Iowa authorities have arrested four people in connection with the death of a 44-year-old man whose body was found in a fire in a ditch in Kellogg last week.
Jasper County lawmakers and volunteer firefighters in Kellogg found the remains of Michael Williams on fire near a park on Sept. 16, according to investigators, who quickly considered the death a murder.
They said Williams was strangled on Sept. 12 about 10 miles away in Grinnell, where he lived. His body was then wrapped in cloth and plastic sheets, taken to Kellogg’s, thrown and set on fire.
On Tuesday, police said they had arrested four suspects, all from Grinnell.
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One of them, 31-year-old Stephen Vogel, faces charges that include first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse.
Julia Cox, 55, and Roy Lee Garner, 57, have been charged with misuse of corpses, felony criminal misconduct and charges of misconduct and destruction of evidence. The two reside in Vogel, according to the criminal complaint. Authorities did not specify their relationship, but court documents suggest that Cox may be Vogel’s mother.
The body was wrapped and left in their basement for days before being brought to Kellogg.
Cody Johnson, 29, is accused of abusing a corpse and belonging. He is accused of trying to help Vogel move the body on September 13, but failed to get him out of the basement, according to the complaint.
Vogel and Williams know each other, according to Adam DeCamp, a special agent with the Iowa Department of Public Safety. But investigators said they had no motive.
“The evidence and statements gathered during this investigation show that Mr Williams and Vogel were acquaintances who often communicated in the same circle of friends,” DeCamp said in a statement.
Although Williams was black and the suspects were white, DeCamp said there was “no evidence” that the murder was motivated by race or hate crime.
Betty Andrews, president of the NAACP in Iowa-Nebraska, said the civil rights organization also found no evidence that race was a motive, according to Des Moines-based KCCI-TV.
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Williams moved to Nebraska and then to Grinnell, Syracuse, New York, more than two decades ago, according to the Des Moines Registry. He grew up with learning difficulties and wanted to live independently, even though he came from a close-knit family. He kept in touch with his family on a daily basis and until recently worked in the fast food industry.
Relatives told the newspaper that he was a “gentle giant” who loved to dance, loved his family and battled diabetes and unemployment.
Williams survived by his parents, five siblings, five children and a 6-month-old granddaughter, according to the registry.