Iowa police arrest four after body of man found burning in a ditch
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Iowa police arrested four people on Tuesday in connection to the death of a man whose body was found burning in a ditch.

Law enforcement has charged the individuals after the body of Michael Williams, a 44-year-old Black man, was found last week in Kellogg, Iowa, according to an Iowa Department of Public Safety statement.

Authorities arrested Steven Vogel, 31, and charged him with first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse. He is being kept at the Marshall County Jail where he had already been in custody on unrelated charges.

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Julia Cox, 55, Roy Lee Garner, 57, and Cody Johnson, 29, were also arrested and are accused of abusing a corpse, destroying evidence and being an accessory after the fact, police said. All three are at Poweshiek County Jail.

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, the Grinnell Police Department and the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office announced the charges during a Tuesday press conference. 

Williams’s body was found after police responded to a ditch fire at about 5:30 p.m. last Wednesday. Officers identified the burning item as a human body and attempted to extinguish the fire while preserving evidence for an investigation. 

Law enforcement classified the investigation as a homicide and identified the body over the weekend as belonging to Williams, according to a Facebook post

In the last week, concerns have mounted in the Grinnell area as speculation grew about Williams’s death being a hate crime. But during Tuesday’s press conference, law enforcement said there is no evidence Williams’s death was “motivated by race.”

“Evidence and statements gathered during this investigation have shown that Mr. Williams and Vogel were known acquaintances who often socialized within the same circle of friends,” the Iowa Department of Public Safety release said. “The investigation has revealed no evidence to show the acts against Michael Williams were motivated by his race nor that his death was the result of a hate crime.”

Police believe Williams was killed on or about Sept. 12, and his body was wrapped in cloth and plastic and secured with rope and tape. His body was taken to Kellogg on Sept. 16 and set on fire. The Office of the State Medical Examiner said the cause of death was consistent with strangulation.

Friends of the Williams family launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for expenses that may come out of an investigation and burial, in addition to living and transportation costs for his children. The goal of $10,000 was met in less than a day before it was upped to $35,000. 

Nearby Grinnell College canceled its classes on Monday after Williams’s death “to recommit ourselves to equity and inclusion and to recognize the violent loss of one of our community,” college President Anne Harris and Chief Diversity Officer Schvalla Rivera said in a statement.

"This stark and brutal murder in the national context of racial injustice has struck intense fear for safety of our Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) colleagues, friends, and families," they said. "National context has become local experience. The investigation is underway to bring justice to Mr. Williams and his family."