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.
SCIENCE OF GENEALOGY DEFROSTS INFAMOUS COLD CASE
By Carie McMichael
California law enforcement are celebrating a break in a thirty year old cold case this week, as an an arrest has been made in the case of the Golden State Killer. However, the methods investigators used to identify the suspect have civilians debating whether or not the suspect’s civil liberties were violated.
Investigators used DNA obtained from ancestry and genealogy platforms to locate a suspect matching the profile of the perpetrator. Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested Tuesday morning, officially charged with 8 counts of Homicide committed in a decade span, across 3 California counties. They hope to eventually link DeAngelo to 12 murders and 45 rapes committed between 1976 and 1986.
DeAngelo worked as a police officer for 6 years during the original investigation—a relevant detail, as investigators suspected the perpetrator had law enforcement knowledge.
At the end of 1986, when the string of assaults and murders attributed to the Golden State Killer officially ended, the science behind DNA forensics in crime scene investigation was in its infancy. The first case in which DNA evidence secured a conviction in the UK in 1986 not only led investigators to the true perpetrator, but also cleared an innocent suspect whom had been previously implicated. In the last thirty years, the technology has become so ubiquitous DNA kits are available over-the-counter in drugstores all over the country. The technology has matured so immensely, the genetic profile of a single football can be identified to prevent counterfeiting during the Super Bowl. And now, the newest trend in DNA technology may have helped Sacramento authorities identify the infamous Golden State Killer.
Websites like Ancestry.com and 23andme.com have made it easier than ever for people around the world to find out more about their ancestry and genetic makeup. A buccal swab mailed off to a genetics lab can return results of information on everything from the palette of colors in your ancestors’ lineage to the medical problems running in your immediate genetic line. Sacramento authorities have released information advising the DNA provided to these services for informative purposes was one of the chief investigative tools in identifying DeAngelo as a suspect.
According to lead investigator, Paul Holes, GEDmatch was the database utilized leading them to DeAngelo. GEDmatch is a research tool using a database of voluntarily supplied DNA samples for researchers and genealogists. “We were able to generate a DNA profile we uploaded into [a] … database of other similar types of profiles,” Holes told KGO. “And then from there, we get a match list of how much DNA these various other individuals share with the crime scene DNA. The more DNA they share, the more closely related they are.” After obtaining information from the GEDmatch database, they placed him under surveillance. They collected several samples of his discarded DNA, which they were able to match to a DNA profile compiled from samples collected at the plethora of crime scenes, subsequently leading to DeAngelo’s arrest.
Familial DNA searches are becoming more common in forensic science, and as such, more and more controversial. As was the case in identifying DeAngelo, investigators often submit a finite number of genetic markers into a database of genetic samples and the database will return a list of possible results. Results are then cross-referenced with other databases and records to thin the suspect pool. These practices are controversial because large percentages of the country’s population share the same genetic markers, yielding ambiguous results for investigators. Many civilians feel as if the method leaves their civil liberties vulnerable, as though their genetic profiles might make them guilty by association. Currently, the only legislation preventing an individual from being discriminated against, based on their genetic information, is the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008.
At a press conference on Wednesday, April 25th, local law enforcement did not release specifics about how the DNA obtained from GEDmatch was used to locate DeAngelo. Instead, they focused on how a more comprehensive DNA databank in California could have led investigators to DeAngelo sooner. The existing legislations, Proposition 69, was passed in 2004 and allows law enforcement to collect DNA and fingerprints at the earliest stages of criminal proceedings—beginning when the suspect is arrested, as opposed to post-conviction collection. Despite controversy, the law was upheld earlier this month.
According to Thomas Lauth, Lauth Investigations International Inc., whose firm specializes in unsolved homicides and missing persons, “Our firm must always pivot to innovative ideas and think of ways to gather DNA from a potential suspect.” Lauth further said, “Search warrants are required for human samples. However, if you can retrieve a sample from a discarded cigarette or beer can, it may prove positive. Sometimes though, obtaining positive-testing samples can be tricky. The labs could require numerous samples to finally get a positive and readable match.”
