Ex-cop pleads guilty to murdering Oregon woman found in suitcase

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 25, 2016 1:50 PM

By Brendan O'Brien

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - A former Wisconsin police officer accused of killing two women, stuffing their bodies into suitcases and dumping them on a rural road pleaded guilty on Monday to murder in one of the cases, online court records showed.

Steven Zelich, 54, entered guilty pleas in Kenosha County Circuit Court to charges of first-degree reckless homicide with use of a dangerous weapon and hiding a corpse. He was accused in that Wisconsin county of killing an Oregon woman and hiding her body in a suitcase, according to court documents.

He faces up to 75 years in prison when he is sentenced on March 30, said Michael Graveley, the deputy district attorney in Kenosha County.

"We know that there is behavior here that is extremely dangerous and this was the surest way to be sure that Steven Zelich was not going to be able to end anybody else's life," Graveley said.

Zelich's attorney was not immediately available for comment.

Kenosha is one of the two counties where, authorities said, Zelich told police he had killed 21-year-old Jenny Gamez, of Cottage Grove, Oregon, and 37-year-old Laura Simonson, accidentally during sexual encounters.

Authorities believe Zelich met both women online, killing Gamez during a bondage session at a hotel in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in late 2012 or early 2013 and Simonson at a hotel in Rochester, Minnesota, in November 2013.

Zelich is accused of keeping the two corpses in suitcases at his apartment in a Milwaukee suburb, where he was a police officer until 2001, as well as in the truck of his vehicle before he dumping them, court documents showed.

The suitcases containing the bodies were found in Walworth County, Wisconsin, in June 2014.

Zelich was charged in that county with two felony counts of hiding a corpse.

Additionally, he was charged with first-degree murder in Simonson's death, according to court documents in Olmsted County, Minnesota, which includes Rochester.

When his sentencing is complete in Wisconsin, Zelich will be tried in Minnesota, Olmsted County Attorney Mark Ostrem said.

(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Paul Simao)