Officials said there's no evidence that the killing of Michael Williams, 44, was motivated by race or that it was the result of a hate crime

By Benjamin VanHoose
September 23, 2020 10:06 AM
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From left: Cody Johnson, Julia Cox, Roy Lee Garner, and Steven Vogel
| Credit: Iowa Department of Public Safety

Four people have been arrested after a Black man's body was found on fire in a rural ditch in Iowa.

On Tuesday, law enforcement officers arrested four suspects in connection to the killing of Michael Williams, 44, of Grinnell, Iowa, whose body was found burning in a ditch on Wednesday, Sept. 16, according to the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

Steven Vogel was charged with one count of murder in the first degree and abuse of a corpse. Vogel, 31, is being held at the Marshall County Jail, where he was already in custody for unrelated charges.

Julia Cox, 55, and Roy Lee Garner, 57, were charged with one count of abuse of a corpse, destruction of evidence and accessory after the fact. Additionally, Cody Johnson, 29, was charged with abuse of a corpse and accessory after the fact.

Cox, Garner and Johnson are being held at the Poweshiek County jail. It was not immediately clear if the four suspects had attorneys for PEOPLE to reach for comment.

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A Sept. 18 autopsy report from the Office of the State Medical Examiner classified Williams’ death as a homicide, with a cause of death listed as strangulation.

The Iowa Department of Public Safety believe Williams and Vogel were "known acquaintances who often socialized within the same circle of friends." Officials added that no evidence has led them to believe the crime was "motivated by his race nor that his death was the result of a hate crime."

"The investigation has revealed Mr. Williams was killed on or about September 12, in Grinnell. Mr. Williams’ body was then wrapped in cloth and plastic, which was secured with rope and tape, then transported to rural Kellogg on September 16, where it was set ablaze," officials said.

Williams' ex-wife, Janalee Boldt, spoke out about his death, telling KCCI that her daughter "will not let me outside in the dark by myself because she's afraid of losing another parent." According to CNN, Williams shared five children with Boldt.