On April 28th, in his first court appearance, Joseph James DeAngelo was formally arraigned on two of the eight counts of murder with which he is formally charged. He did not enter a plea and bail was denied. His next court appearance is scheduled for May 14th, 2018.
By: Carie McMichael – Lauth Investigations Communications and Media Specialist
Near the southern tip of North Carolina, where I-74 and I-95 meet, there’s a town called Lumberton. In 1995, the town became the two-time winner of the National Civic Leagues All-America City Award, which aims to recognize communities “whose citizens work together to identify and tackle community-wide challenges and achieve uncommon results.” Unfortunately, in a matter of decades, Lumberton has fallen from recipient of the All-America City Award to the number one spot on the FBI’s list of the top ten most dangerous cities in North Carolina.
According to a 2016 FBI report, there were 393 violent crimes in Lumberton and analysts estimate an individual resident has a 1 in 55 chance of being raped, assaulted, or killed. These overwhelming statistics could explain why the details emerging from Lumberton in recent months read more like a titillating summer mystery novel than a modern-day Mayberry—the citizens stewing in fear and suspicion as law enforcement continue to investigate the three murders and smattering of disappearances plaguing the small North Carolina town in the last year.
On April 18th, 2017, the remains of two women were found in central Lumberton less than 100 yards from one another. The remains of Christina Bennett, 32, were found in an abandoned house after a neighbor called authorities about a rancid odor coming from the property. Police also discovered the remains of Rhonda Jones, 36, stuffed in a trash can not even a football field distance away. The remains of both women were in an advanced stage of decomposition, not only preventing authorities from establishing a time of death, but also preventing them from establishing a cause of death for both women. Police Captain Terry Parker confirmed the women were both identified through medical records.
The community was staggered by the tragedy. Rhonda Jones’s family had known something was wrong when she didn’t show up for Easter. Jones’ sister told the Robesonian, “I want whoever did this to be punished. I know somebody knows something. Because Rhonda knows everybody in thE area. Somebody knows what happened to Rhonda,” Price said. “She had five kids… She had a family that loved her… She had a granddaughter that she loved with all of her heart. Somebody needs to be punished for what they did to her. She didn’t deserve this. No one deserved that.”
In early June, the remains of Megan Oxendine were found in another abandoned house on 9th Street in central Lumberton. The discovery of her body came as a chilling twist to the citizens of Lumberton, as many recalled her interview with news media the day after the discovery of the remains of her friend, Rhonda Jones. In April 2017, Oxendine joined many across the community who had spoken out about the loss of Jones. She told CBS North Carolina, “I ain’t never seen her act out or nothing. She’s just quiet. She didn’t really mess with too many people.” Just as, in the cases of Christina Bennett and Rhonda Jones, Oxendine’s state of decomposition prevented authorities from establishing both time of death and cause of death. This makes her the third woman found in a four-block radius in central Lumberton in two months. Although law enforcement has yet to link the deaths of the three women, Private investigator Thomas Lauth of Lauth Investigations International speculates that the discovery of their remains could be the patterned behavior of a single perpetrator, “Commonly in cases where the victim(s) are first missing then found deceased in a very small geographic area, the perpetrator of such a heinous crime will kill again, and resides within a 10-20 mile radius. Perhaps even had prior interaction with the victim or their family. Further, if the community has a high rate of crime from meth or heroin, it could bring outside traffickers and other transients into the community which increases the propensity for murder.” Police have reported the neighborhood has been a hive of criminal activity for years but are unable to connect any of the deaths to the criminal element.
It was in June of 2017 the Lumberton Police Department officially requested the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in what is officially called “the death investigations” of the three women. As recently as last month, March 2018, investigators conducted a canvas of the area where the three women were found. Over the course of three days, they knocked on 800 doors, conducted 500 interviews, and continued to encourage the public to come forward with any information.
