Four suspects have been arrested in connection to the death of Michael Williams, a Black man whose body was found burning in a ditch last week in rural Iowa, CNN reports.
All of the suspects involved in the case are white. However, the Iowa Department of Public Safety released a statement saying that there is no evidence to show that this homicide was the result of a hate crime.
“I want to be clear to say, this was not a random act of violence,” Grinnell Police Chief Dennis Reilly said, according to NBC News. “Those responsible for this heinous act, they knew each other. They were associates. They hung out together. Mike was part of their circle.”
Steven Vogel, 31; Julia Cox, 55 who is Vogel’s mother; Roy Lee Garner, 57; and Cody Johnson, 29, all of Grinnell, Iowa, are now facing multiple charges, CNN reports.
Vogel was already in custody at Marshall County Jail, on unrelated charges, and is now also facing charges of first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse. Cox and Garner are each facing one count of abuse of a corpse, destruction of evidence and accessory after the fact. Johnson was charged with abuse of a corpse and accessory after the fact.
According to documents, Williams and Vogel had known each other for years, CNN reports. A witness told law enforcement that Vogel strangled Williams. Another witness reported that Williams’s body was seen wrapped up in the basement of Vogel’s mother’s house.
Cox told investigators that she was aware that there was a “long object” covered in a blanket in the basement where she lived; and that she helped Vogel take the object out to the back of a pickup on Wednesday of last week before Vogel put the object in a ditch, an affidavit noted. Documents say that Garner drove the truck and dropped Vogel off in another town before he and Cox drove to another rural area, where they discarded items from the back of the truck into a ditch. Those items, which were recovered by police, included plywood, carpet, bleach bottles, rubber gloves and a receipt in Vogel’s name, the affidavit noted.
Johnson told police that he went to Vogel’s house on Sept. 13, when they tried to move Williams’s body from the basement.
In the end, Williams’s body was found in a roadside ditch near Kellogg, Iowa, wrapped in cloth and plastic and tied off with rope and tape.
Williams’s family had been trying to get him to move back to his native Syracuse, New York, for decades. But now they are left with only questions about what happened to the “gentle giant” who’d left home to prove he could be on his own.
“All we wanted was for him to come home. Now we have to bring him home in the worst possible state,” Williams’s aunt, Paula Terrell, told the Register. “We will fight for justice. This is our family’s mission, no matter what—we will fight for his legacy to be remembered as who he was: a loving, kind, gentle giant who loved his family, who loved his children.”