoned boat on the water, the investigation tapered off after the theory was floated he was eaten by alligators. Despite dragging Lake Seminole, police were not able to recover a single trace of Mike Williams’ remains.
From the jump, there were people who did not believe the story police had given as an explanation for Williams’ disappearance, most significantly his mother, Cheryl Williams. In 2016, Cheryl Williams told The Daily News she did not believe her son was the victim of an alligator attack, but rather the victim of a black widow. She told her story to the media outlet as part of the coverage of Brian Winchester’s 2016 kidnapping and holding Denise Williams at gunpoint. It was her assertion from the beginning, she said, her daughter-in-law was involved, “I lost my son, his daughter lost her father and Denise is the only one who got millions of dollars,” Cheryl Williams said. “She and Brian are the only ones who profited from his death.”
The theory of Mike’s death, in which he’d been eaten by alligators, left a loophole allowing Denise Williams to collect on her husband’s insurance policy despite the fact authorities never recovered a body. A complete search of the lake left law enforcement and Mike’s mother without answers. In an additional tragedy to losing her son, Cheryl has also lost contact with her granddaughter, whom Denise Williams has barred Cheryl from visiting for the past ten years after Cheryl convinced law enforcement to open an investigation. These devastating losses were what propelled her to go to the police with her suspicions. Cheryl was finally able to persuade law enforcement to open an investigation into her daughter-in-law, but only for insurance fraud. It was a start, Cheryl told the media, and ever since, she has been championing for those responsible for her son’s disappearance to be brought to justice.
Five years after her husband went missing, Denise Williams married Brian Winchester. The couple separated in 2012, which sparked a series of domestic incidents ultimately culminated in Williams filing for divorce in 2015. The ongoing investigation into Mike Williams’ death left law enforcement with little recourse other than to turn up the heat on Brian Winchester.
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, friends reported Brian Winchester was acting strange around the time of the kidnapping, “In an interview with investigators, anesthesiologist Dr. Stephen Mnookin said he went to lunch with Brian Winchester hours after the Aug. 5, 2016 incident involving Denise Merrell Williams…At Village Pizza off Thomasville Road, Mnookin said a nervous Winchester told him the police were “after him” and kept contacting him, warning once their divorce was final, “his wife is going to say something about this guy who died 10 or 12 or 15 years ago.” The increased pressure on Winchester as a suspect, the news of his mother’s terminal cancer, and rejection from his son, who wanted to live with his mother, Winchester’s first wife, allegedly triggered his ex-wife’s kidnapping. On August 5, 2016, Winchester snuck into his ex-wife’s car and laid in wait for her to return. When she did, he held a loaded gun against her ribs for almost an hour. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2017.
Now with Winchester behind bars, negotiating with law enforcement, it seems investigators might finally be closing in on the truth behind Mike Williams’ cold case. In late December of 2017, Mike Williams’ remains were finally found—not in Lake Seminole where he allegedly drowned and was devoured by alligators—but in northern Leon County. Armed with this new evidence, the state was finally able to secure an indictment against Denise Williams. She was arrested on May 8, 2018 at her office at Florida State University. She is officially charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and accessory after the fact. Presentation of the state’s case to a grand jury resulted in jurors naming Williams as the mastermind of the insidious plot to have her husband murdered for the insurance money. Ethan Way, Williams’ attorney, addressed the public about the innocence of his client in court, “My client had absolutely nothing to do with Mike Williams’ disappearance and had absolutely nothing to do with any of the crimes that Brian Winchester committed. We will fight this until the end.” Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson of Leon County denied Williams’ request for bail, resolving to detain her in the Leon County Detention Center. Ethan Way has filed a motion seeking bail to be heard at an impending court date later in May.
Private investigators do a variety of work for a wide array of clients. P.I.s are best known for their work finding missing people, but that’s a very small slice of what they do. Investigators routinely help businesses with internal investigations and support human resources departments during the hiring process. It’s common for attorneys to call private investigators to assist in research and help identifying witnesses and assets to strengthen their cases.
1. Everyday Citizens
Shelia Wysocki’s roommate was raped and murdered in 1984. Two decades later the case was unsolved and had gone cold. Wysocki hadn’t given up on though and spent four years making more than 700 phone calls and was able to provide detectives with enough evidence that they reopened the case. In 2010, after all of Wysocki’s work, a jury convicted her roommate’s killer in under an hour. A dedicated investigator can shine new light on old cases and help reinvigorate an investigation.
Have you had a family member go missing? Whether it was a runaway, kidnapping, or a family member moving, private investigators can help. P.I.s have a long history of finding missing people and it’s one of the skills they’re most known for. Don’t sit around wondering what happened to them, hire a P.I. to find out and give yourself peace of mind.
If your car or home is broken into and valuable items are stolen, the odds that police will recover your belongings are low. Resource constraints mean the police are likely to push your case to the bottom of the pile. Private investigators are available even when the police aren’t and can help prevent family heirlooms from being lost forever.
Private investigators can strengthen cases by identifying more witnesses and evaluating the witnesses you already have. Are you having trouble contacting someone you need to interview or depose? Private investigators can help you make the contacts you need and ensure they’re up for the tasks ahead.
3. Business Owners
Businesses and corporations stand to gain a ton by employing the skills of a private investigator. Save time and money by having a P.I. handle background checks and vetting of potential new hires. Bring the right people onto your team the first time and dedicate resources to other ventures.
Need to do an internal investigation, but worried about intraoffice relationships making it difficult? Do you suspect there may be drug use or theft happening on your property? P.I.s can conduct discreet internal investigations that will produce objective results quickly.
4. Insurance Agents
Every insurance agency should have a strong working relationship with private investigators and the reasons why will strike most people as obvious. When someone files a claim for injuries or disability, how can you be sure it’s not fraudulent? Estimates say insurance payouts are between $80 and $120 billion a year. 10% or $8 to $12 billion of those claims are projected to be fraudulent.
Pretending to be hurt during an interview is easy, but how many people can stick to their act 24 hours a day, seven days a week? Take the case of a young man who, after losing the tip of his finger, claimed he couldn’t lift his right hand and that touching it caused excruciating pain. A private investigation firm was able to disprove these claims and save millions of dollars by scouring the man’s social media and finding pictures of him playing instruments and going down water slides. Protect yourself from fraud by hiring a private investigator.
For Private Investigation Inquiry contact Thomas Lauth, Lauth Investigations 317-951-1100
David Schroeder, Blog Writer, Lauth Investigations International