Four people have been charged in the death of Michael Williams, a 44-year-old Black man whose body was found burning in a ditch on September 16 in rural Iowa.
All four people charged in Williams’ death are white; however, according to a press release from Iowa’s Department of Public Safety, “The investigation has revealed no evidence to show the acts against Michael Williams were motivated by his race nor that his death was the result of a hate crime.” Investigators added that Williams and one of the four people charged, Steven Vogel, were acquaintances.
According to the press release, Jasper County deputies and Kellogg volunteer firefighters in Iowa were called to respond to a ditch fire on September 16 at 5:30 p.m. When they found the fire on the 8100 block of N 67th Avenue E, near Mariposa County Park, “The item burning was quickly identified as a human body,” the press release stated.
An investigation revealed that Williams was killed around September 12 in Grinnell, Iowa. According to the press release, his body was then wrapped up and brought to Kellogg, a small city in central Iowa, where it was set on fire. The Office of the State Medical Examiner ruled that Williams’ cause of death was strangulation. A motive for the killing has not yet been provided.
Vogel Was Charged With First-Degree Murder & 3 Others Were Charged in Connection With Williams’ Death
Four people were arrested on September 22 in connection with Williams’ murder, the press release states. Vogel, 31, was charged with first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse. According to court documents, Vogel and Williams had known each other for several years prior to Williams’ death. Vogel was already in custody in Marshall County Jail on unrelated charges, according to CNN.
In addition to Vogel, 55-year-old Julia Cox, 57-year-old Roy Lee Garner and 29-year-old Cody Johnson were all arrested and are being held at the Poweshiek County jail. Cox is Vogel’s mother, and she and Garner share a home with Vogel. According to court documents, Cox told investigators she was aware of “a long object covered with a brown blanket in the basement where she resides” and that she helped Vogel pull the object from Garner’s truck near Mariposa County Park in Kellog before Vogel dragged it into the ditch.
Garner also told detectives that he was driving the truck and dropped Vogel off at his sister’s apartment before driving to another location with Cox, where they threw additional items from the back of the truck into another ditch. Investigators found those items, which included “plywood, carpet, bleach bottles, rubber gloves, plastic, socks and a receipt with Vogel’s name,” CNN reported. Garner and Cox both face charges of abuse of a corpse, obstructing prosecution by tampering with evidence and accessory after the fact.
The fourth person charged, Johnson, told police he went to Vogel’s house on September 13 and tried to help him get Williams’ body out of his basement. He is charged with abuse of a corpse and accessory after the fact.
Williams Was a Native of Syracuse, New York, Who Moved to the Midwest Over 2 Decades Ago
According to the Des Moines Register, Williams was born and raised in Syracuse, New York, but moved to the Midwest over two decades ago. The outlet reported that he came from a “large, tight-knit family” who had been hoping he’d eventually move back to Syracuse. His aunt Paula Terrell said he moved to Nebraska first, then 12 years ago settled down in Grinnell.
According to her interview with the Register, Terrell said Williams had previously worked at various fast-food restaurants but was no longer employed due to his diabetes. She said until September 12, he called his family daily to speak with his mother and share updates about his life. She said:
All we wanted was for him to come home. Now we have to bring him home in the worst possible state. We will fight for justice. This is our family’s mission, no matter what — we will fight for his legacy to be remembered as who he was: a loving, kind, gentle giant who loved his family, who loved his children.
She also described him as being kind to everyone, a trusting person who made friends easily. His ex-wife Sharta Williams also said he was funny and always made people laugh: “He had such a sense of humor. He was a character.” The outlet reported that Williams is survived by his five children and one granddaughter, as well as his parents and five siblings.