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Homicide victim Jerry Michael "Mike" Williams. (Photo: Courtesy of NamUs)

A man who went missing while he was supposedly duck hunting alone on a Florida lake in December 2000 was never seen again alive.

But now the body of Jerry Michael Williams has been found—and the long-running cold case effectively entered a new phase due to the condition of the remains, even after nearly two decades hidden.

“Seventeen years did not hide how Mike Williams died and our focus has shifted from a missing person case to a homicide investigation,” said Mark Perez, special agent in charge of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in Tallahassee. “We know without a doubt that Mike Williams was murdered.”

The discovery was announced Wednesday, just one day after Williams’s best friend Brian Winchester—who himself married Williams’ widow Denise Williams—was sentenced to 20 years in prison for kidnapping the widow at gunpoint last year.

Brian Winchester mugshot. (Photo: Courtesy of the Leon County Sheriff's Office)

The connections between the deceased man, his best friend and his widow have not yet been established publicly by investigators. But Denise Williams petitioned to have Mike Williams declared dead years after his truck was found near Lake Seminole, near Tallahassee.

A 44-day search of the area where he was supposedly hunting never turned up anything, and many believed that the 31-year-old real estate appraiser had drowned, and his body had been eaten by alligators.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement took over the investigation into the disappearance in 2004.

“New information” led them to the recent discovery of the remains, the FDLE said shortly after Winchester was sentenced to prison on the unrelated crimes committed last year. The body was found near Lake Jackson in northern Leon County—about 50 miles away from the hunting spot where his truck was found, according to local media.

DNA analysis of the remains confirmed it was Mike Williams they had found, they added.

Winchester, reportedly Mike Williams’s best friend, wrote him a $1 million life insurance policy about six months before Williams vanished, according to local reports.

Winchester and Denise Williams married in 2005 and separated in 2012. Last year, Winchester kidnapped her at gunpoint by sneaking into her car and holding a gun to her ribs for about an hour, according to the Tallahassee Democrat, the local newspaper of record

Winchester cried as he apologized to family and friends at his Tuesday sentencing. The ex-wife gave a victim impact statement in which she called for Winchester to be put away for life.

“It comes down to my life or his and I am asking you to choose mine,” she told the courtroom.

Florida authorities said they were making the homicide investigation a priority.

“We will continue to work this case until those responsible for his death are brought to justice,” said Perez.

Anyone with information about the case can call the FDLE’s office in Tallahassee at (800) 342-0820.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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