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Thriller Thursday: Disappeared

Due to this post from Roni Loren (thank you for the warning, Roni) I’ve decided to remove most photos from Thriller Thursday. I hope you’re still able to enjoy them!

Most of us have suffered the loss of loved ones. But can you imagine if they vanished? If they disappeared with no warning, leaving children, family, and personal items behind, as if they’d been erased?

Thousands of people disappear in the United States every year. Investigation Discovery airs a program aptly titled “Disappeared” covering these baffling cases. Here are two stories I couldn’t stop thinking about.

Mike Williams

There are two suspects in this case: Mike’s wife Denise and his best friend, Brian Winchester. On March 15, 2000, successful Tallahassee businessman Jerry Michael Williams left for Lake Seminole on a duck hunting trip. He’s never heard from again.

His truck, boat and shotgun are recovered, and officials assume he’s the victim of an accident. They expect his body to show up–no drowning victim has ever remained purged in the lake’s murky waters. When Mike’s body doesn’t surface, some speculate his body has been eaten by one of the lake’s many alligators, but experts say it’s impossible: the lake temperatures were too cold the entire week Mike went missing. Alligators don’t feed when it’s that cold.

Mike’s mother Cheryl is immediately suspicious, and her fears only grow when Mike’s waders turn up. Conveniently accompanied by his jacket and hunting license, the items don’t show any evidence they’ve been stuck under water for weeks. Cheryl presses police, and her daughter-in-law warns her to back off or risk not seeing her granddaughter.

Shortly after the waders resurface, Denise Williams uses the discovery to declare Mike legally dead and soon inherits his assets as well as a life insurance worth well over a million dollars. Within a year, she’s remarried to Brian Winchester, the same man who sold Mike the life insurance policy six months before he went missing.

Cheryl spends every possible moment begging police to investigate her son’s disappearance as a homicide, and three and half years after Mike vanished, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement opened an investigation. With the help of other agencies, more suspicious clues pop up, but the cops can’t garner enough evidence to bring charges on their suspects. Nearly twelve years later, Denise and Brian are quietly living their lives–with the help of Mike’s life insurance policy. Cheryl hasn’t seen her granddaughter in many years.

Mike’s body has never been recovered, but investigators believe his disappearance on Lake Seminole was an elaborate coverup. His mother still hopes she will one day find out what happened to her son.

If you have any information, contact the Jackson County Sheriff’s office at 850-482-9624.

Maura Murray


Maura Murray’s case isn’t as easy to speculate on. There are no clear suspects, and no obvious motive. She’s just gone.

Twenty-one-year-old nursing student Maura Murray disappeared from the University of Massachusetts on Monday, February 9, 2004. The previous Saturday, Maura and her father had gone car shopping, and then later, Maura was in an accident with her father’s borrowed car. They were supposed to meet Monday night to go over insurance forms.

On Monday evening, for reasons undisclosed, Maura drove 144 miles north to an unknown destination. Unbelievably, she’s in a second car accident. A nearby resident offers help, but Maura asks him not to call 911. Police arrive ten minutes later, and Maura has disappeared. The car doors are locked, her cell phone and credit cards are missing, but the rest of her things are in the car.

In the twenty-four hours before Maura’s disappearance, her actions are confusing. She emails her long distance boyfriend while picking up the insurance forms to go over with her father. Then, she emails teachers stating there’s a death in the family and she’ll be absent for a while. There was no death in the family.

Police wonder if Maura is a runaway or suicide, but her family insists those theories are impossible. They believe something terrible happened to their daughter that night.


The mystery deepens with several possible sightings of Maura. Moments after the crash, a resident saw a young person run onto a side road. Thirty-six hours after her disappearance, a voicemail is left on Maura’s boyfriend’s cell phone. A woman is sobbing, and the boyfriend is convinced it’s Maura. The most chilling sighting is at a store in Hillboro, New Hampshire. A young woman fitting Maura’s description was seen with an older man silently mouthing the words “help me.”

To date, there are no suspects in Maura’s disappearance.

If you have seen anyone matching Maura’s description, please contact the New Hampshire Cold Case Unit at 603-271-2663.

My heart goes out to the parents and families of these two people, and to the countless others out there that have gone missing. For more cases and to find out how you can help, visit Investigation Discovery.

50 comments on… “Thriller Thursday: Disappeared”

  1. I live in Tallahassee, so that first story is pretty disturbing to me. I would suspect alligators at first, but wish I knew more about the victim’s relationship with his wife.

    • It’s very disturbing. Two different experts said the alligator claim was impossible, and Mike’s is the only body never recovered from the lake.

