University of Iowa Division of DEI, administrators acknowledge Michael Williams’ killing

The University of Iowa Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion acknowledged the death of Michael Williams, 44, an Iowan who was found burned in Grinnell on Sept. 16.


Hayden Froehlich

The Old Capitol building is seen on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019.

Alexandra Skores, Managing Editor

In an email to the University of Iowa community, the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion acknowledged the death of Iowan Michael Williams, a member of the Grinnell community, whose body was burned and discovered Sept. 16 in Jasper County.

The email, signed by 33 UI administrators, said the UI stands with peers from Grinnell College in acknowledging Williams’ violent death and in recognizing the long history of oppression of Black Americans. The college canceled classes on Monday, according to the student-run newspaper the Scarlet and Black, to hold community discussions after Williams was killed. Williams was 44 years old.

Four arrests were announced Sept. 22. Steven Vogel, 31, was charged with one count of murder in the first degree, a class A felony, and abuse of a corpse, a class D felony. Vogel is currently at Marshall County Jail.

Julia Cox, 55, and Roy Lee Garner, 57, were charged with one count of abuse of a corpse, destruction of evidence, and accessory after the fact. Cody Johnson, 29, was charged with abuse of a corpse and accessory after the fact. Cox, Garner, and Johnson are all being held at the Poweshiek County Jail.

Photo of Michael Williams from the GoFundMe page

Evidence and statements gathered during this investigation have shown that Williams and Vogel were known acquaintances who often socialized with the same circle of friends, according to a press release from the Iowa Department of Public Safety. The release said the investigation has revealed no evidence to show the acts against Williams were motivated by race or that his death was the result of a hate crime.

Jasper County deputies and the Kellogg volunteer firefighters were dispatched to the 8100 block of N. 67th Avenue E, near Mariposa County Park in Grinnell at about 5:30 p.m. Emergency personnel found an active fire in the north ditch, quickly identifying a human body burning in the north ditch.

Examination of the scene led investigators to believe the victim died as a result of a homicide. Williams was identified through scientific methods by the Office of the State Medical Examiner and the DCI Criminalistics Laboratory.

Officials believe Williams was killed in Grinnell on or near Sept. 12. His body was wrapped in plastic and cloth, secured with rope and tape. He was then transported to Kellogg on Sept. 16 where his body was set on fire.

In a live-streamed news conference on Tuesday, investigators said the killing wasn’t random, but there was no evidence Williams was killed because of his race.

“Hate has no place in our state, on our campus, or in our country,” the university email said. “While any act of brutality is horrific and inexcusable, we recognize that this incident is especially distressful for our students, faculty, and staff of color.”

Williams is survived by his parents, five siblings, five children, and one granddaughter.

The homicide investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information is being asked to contact the Grinnell Police Department at 641-623-5679, the Division of Criminal Investigation at 515-725-6010, or the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office at 641-792-5912.

In a GoFundMe page organized by Williams’ mother Powell Mejias, she called Williams a “gentle giant.”

“Mike was a big man! He was a loving man, that loved his children and extended family. Michael was the life of the party and loved to dance. He did not deserve to be treated like this! He was our Gentle Giant!”