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Zelich told detective deaths were accidental

Steven Zelich walks into a Walworth County courtroom for his preliminary hearing Thursday, July 3. The former police officer has been charged with hiding a corpse in Walworth County after the bodies of two woman were found stuffed in suitcases deposited along a North Como Road. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

July 03, 2014 | 12:19 PM
ELKHORN — Steven Zelich allegedly told a Walworth County Sheriff’s detective that he accidentally killed the two women who were found in suitcases on North Como Road during a BDSM session.

Zelich said that he met both women on an online chat site for those with BDSM interests. BDSM stands for bondage, domination and sadomasochism. Zelich had been previously linked to a sadomasochism forum in which his user name is Mr. Handcuff.

Zelich, a 52-year-old former police officer from West Allis, has been charged with two counts of hiding a corpse in Walworth County. 

During a preliminary hearing on Thursday morning, Detective Jeffrey Recknagel testified that he questioned Zelich on June 25 about the two suitcases and the two women who were inside of them.

On a chat forum, Zelich met then 19-year-old Jenny Gamez of Cottage Grove, Ore. The two met in person in late 2012 or early 2013 at a hotel in Kenosha County, according to the criminal complaint.

Recknagel testified that Zelich told him he and Gamez spent several days at the hotel.

“On a Sunday, they participated in a BDSM session,” Recknagel said. “During that session he ultimately took her life.”

After Gamez died, Zelich told Recknagel he transported Gamez back to his apartment in the suitcase.

Zelich told Recknagel that he also met Laura Simonson, 37, of Farmington, Minn., on a BDSM chat site, and in person at a hotel in Rochester, Minn.

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At the hotel, the two participated in BDSM activities, and on a Sunday, during their last day at the hotel, they participated in a final BDSM session.

After killing Simonson, Zelich placed her body in a suitcase and transported it to West Allis.

“He told me he was storing the bodies in the trunk of his vehicle and that the smell was so strong that he decided he had to get rid of them,” Recknagel testified.

The bodies were discovered when highway workers cut the grass on North Como Road.

During a press conference on Monday, Undersheriff Kurt Picknell said the suitcases were “standard-sized” and that the bodies were intact.

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Inside of the suitcases law enforcement found the decomposing bodies.

“The first suitcase had an adult woman, she was naked and a gag ball in her mouth that was attached by a collar,” Recknagel testified. “The second person, an adult female, she was in a plastic garbage bag with her hands tied behind her back.”

At the scene, Deputy Coroner Ron Wilson told Recknagel that the two women were deceased “for more than several days,” Recknagel said.


Zelich’s attorney, public defender Travis Schwantes, questioned whether the bodies were actually “hidden.”

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He also argued that an element of the charge — hiding a corpse — requires the intent of concealing a crime.

“When a death occurs it doesn’t mean its premeditated,” Schwantes said. “If it’s not reckless and it’s not intentional than it’s not a crime.”

He also argued that although North Como Road is a rural road, it is also located nearby County Highway H, the town of Geneva police department and the intersection of Interstate 43 and U.S. Highway 12.

“It’s more likely that he placed them on the side of the road to be discovered,” Schwantes said.

According to the criminal complaint, Zelich told law enforcement that he placed the suitcases on the side of the road during the first week of June. During cross-examination, Schwantes suggested that Zelich placed the suitcases at the location on June 4.

“As soon as the sun rose on June 5 they were discovered,” Schwantes said.

Judge Phillip Koss dismissed Schwantes theory that the suitcases were placed on North Como Road to be found.

“These were not placed to be found, they could have been placed on Highway 100 in Milwaukee or West Allis or in left in the hotel room,” Koss said.

He also said that if there wasn’t a crime, there was no reason for Zelich to conceal the bodies.

“It’s not likely for this to be accidental when it happens two times,” Koss said. During the hearing, Koss said he found enough evidence to bind Zelich over for trial.

Zelich is due back in court for an arraignment on July 17. As of Thursday morning, Zelich has not been charged with homicide.

If homicide charges are filed, they will be filed in Kenosha County or Olmsted County, Minn.


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