      I would, too. They were high school sweethearts, if I recall. Thanks for your comment.

      • My heart goes out to this family of Mike’s….to see so many coincidences and not see any realization of the punishment for this crime…how awful… I truly ache for that poor mother, and she seems like such a kind, loving person….and to not have access to her granddaughter—to lose her son and her granddaughter….I hope she learns the truth some day soon.

        • Yes, it’s so damned sad. The woman has experienced two losses, and it’s hard to believe the former daughter-in-law isn’t guilty. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. I can’t imagine the lack of closure those poor families have. The movie The Vanishing (1993) and the book The Deep End of the Ocean were so compelling to me for this reason. The idea that a loved one might simply go missing and never be heard from again is chilling. I hope the police receive more clues so they can piece together what happened. In Maura’s case, I wonder if she might still be alive somewhere.

    • Me, too. The Vanishing was very chilling. I haven’t read The Deep End of the Ocean, but I’ll be checking it out. As a parent, it’s my absolute worst fear. That’s why I hate to allow her to roam our neighborhood no matter how safe it is.

      I wonder the same thing about Maura. Her case is extremely odd. Thanks!

    • Me, too. I watch Disappeared every week with the hope they will feature someone who’s been found, but it’s a rare occurrence. Thanks!

  3. Stacy, let me second the recommendation for Deep End of the Ocean, which actually has a semi-happy ending. Bring Kleenex, though, as a mom I was totally sucked in.

    I hope, for the sake of their families, that they find out what happened to these people. Maybe even your post will bring it to the attention of someone who knows.

    • Thanks, Beverly. I’ll definitely add it to my to-read list. Reading that sort of stuff is tough but I’m sure worth it.

      Me, too. I would hope this little post has some sort of positive effect. Thanks:)

  4. Jessica R. Patch

    I think the not knowing would drive me out of my mind. These are frightening stories.

  5. The first story is so sad. It definitely sounds like a murder and a cover up. How awful the guilty parties got away with it…so far. The second story is sad too. Actually sounds like a really good seed for a story. Perhaps it was a runaway. The not knowing for both families has to be awful.

    • Yes, it is. His mother broke my heart, especially since she’s been shut out of her granddaughter’s life. Yes, the second story is a good seed for a story and has a ton of mystery surrounding it. I feel like there’s some kind of smoking gun they’re missing.

  6. I’ve seen both of these! I don’t know if that’s cool or sort of pathetic. I thought the first one sounded like a murder and a cover up. In the second case, I figured the young woman walked away from the car and got stranded or lost. The area seemed to be pretty remote. After that, it’s possible someone either picked her up or she died wandering in the cold. Both possibilities are tragic.

    The two cases from disappeared that stuck with me most have to do with women out exercising.

    The first one was an ex-police woman in Georgia–I think. She had been in an accident and walked every day as part of her recovery. One day, while she was walking someone kidnapped her. I saw the episode when it first came out and then caught it later in a rerun. On the rerun, there was an update that her remains had been found buried near where she was kidnapped.

    The second one was a young woman from around Austin, Texas. She had gone out running and nobody ever saw her again. A man who was arrested on different charges hinted he knew what happened to her but then recanted. Her parents split up in the aftermath of her disappearance. They never did find out what happened to their daughter.

    Chilling, huh?

  7. I figured you would have. Disappeared is a great show even though it’s heartbreaking. Mike’s case makes me angry. I can’t fathom how his mother manages. As for Maura, I just don’t know. She could have wandered off, but she had her cell phone. Why didn’t she call for help? Maybe it was dead. And reception wasn’t as wide-reaching back then (as though it were light years ago).

    I don’t remember the one from Georgia, but I do remember the lady from Austin. Both are chilling, and I think about that every time I go for a walk in the summer. Our neighborhood is total suburbia, but you just never know.

    Thanks for stopping by:)

  8. CREEPY! Stuff like this always plagues me. I just can’t imagine what happens to people. It seems clear in case 1 that the wife had him murdered but case 2…eeekeee…sounds like she’s possibly being held captive?!?! It’s like the two women who vanished in Aruba. Police suspect the women were murdered but I wonder where there’s no body if they were sold into sex slavery and are alive and just trapped into the underground world. Scares me to think about it. Scares me to think about the hundreds of thousands of woman around the world that are held against their will for lifetimes. So sad….so very sad!
    BTW, LOVE the header – WOWZERS!

    • I agree, Natalie. Most of us don’t realize how much it happens. So many missing and unanswered questions out there. And so many bad people. The Aruba case is mystifying and your theory is definitely plausible. Although it’s fairly easy to dispose of a body when there’s water around. Yes, it is very scary.

