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Arrest made in suitcase probe


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July 01, 2014 | 04:42 PM
ELKHORN — It's about a 45 minute drive between the location where two female bodies were found in separate suitcases along North Como Road and the suspect's West Allis apartment.

Authorities believe that during the first week of June, Steven Zelich, a 52-year-old former West Allis police officer, drove to the remote location on the rural road and left the suitcases containing bodies in the tall grass.

"There was no particular reason that we could come up with for why the town of Geneva was picked," Police Chief Steve Hurley said during a press conference on Monday. "Other than it was just a road that the individual perhaps decided to drive down. We can't find any ties or connection with Steven Zelich to the town of Geneva or Walworth County.

Police arrested Zelich on June 25, and announced that they identified one of the women found in the suitcases through dental records.

During police questioning, Zelich allegedly confessed to "causing the deaths" of both women, according to the criminal complaint that was filed on June 26.

The first victim was identified as Laura Simonson, a 37-year-old mother of seven from Farmington, Minn. Zelich told law enforcement that he met Simonson online and met her in person in Rochester, Minn., in November 2013. Rochester is about 60 miles south of Farmington and a more than four-hour drive from West Allis.

During questioning, Zelich reportedly admitted that during that meeting he caused Simonson's death, put her body in a suitcase and put it in his vehicle, according to the complaint.

"Laura and Mr. Zelich were not strangers. They had a previous relationship through the Internet. This was not something random where he picked her up off the street and kidnapped her and held her against her will," Rochester Police Capt. of Investigations John Sherwin said, according to a report from Fox 6.

On Monday, police identified the second victim as Jenny Gamez, of Cottage Grove, Ore.

During a press conference on Monday, police declined to say what led them to Gamez, but her identity was confirmed through dental records.

However, a source familiar with the case, said that Zelich pointed police toward Gamez on Wednesday night when he was arrested.

According to the criminal complaint, Zelich allegedly told authorities that he met Gamez, who in the complaint is identified as Jane Doe, online and in person in Kenosha in either late 2012 or early 2013, according to the criminal complaint.

During that meeting, Zelich allegedly caused Gamez's death, put her body in a suitcase and hid it in his home and in his car, according to the criminal complaint.

If that time line is correct, Gamez would have been 19 at the time of her death.

"Jenny was not officially reported missing. That's what took a little while," Hurley said.

"She had told her family she was moving and they thought perhaps she (had gone) on with her life."

In a week's time

On June 25, just before 4 p.m., police announced that Zelich was arrested and the Walworth County Sheriff's Department was at his West Allis apartment removing bags of evidence, which, according to various media reports, included a refrigerator.

The next day, Zelich was charged in Walworth County with two counts of hiding a corpse. Those are Class G felonies, which are punishable by up to 10 years of imprisonment and $25,000 in fines.

On Friday, Zelich made his first court appearance, where he appeared on video from the jail. During the appearance, Zelich was silent and his bond was set at $1 million by Judge David Reddy.

His public defender, Travis Schwantes, asked for a $50,000 cash bond with a $10,000 cash component. He said Zelich hadn't been charged with murder and his bond should reflect the charges he actually was facing.

"We'll know a lot more in a few weeks than we know now. It's premature to judge, even though I know people will," Schwantes said. "It hasn't been determined right now whether the deaths were intentionally caused or accidentally caused."

Schwantes added that "Mr. Zelich's cooperation with the investigations has been significant."

Schwantes said he has been assigned to represent Zelich in both Walworth and Kenosha counties.

In Minnesota, Chief Public Defender William Ward was assigned to represent Zelich.

Walworth County District Attorney Daniel Necci said that he expects prosecutors in Kenosha County and Olmsted County, Minn., to file homicide charges. Necci said the charges Zelich is facing in Walworth County are "small potatoes" compared to what he might face in other jurisdictions. He added that he wouldn't fight an extradition request.

Zelich is currently in the Walworth County jail in Elkhorn.

Undersheriff Kurt Picknell said Zelich has not been an issue or problem in the jail. He said that Zelich isn't under suicide watch, and that he is segregated from the other inmates. The segregation is for the safety of Zelich and the other inmates, Picknell said.

During Monday's press conference, when asked about other potential victims, Picknell responded, "I think we leave that question wide open for right now."

He also said it would be "premature" to answer a question about whether Zelich acted alone.

"What's known is that we have one in custody and the investigation continues...It's not determined yet," Picknell said.

About Zelich

Fox 6 has reported that Zelich had a profile on a sadomasochism web site, and that his username was Mr.Handcuffs.

On a website, Second City Classifieds, a posting states that Simonson was being held captive by Zelich.

It isn't clear when the post was added to the site, and it states that "Laura Simonson's family and friends," were the ones who posted it.

"She has been whipped and tortured by Steven Mark Zelich since Nov. 2, 2013," the ad states. "Laura is the mother of seven young children and has not been allowed by Steven to contact them in any way."

In January, West Allis police interviewed Zelich about Simonson and searched his apartment, according to a report from the Associated Press. The online ad provides a phone number and an email address for Zelich. The email address is linked to a Yahoo Forum for those with sadomasochism interests.

A post on the Master_B_Slave_Club forum in January is linked to that email. The poster writes that he is a man seeking permanent enslavement.

"I seek no limit no release enslavement, imprisonment, captivity, animalization...ideally in a farm/caged situation," the posting states. "If this level of control interests you, please feel free to make contact."

Another post asked if the posting was serious, and there was a quick response that it was. The criminal complaint states that Simonson's body was found in sadomasochism restraints, and that Gamez's body was found with her hands bound with rope behind her back.

Zelich worked for the West Allis Police Department from February 1989 until August 2001. His resignation came a few months after a prostitute told police the two had struggled when she tried to flee Zelich's home, according to the AP.

Zelich reportedly met the woman in a bar and went to his home, according to the AP. The woman attempted to leave when she thought she heard him get out handcuffs and the woman escaped after asking for a drink of water, the AP reports.

Zelich claimed to police the woman attempted to steal from him and there was a struggle when he attempted to get the money back, the AP reports. The suitcases containing the bodies of Simonson and Gamez were discovered when highway workers were cutting the grass on North Como Road.

The workers moved the suitcases to the side of the road.

Picknell said the bodies inside of the suitcases were intact and that the suitcases were "standard-sizes." Hurley said that in his 36 years of law enforcement experience, this has been one of the most "horrific crimes that he has been involved in."

Zelich is next scheduled to appear in Walworth County Court on Thursday at 10 a.m. for a preliminary hearing in front of Judge Phillip Koss.


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