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|Simonson (click for larger version)|
|An artist rendering of the unidentified women (click for larger version)|
June 27, 2014 | 01:28 PMELKHORN — Judge David Reddy set a $1 million cash bond for the suspect in the deaths of two women whose bodies were found in separate suitcases on June 5 on North Como Road, town of Geneva.
In Walworth County, Steven M. Zelich has been charged with two counts of hiding a corpse. During Friday afternoon's bail hearing, District Attorney Daniel Necci said prosecutors in Kenosha County and Olmsted County, Minn., are considering homicide charges.
After the hearing, when swarmed by reporters, Necci said the charges Zelich is facing in Walworth County are "small potatoes" compared to what he could face in other jurisdictions. He added that he wouldn't object to Zelich being extradited to face different charges.
Zelich, 52, of West Allis, is a former police officer and allegedly confessed to a Walworth County Sheriff's Detective that he "caused the deaths" of the two women who were found in the suitcases.
Through dental records, police identified one woman as Laura J. Simonson, 37, of Farmington, Minn. The other woman hasn't been identified and is listed in the criminal complaint as Jane Doe.
During the hearing, Public Defender Travis Schwantes asked Reddy to set a $50,000 signature bond with a $1,000 cash component.
"There are no homicide charges before us at this point," Schwantes said. Schwantes said Zelich is facing two counts of hiding a corpse and asked that bond be set on those charges.
Schwantes added that Zelich only has ties to southeastern Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Zelich said nothing during his appearance. He appeared through video from the Walworth County jail.
Zelich is next scheduled to appear on July 3 for a preliminary hearing in front of Judge Phillip Koss.
After the hearing, when being questioned by reporters, Necci revealed no new details about the actual alleged crimes and what lead police to Zelich's arrest.
During an interview with police, Zelich allegedly told Walworth County Sheriff's Detective Jeffrey Recknagel that one of the women died in late 2012 or early 2013, and Simonson died in November 2013.
According to the criminal complaint, Zelich told Recknagel that he met one of the women, who is referred to in the complaint as Jane Doe, via an online chatting site in 2012.
Zelich told Recknagel that he met Jane Doe in person in late 2012 or early 2013 in Kenosha County. During that meeting, Zelich told Recknagel "that he caused the death of that woman," according to the complaint.
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Zelich told police that he hid Jane Doe's body inside of a suitcase at his home, and then in 2014 he hid it in his car.
He also told Recknagel that he met Simonson online and met her in person in November 2013 in Rochester, Minn. He told Recknagel that during that meeting he caused Simonson's death, put her in a suitcase and hid her body.
Zelich told Recknagel that he dropped the suitcases off in the town of Geneva in tall grass during the first week of June.
At about 3 p.m. on June 5, employees with the town of Geneva Highway Department were cutting the grass along North Como Road, near County Highway H.
"One of the highway employees observed two suitcases in long grass in the ditch area," according to a June 6 press release. "The suitcases were placed at the side of the road to allow the grass to be cut."
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A citizen called to report the suitcases sitting along the side of the road.
"Officers responded to the location and after opening the suitcases discovered two bodies, one in each suitcase," the press release states. Autopsies were conducted by the Waukesha County Medical Examiner's Office.
The criminal complaint states that the bodies showed obvious signs of decomposition, "indicating both deceased subjects had been deceased for a long period of time."
According to the Associated Press, West Allis Police Chief Charles Padgett said in a statement Thursday Zelich was appointed to his position in 1989. He worked for 12 years and resigned in 2001.
The statement doesn't elaborate on why the man resigned. Padgett says he's not at liberty to release further details, according to the Associated Press.
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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, citing police sources, has reported that Zelich was forced to resign from the West Allis police department in 2001 after an off-duty altercation with a prostitute.
According to a report by Minnesota Post Bulletin, Rochester, Minn., police Capt. John Sherwin says police believe Simonson was killed at a Rochester hotel, the Microtel Inn and Suites by Wyndham, because she checked in with Zelich on Nov. 2. He left alone the next day. Three weeks later Simonson's family filed a missing persons report.
Sherwin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that on June 24 police obtained physical evidence that linked Zelich to the bodies.
On June 25, detectives wearing hazmat suits removed large, brown bags of evidence and a refrigerator from the man's apartment in West Allis.
Zelich has also been connected to a number of sadomasochistic websites.
An ad on secondcityclassifieds.com states that Simonson was being held by Zelich and the ad was posted by, "Laura Simonson's family and friends." It was unclear when the ad was posted.
"He keeps her naked, handcuffed, shackled, and caged," the ad states. "He has no intention of ever releasing this poor woman who suffers from various mental disabilities."
The ad encourages people to call Zelich and it lists his phone number and email address. The email address appears on a Yahoo forum for those with sadomasochistic interests.
According to the complaint, Jane Doe was discovered partially concealed in black plastic garbage bags with her hands bound behind her back. There was also evidence of sadomasochistic restraints on Simonson's body.