Steven Zelich pleads not guilty to hiding two bodies in suitcases

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Andrea Anderson
Thursday, July 17, 2014

ELKHORN—The attorney of the man suspected of killing two women then hiding their bodies in suitcases along a Walworth County road said evidence doesn't point to more victims.

"There is no inclination whatsoever" to indicate more victims to be found, Travis Schwantes, Zelich's attorney, said Thursday.

Steven Zelich, 52, West Allis, pleaded not guilty to two counts of hiding a corpse Thursday afternoon.

District Attorney Dan Necci said the not guilty pleas were expected and will continue to build his case.

Zelich was arrested June 25 in connection to the women's deaths. He told investigators the deaths were accidental, a Walworth County sheriff's detective testified at a preliminary hearing July 3.

Schwantes maintains the deaths were accidental and occurred after consensual sex at hotels in Rochester, Minnesota, and Kenosha.

On Thursday morning, Schwantes received stacks of papers from authorities documenting the investigation. From what he read, all evidence points to the deaths of the women as being accidental, he said.

"There's a lot that we don't know, but what we do know points to the deaths being caused by people meeting in a hotel room and something going awry after consensual activity," he said Thursday afternoon.

At the July 3 preliminary hearing, Schwantes argued probable cause didn't exist because Zelich placed the bodies in the town of Geneva near a police station to be found.

The two suitcases, each with a body inside, were found June 5 along North Como Road in the town of Geneva.

Zelich admitted causing the deaths of Laura Simonson and Jenny Gamez and admitted to ditching the bodies along the road the first week of June, Detective Jeff Recknagel testified earlier.

The bodies were intact and "in a bad state of composition," Walworth County officials said earlier.

Simonson, 37, of Farmington, Minnesota, was found naked in one suitcases with a gag in her mouth and rope around her neck. In the other suitcases was Gamez, 21, of Cottage Grove, Oregon. Her naked body was partially covered by garbage bags and her hands were tied behind her back with a rope.

Zelich appeared via video for Thursday's arraignment. He wore an orange jumpsuit and sat with his hands folded and staring straight ahead.

The West Allis man told investigators he met both women through bondage websites and used the websites' chat rooms to schedule in-person meetings.

Zelich met Gamez online in 2012 and later that year in person at a Kenosha hotel, Recknagel testified. Zelich met Simonson online in 2013 and in person at a hotel in Rochester, Minnesota, in November 2013. Zelich told investigators both women died during bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism sessions.

After each death, Zelich put the body in a suitcase and hid it at his apartment. He reportedly dumped the bodies a few days before they were found after the bodies began to smell, according to preliminary hearing testimony.

Zelich spent between eight and 10 hours with investigators the day he was arrested and provided information to investigators.

Zelich--a former West Allis police officer who's personnel records are riddled with three suspensions, four reprimands and harassment and intimidation of females--has not been charged for the deaths of the women in Olmsted County in Minnesota or Kenosha County.

Necci has been in contact with both counties' prosecutors and will assist in those investigations as needed.

Zelich has lawyers in Kenosha and Olmsted counties.

Zelich is being held at the Walworth County Jail on a $1 million cash bond.

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