      Thanks for commenting:)

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  11. hey i am 13 i watched this yesterday on investigation tv and um in the future i want to be an investigator well this is what i think
    Point- his wife and brian planned his death
    Evidence- Denise Williams uses the discovery to declare Mike legally dead and soon inherits his assets as well as a life insurance worth well over a million dollars.
    denise ‘threatens’ Cheryl to stop the investigation and why is that? denise should be supporting not threatening her because this is a mystery that needs to be solved and she didnt even care which is obvious that she may have murdered him or planned it out, and another thing murderers do is threaten because of the fear of getting caught.
    Within a year, she’s remarried to Brian Winchester, the same man who sold Mike the life insurance policy six months before he went missing.
    in addition, Denise wasn’t even upset about mike missing , isnt that odd? i mean if you were in her place im sure you would be crying your eyes out wanting to know what happened to him but his wife didn’t say anything and she wanted to do the memorial service quickly as possible and end the case. why? here’s the answer – ‘she and brain didn’t want to get caught!’
    she may have killed him also because she wanted his wealth , his money .
    Explanation- this shows the reasons why denise and brian killed mike williams
    if you agree with me i would also like to say another evidence denise and brians house which may reveal every evidence investigators need and mikes body may have been buried underground somewhere around the lake maybe?

    • oh and i hope my evidence is useful to you and investigators thank you ! 🙂 hope mike gets justice and cheryl has peace xxx

    • Hi there! Thanks for stopping by. I think you’ve got some great points here, and I agree. I think Brian was the victim of a greedy wife and a traitorous best friend. Yes, if I’d been her I would have been devastated. Unfortunately, it looks like they did a great job hiding his body. He may have been buried or dumped elsewhere. Hopefully some day he’ll be found and Denise and Brian will be brought to justice.

      Thanks for stopping by, and good luck!

      • Chick chick 1

        I am neighbors with Denise and her daughter anslee. in fact we are bestfriends. Denise is such a kind hearted woman that she wanted what was best for anslee, I would know. Please don’t
        call her greedy because she isn’t. she does what is good for herself/daughter & the lord.

  12. Poor Mike. Having just watched the show on ID, i have very little doubt he wasn’t murdered. It’s funny how some cases get solved with much less evidence, albeit circumstantial, and this one was hardly ever even taken seriously. All the indifference in the face of a very distraught mother and millions of motives. And the thing with the waders, and oh-so-convenient identification found, wasn’t even done carefully. They needed something to help prove him dead, and BAM! Up pop squeaky clean waders, jacket, (still working) flashlight, and I.D. So brazen. Such a slap in the face to everyone who hates people who kill their best friends and spouses for money. I just hope someday soon they solve this case and it happens while his mother is alive to see them carted off to serve life sentences. These cases don’t usually get me so upset, but i just can’t get the thought of those two living it up over his dead body.

    • You’re right, it’s very funny. I do think it’s interesting how this case wasn’t taken seriously, and it makes you wonder WHY. I don’t know if its incompetence or just plain indifference, but it is a very sad story. Thanks for stopping by.

      • The reason this case, and many other crimes in Tallahassee, are not taken seriously is that they have a joke of a newspaper which does no reporting. The editor of the Tallahassee Democrat, Bob Gabordi, is in the pocket of all sorts of people who don’t want things reported. He quashes news stories CONSTANTLY. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he’s personal friends with the Winchesters, either. That’s another way he bases his news decisions, or rather, “lack of news” decisions. If there had been a good reporter holding investigators feet to the fire — and no, I don’t mean the lazy Democrat reporter Jennifer Porter who didn’t even know about the case until she read an ad the mom had to take out in her own newspaper. That’s really being on top of your town. Unfortunately, that’s how the Democrat operates and why it’s called the Democrap.

        Good reporters can rattle cages. It’s too bad Tallahassee doesn’t have that.

  13. Just watched a repeat of the story of Mike Williams. What the hell is wrong with Florida & their law enforcement?? Suspicious circumstances, indifferent wife, wife’s new husband was missing husbands best friend AND the person who sold NEW insurance policy…sounds like a no-brainer to me. Apparently, Florida is a great place to live if you want to be able to kill people (Travon Martin) for flimsie reasons & potential freedom!! I can’t believe that SOMEONE in LE can’t take the next logical step & do some better investigating. Plus, didn’t this couple have friends that could shed better light on their relationship & the wife’s lack of concern after her husband’s disappearance?? You couldn’t pay me enough to live in Florida!!!
    The wife, & new husband….I hope & pray live a miserable life. As for the child, Anslee?? There is no reason she should be kept from her Fathers family…Florida Social Services or Division of Family Services should get involved in this & right this wrong. There is no reason why Mike Williams’ Mother can’t have visitation with her Granddaughter!!

