Sept. 23 (UPI) — Authorities said Tuesday that agents charged three men and a woman in connection to the death of a Black man whose body was found on fire in a ditch last week in a small Iowa town.
Steven Vogel, 31, has been charged with murder in the first degree and abuse of a corpse in connection with the death of 44-year-old Michael Williams, whose body was found on Wednesday afternoon burning in a ditch along a road in rural Kellogg, a small Iowa town about 55 miles east of Des Moines.
Julia Cox, 55, and Roy Lee Garner, 57, each have been charged with one count of abuse of a corpse, destruction of evidence and accessory after the fact, while Cody Johnson, 29, was charged with abuse of a corpse and accessory after the fact.
Vogel was already in police custody at the Marshall County Jail on unrelated charges Tuesday morning when the three other defendants were arrested, according to a release from the Iowa Department of Public Safety.
Adam DeCamp, special agent in charge, told reporters in a press conference that more than 50 law enforcement officers were required in the investigation “to bring to account those who have not only violated our state laws but have also violated the sense of safety in the city of Grinnell and within the Black community.”
According to the Iowa Department of Public Safety, the investigation began after authorities were called to a ditch fire at about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, and quickly discovered that a body was on fire.
DeCamp told reporters that Williams’ death was not random, as he was known to Vogel, a White man, and that they shared the same social groups in Grinnell, which is a short drive from Kellogg, but that there is no indication that the crime was racially motivated.
“While it would be inappropriate to speak to a motive in this case, I can say without hesitation that no evidence has been found to show the acts against Michael Williams were motived by his race,” he said.
According to the affidavits in the case, Williams was killed in Grinnell on Sept. 12 and his body was then wrapped in cloth, plastic and carpet that were secured to him with rope and tape.
The court documents state that a witness told law enforcement that Vogel admitted that he had killed Williams and showed the witness the body, which was being kept at his house in Grinnell that he shared with his mother, Cox, and Garner.
Cox told agents that she knew there was an object wrapped in a brown blanket being kept in her basement and that she helped Vogel load it into the back of Garner’s Dodge truck.
Garner told agents that he drove Cox, Vogel and the wrapped item to a rural area near a bridge and watched as Vogel and Cox removed it from the bed of his vehicle. He told authorities he then saw Vogel pull the carpet into the ditch before driving to another town where he dropped Vogel off. He then drove to a rural area where they disposed of items that had been in the back of the truck.
Johnson told law enforcement that the day after Williams was killed, Vogel asked if he would give him a ride to his house, where Johnson saw Williams’ feet and attempted to help Vogel remove the body from the basement, but they were unable to do so.
DeCamp told reporters that despite the charges, the investigation is ongoing.
Dennis Reilly, chief of police in Grinnell, said this crime does not represent his city, which he called on to offer support to Williams’ children and grandchildren.
“This terrible act is not representative of, nor does it reflect upon, the welcoming community that Grinnell is,” he said. “There is no place for callous acts such as this, whether it be here or anywhere in our country. We need to come together as a community, support each other. And by God, support Mike’s family. Please pray for them.”