Four white suspects were charged Tuesday after a Black man’s burning body was discovered in a ditch in rural Iowa. The man was allegedly strangled to death and his body left in a family’s basement for several days.
The family of Michael Williams, 44, last heard from the father of five the afternoon of Sept. 12, according to a criminal complaint uploaded by the Poweshiek County Clerk of Court. The next day, 31-year-old Steven Vogel allegedly went to his friend Cody Johnson and said he'd “clubbed” a man and was keeping his body in his basement, Johnson told investigators, according to complaint.
Johnson went to the house Vogel shared with his 65-year-old mother, Julia Cox, and Roy Garner, 57, and allegedly saw the body wrapped in some unknown material. Vogel and Johnson then allegedly tried to move the body, but weren’t able to, according to the complaint.
A few days later, on Sept. 15, Vogel allegedly went back to Johnson’s house saying he “wanted to obtain drugs” in exchange for Johnson’s help getting the body out of his basement, according to the complaint. The next day, Vogel, Cox and Garner all drove to a ditch in a rural area and pitched a heavy object from the back of Garner’s truck, Garner allegedly told police.
Later that afternoon, local resident Nancy Andersen was just sitting down to dinner when she got a call from her daughter about a fire she’d spotted in a ditch down the road, the Des Moines Register reports.
Andersen went to investigate after dinner, according to the paper. At first, she didn’t know what she was looking at, perhaps a dead animal.
“And then I saw the hands,” Andersen told the paper.
Andersen immediately called authorities, who recovered Williams’s charred body, wrapped in cloth and plastic and tied with rope and tape, according to the complaint.
Following the discovery of the body, authorities spoke with a witness who claimed Vogel said he’d strangled Williams to death – a claim consistent with an initial medical assessment. Another witness told authorities he’d seen Williams’s body in Vogel’s basement the day after the murder, but he didn't report it at the time, according to the complaint.
Vogel and Williams had similar social circles, and the attack was “not random,” Adam Decamp, a special agent at the Iowa Department of Public Safety (IDPS), said in a Tuesday press conference.
“I can say without hesitation that no evidence has been found to show the acts against Michael Williams were motivated by his race,” Decamp said.
Vogel, Garner, Cox and Johnson were all charged on Tuesday, according to an IDPS press release. Vogel, who was already in jail on unrelated charges, has been charged with murder and abuse of a corpse. Cox, Garner and Johnson were charged with abuse of a corpse and accessory after the fact.
Cox and Garner were also charged with destruction of evidence. Some supplies they may have used in relation to this case were discovered at a dump site, according to the complaint.
Friends of Williams have started a GoFundMe campaign to provide for his family. The campaign had raised $59,000 as of Thursday.
Williams is survived by his five children, who live with his ex-wife Janalee Boldt, according to CNN. His death has left them all deeply shaken.
“My daughter will not let me go outside in the dark by myself because she’s afraid of losing another parent,” Boldt told CNN.
It’s unclear whether any of the four suspects has an attorney who could comment on their behalf.
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