    • I don’t know. It’s so frustrating, isn’t it? I really don’t understand how they can not bring them to trial, but I would guess they want a slam dunk case because of double jeopardy.

      Yes, the deal with the daughter is awful. There is no reason the child shouldn’t get to see her grandmother. Hopefully things will change for the family.


  14. Elizabeth

    Hello….I just watched the episode Disappeared with Mike Williams. Has anyone ever thought to check the phone records of bot the ex-wife and best friend. I see this a lot on other shows…but I didn’t see it mentioned here. Maybe it would shed light on the items that were probably dropped off at the lake…

    • Hi there,

      I’m really not sure, but checking phone records is a pretty common practice and usually one of the first things detectives do. Hopefully the family will eventually get some closer.


      • Well his mother deserves closure, that poor woman didnt need to suffer all these years, over that evil evil daughter in law, that killed her son

  15. Well if your not happy and have marital problems, then your husband disappears, doesnt matter how much you dislike your husband, if your inocent your going to search no matter what, to help authorities find him, yet what does that scrag do? Marry her husbands best friend. Like i mean hello its rite there in front of you, that thre both involved

  16. Phone records, bank accounts, dna , check in the house, check his boat, car i mean thats the first thing authorities should have done.

  17. I posted this once but I think it disappeared in the ether.
    This case was hampered by not having a REAL investigative reporter on the case. Jennifer Portman from the Tallahassee Democrat had to find out about the case by reading an ad the victim’s mother had to pay for in her own paper. That’s the sort of legwork the Democrat is capable of. WHY are they not writing stories, demanding answers, banging down doors? Because they’re a newspaper controlled by an editor, Bob Gabordi, who is more interested in palling around with local powerbrokers than in covering the town. He kills stories constantly if one of his pals might not like them. The Democrat is a joke and the reporters there did not handle this story with any sort of vigor to find the truth. But if the killer’s ever found and the FDLE issues a press release, then the Democrap will tell us what happened.

  18. I saw this story this morning and was very saddened by the treatment that Mike’s lovely mother has received. She is such a strong lady and a fine example of what true love really is. I’m pretty disgusted with the behavior of the investigators. There was enough evidence there to dig a little deeper. Now, these people responsible have had years of covering up and destroying evidence. We may never know the whole story but I think most people are piecing together what they do know and someone close to Mike knows way more than they are saying. No one deserves to be treated this way. Mike deserved a life and a chance to be a father. I was just so heartbroken seeing how much his Mom has been disrespected and all she is doing is seeking the truth. Scratch a lie, catch a thief. The motives are blatantly obvious here. Follow the money.

  19. I just did a search on Spokeo, and they didn’t come up with an Anslee Winchester, but there were several Anslee Williamses in Georgia…I’m betting the Winchesters moved to GA so the grandmother wouldn’t have any legal recourse. Hopefully, when Anslee comes of age, she can get a sample of Brian’s DNA and have it tested against hers, and if it’s not a match, find a way to get justice for her father & hopefully, Denise won’t have been able to poison her mind against her father.

    • Interested Party

      Powell – Anslee’s last name is Williams, not Winchester. She goes by her deceased father’s name. They still live in Tallahassee in the house that Mike bought after he and Denise were married.


    The ex-wife and insurance salesman husband need to be arrested and put on trial. A jury WILL convict them! You need to tell the prosecutor that it’s now or never and that you have nothing to lose.and if he puts them on trial, you’ll never bug him or the police again. At least let a jury have the case. Don’t take no for an answer. Tell him you’ll run him out of office if he doesn’t take it to a jury, and the voters will be on your side and vote him out. I’D CONVICT THEM BOTH AND SO WOULD 99% OF PEOPLE. I believe, at the very worst, you’ll get a hung jury and then they can try them again. Tell the DA to watch all the episodes of SNAPPED on The Oxygen Network if he doesn’t think that “sweet little innocent” ex-wife wouldn’t kill him for money. That’s what they all do it for — love of money / greed. I’ll bet she used her husband to get to the money and is only staying with him because he knows the truth about her and he’s involved in the murder. A JURY WILL CONVICT THEM. Please do it. She’s a royal bitch and her husband helped her. A JURY WILL CONVICT.

    Are they PURPOSELY keeping the case open so that no one can look at the file? EVERYONE knows the ex-wife and insurance salesman husband killed him or were DIRECTLY involved. A JURY WILL CONVICT THEM— DAMN IT — PUT THEM ON TRIAL YOU CORRUPT BASTARDS!

