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‘Not a Random Act of Violence’: Four Arrested In Connection with Black Man Thought to be Strangled, Found Burning In Ditch

Authorities announced Tuesday that four people have been arrested in connection to the killing of a Black man whose body was found burning in a ditch in Iowa this month.

According to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, three men and one woman have been charged in connection with the death of Michael Williams, 44. Steven Vogel, 31, Julia Cox, 55, Roy Garner, 57, and Cody Johnson, 29, have been arrested and currently remain in police custody. Vogel was already being held on unrelated charges.

Williams’ body was discovered in a ditch on Sept. 16. Iowa authorities said he had been dead since Sept 12.

Authorities believe he was killed in Grinnell, Iowa, a distant suburb of Des Moines, wrapped in cloth, plastic and carpet, and then brought to Kellogg, where his body was set afire.

Jasper County officers arrived on the scene at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 16 in response to a passersby’s reports of a roadside fire. After responders extinguished the fire they noticed the body. Williams’ death was ruled a homicide after autopsy evidence found his manner of death was consistent with strangulation.

(From left) Julia Cox, Roy Garner, Cody Johnson, and Steven Vogel are being held in connection with the slaying of Michael Williams. (Photos: Iowa Department of Public Safety)

Vogel, who has been described as an acquaintance of Williams and had known him for years, has been charged with first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse. Cox, Garner and Johnson have been charged with abuse of corpse, destruction of evidence, and accessory after the fact. All of the suspects are white and Williams, who had been diagnosed with a learning disability, was Black.

Iowa DCI Special Agent Adam DeCamp dismissed allegations that the murder was racially motivated at a press conference on Tuesday, saying there is “no evidence has been found to show the acts against Michael Williams were motivated by his race.”

Grinnell Police Chief Dennis Reilly said the attack was not random. “I just want to be clear to say: This was not a random act of violence. Those responsible for this heinous act knew each other,” he said.

Michael Williams. (Photo: GoFundMe)

DeCamp said Williams was held for days at a Spring Street home where Cox, Garner, and Vogel lived before he was murdered and dumped in a ditch 20 minutes away. In a criminal complaint, one witness said they saw Williams’ body “wrapped up in the basement” in the home.

The motive of the attack remains unclear, and the homicide investigation remains ongoing.

Williams’ aunt Paula Terrell said the father of five checked in with his family daily but stopped calling on Sept. 12.

According to the report, Vogel, Cox, and Garner all rode out to rural Kellogg to dump Williams body on Sept. 16.

“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,” Terrell said.

A GoFundMe started by friends of the Williams family to cover expenses has raised more than $50,000.

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