Since the beginning of the FBI’s involvement in the death investigations, two more women have gone missing from the Lumberton area. The first woman is Cynthia Jacobs, 41, who went missing sometime in July 2017. Her disappearance strikes those who knew her as “suspicious” because, according to her sister-in-law, Cynthia was the last person to see Megan Oxendine—the third woman found—alive and well. The second woman was 20-year-old Abby Lynn Patterson. On September 5th, 2017, after telling her mother she was leaving the house to run errands, it was reported Abby Lynn was last seen getting into a car with a male acquaintance on East 9th Street, 1000 yards from where Christina Bennett and Rhonda Jones had been found. Captain Terry Parker of the Lumberton Police Department told CBS 17, “While there is always a possibility, we are 99 percent sure the case is not related to the females this spring and early summer.”
Five women have either disappeared or been discovered dead in the same neighborhood over the course of six months. A little over a year later, police and federal investigators have yet to establish a cause of death in the cases of Christina Bennett, Rhonda Jones, and Megan Oxendine. They have yet to name any suspects in their deaths. They are currently offering $30,000 for anyone who can lead investigators to the truth of what happened to the three women. Cynthia Jacobs and Abby Lynn Patterson have not had contact with their families since they were last reported seen in Lumberton. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the missing women should call the Lumberton Police Department at (910)-671-3845.
By: Kym Pasqualini, Feature Crime Writer for Lauth Investigations
On February 13, 2017, best friends Abigail “Abby” Williams, 13, and Liberty “Libby” German, 14, planned to go hiking near the beautiful area of Monon High Bridge Trail, east of their small town of Delphi, Indiana.
Libby German and Abby Williams, Best Friends
At approximately 1:45 p.m. that afternoon, a family member dropped them off at the abandoned bridge where they planned to hike. It was agreed they would meet their family back in the same location later in the afternoon. They both had the day off school, it was an unseasonably warm winter day, and Abby Abby and Libby shared a special friendship. They both loved hiking, taking photographs of flowers and trees, and adventuring the scenic trails about a mile east of their home.
Libby posted, this now haunting photo, while atop Indiana’s second highest bridge on her Snapchat at 2: 07 p.m. This was the last post anyone would see the two girls alive.
Photograph Libby posted on Snapchat of Abby walking on the Monon High Bridge, Dephi, IN.
When the girls did not show up at the agreed upon the location as planned, the family reported the girls missing to Delphi Police Department and the local sheriff. Immediately police and firefighters were dispatched to canvas the area.
Over 100 searchers responded to the area. Arial searches began utilizing the remaining daylight hours. Later the same evening, authorities began trying to “ping” the girl’s phones, with no success. The sheriff stated he felt the girl’s phones were either turned off or the batteries had gone dead.
Police searching for Abby and Libby in the area surrounding Monon High Bridge and Deer Creek trails.
At approximately midnight, the search was called off, though volunteers continued searching throughout the night. The search resumed the following morning along Deer Creek and farther out from the trail. Searchers prayed the girls had simply been lost but soon those hopes were dashed. Approximately one mile from where the two young girls vanished, searchers found two bodies on a piece of private property along Deer Creek, north of the bridge.
February 14, 2017, at approximately 1:50 p.m., Sheriff Leazenby, Delphi Police Chief Steve Mullins and Indiana State Police (ISP) representative Kim Riley held a joint press conference to announce two bodies were found during the search for Abby and Libby, stating the bodies had yet to be identified.
February 15, 2017, 2:33 p.m., authorities held another press conference and announced the bodies had been identified as Liberty German and Abigail Williams.
A community was heartbroken. Children were terrified, and parents held their children closer.
Haunting Images and Audio Found on Libby’s Phone
At the February 15th news conference, ISP proceeded to release a photo of an unidentified man walking along the Delphi Historic Trail found on the girl’s phone. Authorities announced they wanted to speak to anyone who had parked in the nearby lot or anywhere around the trail the day the girls had visited the park.