  21. So it is now 2016. Has Mike Williams been found yet! If it weren’t for Chicago, Florida would have the worst law enforcement in the United States. If they thought that an alligator ate him, which I highly doubt the an alligator would undress its prey before it ate him, why didn’t they do a process of elimination to find Mike Williams! It’s not like alligators are big travelers. If he was eaten by a f-Ing alligator as they ASSUMED, then why the hell didn’t the police provide proof of that? If you are law enforcement in Florida, you suck at investigating and you suck and giving families closure. In the meantime, the wife married the husbands best friend, the wife collected insurance on someone who was never found, duh! The wife is keeping the grandchild away from the only person who is still looking for her husband, and last but not least, the wife doesn’t even make an attempt to have her husband and father if her child’s remains found. If that were me and that was my loved one, I would go to the ends of the earth to find their remains. How does she know if he is dead when no one ever proved it? oh that’s right, she moved on quite fast and quite well with her missing husbands best friend. No! Not suspect at all. A total idiot could figure this one out and the local police can’t. It is infuriating to see people getting away with murder.

  22. Holly Hold

    Denise was childhood friends with Brian. She became a new girl at school, and suddenly her childhood friend is there. Mike generously allows Brian, he and Denise to be friends. She marries Mike, he becomes worth a fortune,but she wants Brian. When baby young she didn’t have “much to do with her”.
    Denise and Brian are culpable for Mike Williams’ death and defrauding insurances companies. Nice going again! FLORIDA

  23. Alison DM

    Denise Winchester is a mother. She should be able to put herself in the shoes of Mikes mother and understand why she presses forward as she does. If she is in no way involved in her husbands disappearance, why not address all of the issues raised surrounding her finances and convenient remarriage. Her need to get on with her life superceded any concern whatsoever to those still grieving for her husband and concern for what actually happened to him. Why not address the issues and support a relationship between her daughter and her former mother in law. The only reason to behave in the way she did is that she has something to hide. Perhaps she will have explained herself sufficiently to her daughter that she will never seek out the informaion but curiosity would get the better of anyone and I hope that one day the daughter comes across all of this information and starts having questions of her own. Unless those involved somehow miraculously grow a conscience and fess up, this case will never go anywhere. And whilst I understand Mr Williams mothers crusade, I think she should seriously consider changing tactics and accept that her son in all likliness is dead and devote her love and attention into have those responsible brought to justice. It may mean her grandaughter loses her other parent at some point but murderers should not be allowed to skirt around justice just because a child would be left parentless. The reality though is that its been so long and things mishandled so poorly from the start, that no one will see jail time for what I and most others believe was a cold blooded murder. God help the family of anyone that goes missing in Tallahassee,

  24. I Wonder

    Brian Winchester has been arrested in an entirely different case – 8-5-16. Maybe someone will come forward and tell what they know about the death of Mike Williams..

  25. Everything indicates that it was a premeditated murder by his own wife and his supposed friend. The wife and the friend calculated to collect life insurance. And they had to get married so that way neither of those 2 idiots and coward speak and betray each other.

    • tom hart

      it always amazes me when one prosecutor will move forward on a case with little compelling evidence while others sit on their hands on a case —- highly motivated teenagers could get a conviction here.

  26. Mike William’s body has been found and it has been determined that he was indeed murdered. Brian Winchester was sentenced to 20 years in prison for that kidnapping. My bet is he took a plea and spilled the beans so that Denise Winchester would go down with him.

  27. kate mears

    This week FDLE met with Mike’smother and brother to advise them Mike’s remains have been recovered. They said there is no doubt as to it being homicide and the method he was killed.

    They announced it the day after Brian Winchester received a reduced sentence by the judge: 20 years for pleading nolo contendre on three charges. He could have gotten 40 years. FDLE didn’t say how they learned where Mike was buried, everyone guesses Brian sang like bird for a reduced sentence.

    All this time, 17 years to be more precise, Mike’s mom felt his presence and hoped he was alive. But what she felt was him telling her he was near: buried in a remote area @ 5 miles from where Cheryl lives. Now Cheryl lives for justice for Mike and hopefully a reunion with Mike’s daughter Anslee.

    How many people did it take to simultaneously transport and bury his body deep enoughbto not be found at 1 location, while others got his shotgun from his office at work, and took it and his boat, and truck about 50 miles away to pplant as evidence at Lake Seminole?

  28. Stacy

    Thank you to those who shared information about Mike’s body being found and Brian and Denise finally getting what they deserved. I’m sorry for his mother, but at least she has some closure.

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