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Four Arrests Made In Murder Of Grinnell Resident Michael Williams

Paul 710928003
Williams' body was found burning in a Jasper County ditch last Wednesday.

Iowa law enforcement officials announced Tuesday they arrested and charged four white people in connection with the murder of Michael Williams, a 44-year-old Grinnell resident who is Black.

Williams’ body was found burning in a ditch in Jasper County last week, raising questions about the possibility of a hate crime. Law enforcement officials say there is currently no evidence the killing was racially motivated, but the investigation is ongoing.

Steven Vogel of Grinnell has been charged with first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse. Three other Grinnell residents—Julia Cox, Roy Lee Garner and Cody Johnson—were each charged with abuse of a corpse and accessory after the fact. Cox and Garner were additionally charged with destruction of evidence.

Adam DeCamp, special agent in charge with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, said Williams was killed, likely by strangulation, on approximately Sept. 12 in Grinnell.

A few days later, his body was set on fire in a ditch in Jasper County, where emergency responders found him on Sept. 16.

“Evidence and statements gathered during this investigation have shown the actions against Michael were not random,” DeCamp said. “Michael Williams and Steven Vogel were known acquaintances who often socialized within the same circles. 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 motivated by his race.”

DeCamp said the fire and other attempts to conceal evidence were not completely successful, as they were still able to determine Williams’ identity and find other evidence.

Criminal complaints that were filed include accounts from three witnesses who told law enforcement that Vogel killed Williams. DeCamp said the investigation is not complete, and anyone with more information should contact the DCI or Grinnell Police Department.

Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP, said she has been hearing from a lot of people concerned that Williams’ murder could be a racially motivated hate crime, and said she is taking those concerns seriously.

“It is understandable that having a body of an African-American man found burning in a small town in Iowa would raise several red flags and concerns,” Andrews said. “Because for many, it drums up images from a not too distant past of when Blacks brutally died at the hands of cowardly racist lynch mobs.”

Andrews said it’s especially concerning after police have killed George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Manuel Ellis, and other Black Americans.

“We understand the fear that an incident like this evokes in a state where the minority population is very small, but the racial disparities are vast,” Andrews said. “It is extremely important that this concern be addressed.”

She said she met with law enforcement officials Monday night and asked a lot of questions about their findings.

“Based on our understanding of the well-established relationship that the victim and suspects had, the accounts that were shared by the witnesses, the information relayed to us about the circumstances of the crime and from the medical examiner, and answers to the Q&A session we had with authorities, at this time, the NAACP sees no indication that Mr. Williams was targeted because of his race,” Andrews said.

Many of those details of the investigation have not been made public.

Andrews noted the investigation is ongoing, and the NAACP is open to new information and is open to revising her statement if needed. She said she joins Williams’ family in seeking justice for him.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter