The body of a Syracuse native was set on fire last week and left burning in an Iowa ditch. Police said the man, Michael Williams, had been murdered.
44-year-old Michael, who grew up in Syracuse, was killed in Grinnell, Iowa — the city where he now lived, said the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.
Four people were arrested September 22, 2020 in connection with the homicide. Investigators said the death of Williams, a Black man, does not appear to be a hate crime or race related.
Michael was strangled on or about September 12, investigators said in a news release. Four days later, his body — wrapped in a plastic and cloth tied shut with rope and tape — was brought to a rural area, dumped in a ditch and set on fire, investigators said.
His family is working to bring him to Syracuse, the city where he was born, to be buried.
Words From The Family
In a post on GoFundMe, his mother talked about her son. She said he was a big man who loved his children, his family and dancing.
“He did not deserve to be treated like this!” his mom wrote. “He was our Gentle Giant!”
Some Grinnell residents feared Michael was targeted because he was Black. That fear led Grinnell College to cancel classes.
“The circumstances surrounding Mr. Williams’ death and the limited facts revealed about the discovery of this crime have, understandably, caused concern within the Grinnell community and beyond,” investigators said, acknowledging the community’s fears.
Four people have been charged in connection with the murder of Michael Williams, a Syracuse native, and the burning of his body in Iowa. The defendants, pictured from left to right, are: Steven Vogel, Julia Cox, Roy Lee Garner and Cody Johnson.Provided
But investigators said Michael and Steven Vogel, the man accused of killing him, were acquaintances and often hung out with the same group of friends.
Vogel, 31, of Grinnell, has been charged with first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse. He remains in the Marshall County Jail, where he was already being held for unrelated charges.
Three other people — Julia Cox, 55; Roy Lee Garner, 57; and Cody Johnson, 29; all of Grinnell — have been accused of helping Vogel. The three have been charged with abuse of a corpse, destruction of evidence and accessory after the fact. They are being held at the Poweshiek County Jail.
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