West Allis man arrested in connection with suitcase bodies

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Andrea Anderson
Wednesday, June 25, 2014

WEST ALLIS—A West Allis man was arrested Wednesday in connection with two female bodies found in two suitcases in the town of Geneva earlier this month.

Law enforcement identified one of the bodies as Laura Simonson, 37, of Farmington, Minnesota.

Steven M. Zelich, 52, was taken into custody Wednesday, according to a town of Geneva Police Department news release.

Officials “came in contact” with Zelich at 10:45 a.m., Walworth County Undersheriff Kurt Picknell said. Picknell could not say where and when Zelich was arrested and why he is a suspect.

He could also not say what Zelich's occupation is because it is “unique to the investigation right now.”

Investigators from the Town of Geneva Police Department and the sheriff's office were canvassing a West Allis neighborhood as part of their investigation, Picknell said.

Authorities were working with West Allis police in the block of West Lincoln Avenue between South 80th and South 81st streets.

He said information about Zelich's connection with the two women “will certainly be coming out in the future.” Authorities followed leads and evidence that lead them to Zelich, he said.

Simonson was reported missing by her mother Nov. 22, 2013, the release states. She was a mother of eight children, according the obituary of her 13-year-old daughter, who died in June 2013.

Earlier autopsies determined one of the victims was a woman and the other was a female and likely an adult.

Authorities released more details Wednesday about the second female found.

According to the release, the unidentified female is possibly white, between ages 15 and 35, between 5-feet 2-inches and 5-feet and 4-inches tall. She weighs 120 to 140 pounds and has long, straight dark brown or black hair.

She reportedly has an overbite, crooked lower teeth, two piercings in each ear and quarter-sized heart tattoo on the abdomen or pelvic area on the left side of her body.

The bodies were found June 5 about midway between Elkhorn and Lake Geneva. Cornfields line the road.

A town highway worker mowing in the area discovered the suitcases early that afternoon. The worker moved the suitcases to the side of the road to be picked the next morning, town of Geneva police Chief Steven Hurley said previously.

 A local resident, Dan Sojka, called police later Thursday to report the suitcases beside the road. The suitcases—one pink and one black—were “bulging” and were about 30 inches tall and maybe 24 inches wide, Sojka said previously.

Hurley said previously that investigators think the women were brought to the area from another location in what he called an “isolated incident.” He said the incident did not occur where the suitcases were found and that residents are safe, but he declined to say why.

In Wednesday's release, Hurley wrote “there is no danger” to West Allis residents.

Felicia Sopa lives in the same building as Zelich at 8011 W. Lincoln Ave.

She said officials were moving in and out of the residence of a man she estimates to be in his 50s. Sopa last saw the man when she left for work around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.

A friend staying with Sopa, Kelly Lopez, said workers dressed in white hazmat suits were placing objects from the apartment into brown paper lawn bags and carrying the bags to a crime scene vehicle parked outside. Lopez said officials tore down the door to the man's apartment Wednesday morning when nobody answered.

Throughout the investigation, officials have been tight lipped about what is being investigated and its progress, citing the ongoing investigation.

Town of Geneva police hoped to provide more information late last week, but they since were told that the lab results could take up to two more weeks, Hurley said Tuesday.

Evidence, including DNA and environmental samples, is still being analyzed, he said.

It's premature to talk about Zelich's potential charges and what court would have jurisdiction, Picknell said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Walworth County Sheriff's Office, the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigations, West Allis Police Department and other law enforcement agencies are assisting the Town of Geneva Police Department with the investigation.

— Material from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was used in this report.

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