In 2000, a man was reported missing while on a duck hunting trip in north Florida. Police thought he drowned and was eaten by alligators, even though his wife had a judge declare him dead six months later, suspiciously cashed in on an expensive life insurance plan, and married his best friend.
It wasn't until six years later that his disappearance would be suspected as a murder, thanks to the man's pleading mother and a dogged reporter's ability to find the truth.
That reporter, Jennifer Portman, is diving into the missing-to-murdered case of Mike Williams on a new season of Wondery's true crime podcast, "Over My Dead Body: Gone Hunting."
Portman, now a managing editor of national news at USA TODAY, hosts the fourth season of anthology series, which has explored the motives driving people to do unspeakable things. In previous seasons, reporters unearthed the dark past of a beloved small town cop, found unexpected co-conspirators in a murder, and covered the famous feud between Joe Exotic and Carol Baskin.
Now, Portman will take listeners through the dramatic story about how the facts of Williams' death came to light.
How to listen to new season of 'Over My Dead Body' podcast
The first two episodes will be available on Wondery+ starting Aug. 7, and everywhere you get your podcasts, including Apple, Spotify and Amazon Music on Aug. 21.
Host Jennifer Portman covered cold case for 12 years
Portman covered the mysterious tale of Mike Williams as an investigative reporter for the Tallahassee Democrat, part of the USA TODAY Network.
In her first six months with the paper, which she would later lead as the news director, she spotted a puzzling ad in the newspaper. Mike Williams' mother, Cheryl Williams was asking for information about her missing son. She pointed out several inconsistencies in the story that officials had settled on. Portman started doing research into all the documentation from the police, down to the alligators in the lake he was fishing at and the boat he was on. She thought there might be something to this story.
She published an investigation in December 2006 debunking the belief that Williams drowned in the lake. The police admitted foul play. Mark Perez of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said her story made an impact.
Throughout the next 12 years, she followed every twist and turn of the case. Every December, she wrote a column marking the day Williams went missing and reminding the public of his mysterious disappearance. She was there in 2018 when one of the killers was found guilty. So was his mother Cheryl.
Mike Williams before his death
Mike Williams was a 31-year-old real estate appraiser living in Tallahassee, Florida. On Dec. 16, 2000, as previously reported by the Tallahassee Democrat, he went on a duck hunting trip at Lake Seminole. It was also his wedding anniversary, but he left his wife and 18-month-old daughter behind. He never made it home to celebrate.
At the time, police thought he stumbled out of the boat and was sucked under by his waders in the chest-high water. But investigators never found a trace of his body at the lake, even after a 44-day search.
His wife, Denise, bought a $1 million life insurance plan from his best friend Brian Winchester six months before he went missing. She had a judge declare him dead and received nearly $2 million in Mike's policy payout, despite there being no trace of his body. Winchester and Denise got married approximately five years later.
But their marriage fell apart over the next decade and an incident between the two put Winchester in jail for kidnapping and armed burglary. Denise Williams was the kidnapping victim. What came out of his brush with the law was the evidence needed to prove Mike Williams was murdered: the location of his body.
The 2018 trial that convicted Denise Williams of first-degree murder, conspiracy and accessory after the fact laid out the wicked plot for love and money that she devised with Winchester.
As host, Portman will walk listeners through that plan, and what went wrong, on "Over My Dead Body: Gone Hunting," available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, Wondery+ and anywhere else you listen on Aug. 21.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Over My Dead Body' podcast: New season covers Mike Williams death