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Officials identify Jenny Gamez as second woman found in suitcase

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Andrea Anderson
June 30, 2014

ELKHORN--Officials have identified the second woman found dead in a suitcase along a town of Geneva road in June as woman from the state of Oregon.

Jenny Gamez of Cottage Grove, Oregon, was identified using dental records, an official said at a news conference Monday afternoon.

Gamez's naked body was found June 5 stuffed in a suitcase along North Como Road. Her body was partially covered by garbage bags. Her hands were bound behind her back with rope, according to a criminal complaint.

The identification of the second woman comes after Steven Zelich, 52, of West Allis was arrested Wednesday and charged Thursday with two counts of hiding a corpse. A highway worker discovered the two suitcases while cutting grass.

Zelich told investigators he was involved in both women's deaths, the criminal complaint states. His attorney, Travis Schwantes, suggested the deaths might have occurred accidentally during consensual sex.

Gamez, 21, disappeared in 2012, according to police in Cottage Grove, Oregon. Cottage Grove is about 25 minutes from Eugene.

Steven Hurley, town of Geneva police chief, said Monday that Gamez's body was, in part, harder to identify because she was never officially reported missing. She allegedly told family she was moving. The family thought she was moving on with her life, he said.

The other victim, Laura Simonson, 37, of Farmington, Minnesota, was identified publicly Wednesday. Family reported her missing Nov. 22. She also was identified by dental records.

"We send out our condolences to the families of both Laura and Jenny," Hurley said. "Through this investigation, it's our hope we can help bring some closure to their families."

Both women were found intact and in "standard-size" suitcases, Walworth County Undersheriff Kurt Picknell said Monday.

Gamez's family and friends described her as a happy, positive person to KEZI-TV in Oregon. She was reportedly a mother of one.

What led police to ask for Gamez's dental records will not be made public at this time, Picknell said.

Cpl. Conrad Gagner of the Cottage Grove police and a family member told KEZI-TV that the tattoo described on the formerly unidentified body matches one on Gamez. 

Zelich, a security officer, met the women online, killed them, stored their bodies in suitcases and left the suitcases along the road in early June, police say.

He said he killed the first woman, now identified as Gamez, in late 2012 or early 2013 when they first met in Kenosha County, court records show. Picknell anticipates more information on the exact time of Gamez's death in the near future.

Zelich also said he killed Simonson in early November in Rochester, Minnesota.

Zelich checked into a Microtel Inn in Rochester with Simonson on Nov. 2. He left Nov. 3. Simonson wasn't seen after Nov. 2, Rochester police said earlier.

Simonson's family believed she was with Zelich from the beginning.

West Allis police interviewed Zelich in January about Simonson. They searched his apartment but did not find any sign of her, the Associated Press reported.

On Monday, West Allis Police Chief Charles Padgett said officers made contact with Zelich after Minnesota authorities requested it, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Investigators searched Zelich's West Allis apartment Wednesday, carrying out a kitchen appliance and paper bags full of evidence.

Authorities at the press conference would not speculate on the causes of the deaths, their circumstances or the websites on which each woman met Zelich and directed all questions relating to the deaths to the Kenosha or Rochester police departments. 

Rochester police will take over Simonson's death investigation. Kenosha police will lead the Gamez investigation.

Hurley, describing the crimes as some of the more horrific he's investigated, reassured Walworth County residents that they are safe. Authorities can't find any ties between Zelich, the county and town of Geneva.

"There was no particular reason that we could come up with for why the town of Geneva was picked other than it was just a road that the individual perhaps decided to drive down," Hurley said.

Daniel Necci, Walworth County district attorney, expects homicide charges to be filed in the counties where the women were killed.

When asked if there were other victims, Picknell said it was too early to say.

"I think we leave that question wide open for right now," Picknell said.

Zelich is being held on a $1 million bond at the Walworth County Jail. He is in segregation from the other inmates for his safety and the safety of others. He is not on suicide watch and "has not been an issue or problem for us," Picknell said.

Zelich worked for the West Allis Police Department from 1989 to 2001. In 2001, Zelich was forced to resign after an off-duty altercation with a prostitute, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. 



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