Zelich case moves forward

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Margaret Plevak | July 3, 2014

ELKHORN—A 52-year-old former police officer charged with hiding two corpses in suitcases and leaving them along a rural road in the town of Geneva told investigators he accidentally killed the two women while having sadomasochistic sex with them, a Walworth County detective testified Thursday, July 3, 2014.

TV station cameras and reporters' mobile phones were clicking as soon as Steven Zelich entered the courtroom accompanied by two Walworth County sheriff's deputies for his preliminary hearing Thursday. Wearing an orange jumpsuit, his feet shackled, Zelich sat quietly throughout the hearing beside his defense attorney, Travis Schwankes.

For a video of court proceedings and a related blog on the case, see: http://www.communityshoppers.com/Video-Absent-more-serious-charges-Zelich-case-moves-forward

Walworth County Detective Jeffrey Recknagel, a 27-year veteran of law enforcement, testified for the prosecution. Recknagel was one of the first officials on the scene after Geneva Police Officer Eric Anderson discovered the bodies in the suitcases along N. Como Road on June 5. Anderson had been alerted to the cases after a highway worker preparing to cut grass along the road spotted them.  

Recknagel said one victim, identified as Laura Simonson of Rochester, Minnesota, was found naked with a ball gag in her mouth and a collar around her neck. The second victim, identified as Jenny Gamez of Cottage Grove, Oregon, was found wrapped in a garbage bag. Recknagel said both bodies were in an advanced state of decomposition, and that Walworth County Deputy Coroner Ron Wilson told him the women had been deceased for more than several days.

Recknagel said Zelich told authorities during questioning that he had met both women on online chat room websites devoted to bondage, domination, sadomasochistic sex.
Zelich said that he and Gazmez agreed to meet at a hotel in Kenosha County in 2012, and Simonson at a Rochester, Minnesota hotel in 2013. In both instances, Zelich told authorities he caused the women's deaths while they were having BDSM sex, but that it was accidental.

Zelich told authorities he put both women's bodies in suitcases, transferring them to the trunk of his car, and transporting them to his West Allis apartment.

Schwankes argued that  his client did not mean to cause their deaths, and Zelich wasn't hiding a crime. Instead, Zelich actually meant the bodies to be found, since he left them on a road that was just south of the junction with Interstate 43 and U.S. Highway 12, and a quarter mile north of the Geneva police station, municipal court and township hall, Schwankes said.

“The sun rose on June 5 and (the cases) were discovered, found by a highway worker cutting the grass,” Schwankes said.

Walworth County District Attorney Daniel Necci argued that Como Road was located in a rural area of Geneva, with little traffic, few homes nearby, and farm fields on both side of the road where the cases were found. 

Walworth County Circuit Court Judge Phillip Koss agreed with the prosecution, saying the suitcases could have been left on a busy highway in West Allis or the hotels where the victims died if he wanted them to be found.

“Reasonable inferences show clearly they were hidden,” Koss said.”If there's purely no crime, I'm not sure why one doesn't call 911 immediately. But beyond that, if there's no crime, there's no need for these to be hid at all.” 

A plea hearing for Zelich is schedule at 1:15 p.m. on Thursday, July 17, at the Walworth County Judicial Center.

In a press conference after the hearing, Necci  said he had no information on when Zelich might face charges in Kenosha County or Olmstead County, Minnesota.


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