Tiny But Mighty

Reporter’s Notebook

Cheryl Williams had been waiting 18 years for her day in court.

If it had just happened a little sooner, she would have been able to walk in. Instead, she had to be wheeled in. 50 years of raising other people’s babies and hoisting them on her hips have left her body weak.

Miss Cheryl was wheeled up to the witness stand, tucked in, and microphone pulled down toward her. She’s so petite that all the jury could see was her head and signature white pigtails skimming the stand.

She looked more tired than she did 2 years ago when we first met. Her son Mike Williams disappeared during a duck hunting trip in December 2000. 16 years later she was still trying to pressure the cops to take his case more seriously, and open a criminal investigation. I’d been assigned to cover the cold case for Crime Watch Daily.

As it turns out, my reporting led to a cascade of events. Nothing like banging on a few doors to upset things. A few months later Mike’s body was discovered buried in a swamp, and his “widow” and his best friend were arrested.

Brian Winchester, his best buddy growing up, admitted to killing Mike so he and Mike’s wife, Denise Williams, could collect 1.7 million dollars in life insurance and live happily every after—without Mike. Denise denies any involvement, but Brian Winchester admitted everything in exchange for full immunity. Denise Williams is the only one on trial for murder.

Which brings us back to the tiny but mighty Cheryl Williams on the witness stand. Miss Cheryl told the jury how Denise threatened her. Apparently Denise didn’t want any publicity to help find her missing husband, and she sure as hell did not want a crimal investigation into his disappearance. Miss Cheryl paid a heavy price. Denise allegedly threaten to without access to Mike’s daughter, Cheryl’s granddaughter. Miss Cheryl never saw her granddaughter again, and to this day they are estranged.

The jury didn’t like hearing that. Many jurors shook their heads in disgust. It may not be a crime to withhold someone’s grandchild, but in the court of Life —this was surely a sin. Denise’s attorneys argued that the child was kept away so she wouldn’t be confused by Miss Cheryl’s unrealistic belief Mike could still be alive ( remember they just found his body in 2017).

But Denise missed the point. To be a mother is to believe against all odds.

Denise also underestimated the love of a mother. Miss Cheryl never gave up and because she stood on street corners with homemade signs and paid for billboards and wrote thousands of letters pleading to help find her son…ultimately Mike Williams was found. The swampy roads of Tallahassee led right back to Mike’s best friend and Mike’s wife. Funny how that turned out.

And so Miss Cheryl got her day in court in more ways than one. As Miss Cheryl was wheeled out, she glared at the defendant, and stared her down, until Denise caved and looked away.

And that my friends is just a tiny bit of justice.

At the time this blog was posted Denise Williams was still on trial for murder.

Alligator Mike No More

Reporter’s Notebook

It’s near impossible for me as a reporter not to have feelings about the people I cover.

I met Cheryl Williams in the summer of 2016. And what a hot summer it was in Tallahassee, Florida. It had been 16 years since her son Mike Williams had disappeared during a duck hunting trip in December 2000. The case was cold, cold as the gators in Seminole Lake, where authorities said Mike fell in, died and was likely eaten by alligators.

Ridiculous, huh? I sure thought so. Miss Cheryl never bought it and she forged a one woman war against all odds to be heard and get her son’s “missing persons” case turned into a criminal investigation.

Some cops, okay many cops, laughed at this little lady ( yes she’s a petite gal) with a squeaky voice and white pigtails. I did not. Before me was a passionate mother in pain, searching for her boy and determined to find him, and, what happened to him. Lots of people have called her crazy, and she was sane enough to take a mental note of each one of them.

Which brings me to me. When I sat down to interview Miss Cheryl for Crime Watch Daily, the TV show I worked for, I knew she wasn’t crazy. But more importantly, SHE knew, I knew. And so, we clicked. She trusted me. In these times of unscrupulous reporters who don’t give a crap about the people they report about, that was a very big deal.

I promised Miss Cheryl what I promise all the victims of crime I do stories on: I will do my best to get you answers. In this case, that meant knocking on doors and chasing down the people most likely to have those answers: the woman married to Mike when he disappeared and Mike’s best fiend. The two people closest to Mike, who ended up marrying eachother after he was out of the picture.

Guess my snooping around upset the apple cart just enough to unhinge Brian Winchester, Mike’s best friend and husband to Mike’s widow, Denise. Just a few weeks aftet my knock knock, Brian Winchester kidnapped his estranged wife Denise. Brian said Denise wouldn’t talk to him, and kidnapping Denise was the only way to get her to hear him out.

That kidnapping was the beginning of the end for Brain and Denise. Brain has admitted to killing Mike Williams, and he claims Denise was his accomplice. Brain has immunity from murder charges in-exchange for implicating Denise and leading police to Mike’s body. At the time of this post, Denise Williams is on trial for murder. Denise claims she knew nothing of Brian’s plan and she would have never married him if she did.

This blog is about the journey to get answers and justice.