FBI names individual in photograph suspect in murder of Delphi girls.
Five months into the investigation, ISP released a composite sketch of the man on the bridge hoping someone may recognize him and make a call.
Chilling audio of the killer’s voice Libby captured on her phone was also released generating thousands of leads.
In an Indy Channel report, “Delphi Investigation: Why state police say Libby and Abby’s case isn’t cold,” Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter says, “There’s a person out there that knows who did it. Not a hunch. They know who that person is,” said Carter. “They know that voice and they know those clothes. They know that posture. They know that stance and they know who murdered those two little girls in that quiet place.”
March 1, 2017, former Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee and team owner Jim Irsay donate $97,000 to the reward fund. The reward is now $230,000 for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the individual who murdered Abby and Libby.
In an ABC RTV6 report, “Delphi, Indiana: FBI seeks tips on behavioral changes to help catch Delphi killer,” the FBI makes a plea to the public to think back to Monday, February 13th, the day the Delphi teens went missing asking questions like, “Did someone you know make an excuse for missing an appointment?”
“Just think if you had an interaction with an individual who inexplicably canceled an appointment that you had together,” said Greg Massa of the FBI. “Or an individual called into work sick and canceled a social engagement. At the time, they gave what you thought would have been a plausible explanation. ‘My cell phone broke’ or ‘I had a flat tire on my car.’ In retrospect, (that) excuse no longer holds water,” Massa added.
Other behaviors might now be considered suspicious. It is often a seemingly inconsequential detail someone calls in that can break a case wide open.
“Did an individual travel unexpectedly?” Massa said. “Did they change their appearance? Did they shave their beard, cut their hair or change the color of their hair? Did they change the way they dress?”
Even behavioral changes occurring shortly after February 13, 2017:
- Someone who developed a different sleep pattern
- Started abusing drugs or alcohol
- Has become anxious or irritable
- Someone who has followed this case to an extreme
- A person who has ongoing conversations about where they were February 13th
- Someone who has visited the location where the girls were murdered
- Someone who has taken photographs around the trail and bridge
Police say don’t ever feel bad about reporting odd behavior. It could have everything to do with finding justice for two little girls brutally murdered. It could save other children from a similar and tragic outcome. In addition, if the person is innocent, it will only take a couple minutes of their time and they will never know you were the one who made the report.
A Person of Interest Dismissed
Johnson County Sheriff’s Office sent officers to Colorado to retrieve a “person of interest” in the murders of Abby and Libby.
Daniel Nations had been arrested in Colorado for threatening hikers with a hatchet on a Colorado trail. Investigators traveled to Colorado to question Nations.
Nations was wanted on an outstanding warrant in Johnson County, Indiana for failing to register as a sex offender so authorities brought him back for further questioning in the Delphi murders.
Police have not formally named Nations as a suspect stating they have no information specifically including or excluding Nations in the killings. However, ISP has since said they are no longer actively investigating Nations as a person of interest in the case.
Memories Keep the Families Going
In “Delphi Daughters: The Untold Story of Abby and Libby”, a News 6 report, Mike Patty Libby’s grandfather states, “They didn’t leave each other’s side,” about the afternoon the two girls vanished. “I don’t know what happened out there that day, whether there was a chance or an opportunity for one to break off or split, or make a break for it or whatever but you know, I look at it as two young soldiers who covered each other’s backs, two best friends, I wouldn’t leave my best friend’s side. Neither did they.”
They both loved music. Both played the Alto Saxophone in their middle school band. They loved photography and painting, and both were signed up to play softball.
Life has changed for both families. Libby is remembered as the “baker” of the family. She loved making chocolate chips cookies. Becky Patty, Libby’s grandmother said, “She was a baker. She could throw a batch of cookies together like no other.”
Libby loved using sticky notes. She would leave sticky notes on her grandmother’s car visor. One read, “I love you! Thank you for everything you do for me and Kelsie – Libby.” She would leave sticky notes all over the house, even giving her teachers sticky notes, and always showing her appreciation for everyone around her.
Libby German and best friend Abby Williams, loved and remembered by all who knew them.
In the aftermath of her murder, Libby’s class presented her grandparents with jars filled with “sticky note” messages from each child. A way of dealing with the loss for her classmates, and a reminder of how much she is missed.
Libby had dreamed of becoming a science teacher and loved finding cures and solving crimes, so much so, she took additional classes at Purdue University.
Like Libby, Arika Gibson, a friend of the pair said, “Abby also dreamed of doing something within forensics and police work.” For two amateur sleuths, clearly, the evidence the girls left on their cell phones was clues to their own murders.
Abby Williams’ grandparents, whom she called Mee-maw and Papaw, keep her belongings right where they were the day she disappeared. “We just can’t erase her from our lives, we just don’t want to.” She added, “We treasure her coat hanging on the coat hook, her shoes on the shoe rack and her bedroom just the way she left it – she may have walked out the door, but she is here with us,” said Diane Erskin, Abby’s grandmother. With tears in Abby’s mother’s eyes, Anna Williams added, “Abby smiled all the time.” Her voice to a whisper, “All the time.”
Abby’s favorite thing to say was, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Always with a joyful spirit. Anna and her daughter Abby both shared a love of photography. She loved arts and crafts even knitting hat for newborns with her Aunt Maggie. She was especially good at volleyball and had planned on starting softball with Libby in the new year. Her grandfather Cliff was so excited he drove down from Michigan to take Abby out shopping to buy all new gear.
Investigation Continues at God Speed
The search for a killer has reached national proportions. Approximately 6,000 electronic billboards in 46 states have been utilized to solicit information from the public.
Billboards with information about the Delphi murders have been placed throughout the country.
A year later, investigators have received over 30,000 tips and interviewed thousands of potential suspects.
ISP, FBI, Carroll County Sheriff and the Delphi Police Department still follow up leads and vow to solve this murder case.
Investigators have a motto, “Today is the day,” and each day at the department, the day starts out with a prayer. “As we gather together today for our work we have been assigned to, let’s pray,” as each investigator bows their head.
“Today’s the day, today is the day we are going to get closer to the end, today is the day we are going to get closer to getting justice for Abby and Libby,” said ISP First Sergeant Jerry Holeman. “We have all worked tragic cases. Nothing like this. I can’t put anything close to this case.”
Police continue to work 20 hours days, with sleepless nights, with one goal in mind. A team of hundreds of investigators continue to work the case, tracking down thousands of leads. Holeman admits it has been rough on everyone involved. Investigations can become a roller coaster ride with hopeful leads and dashed hopes when those leads are eliminated. When it gets tough, Holeman goes back to the saying, “Today is the day.”
Indiana State Police Sgt. Holeman interviewed by Alexis McAdams. Photo courtesy Alexis McAdams TV.
“I need to be here for Abby and Libby,” says Holeman, “Because I am going to find who did this and we are going to hold them responsible for their actions.”
When Anna Williams was asked what justice will look like for her, “Justice will be that deep breath we get to take when my friend’s children are sleeping in their beds again. When people don’t worry about their children playing outside.” Williams continued, “Justice is in law enforcement. We believe in law enforcement. We believe in the FBI and everyone else that has worked on this case. That’s where justice will come from.”
Unsolved homicide posters still hang in local company’s windows. The community stands united behind Libby and Abby’s families and law enforcement still working the case.
Source: Facebook Light Up for Abby and Libby.
Orange bulbs light up the entire town of Delphi. The community has committed to ensuring the golden glow lights the town until the killer of Abby and Libby is caught and brought to justice.
If you have any information about the murders of Abby Williams and Libby German, please call 844-459-5786 or ABBYANDLIBBYTIP@CACOSHRF.COM.