Steven Zelich confessed in suitcase bodies case, criminal complaint says

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Andrea Anderson and Frank Schultz
Thursday, June 26, 2014

ELKHORN—Steven Zelich told police he met two women online, killed them and later left their bodies in suitcases in a ditch along a Walworth County road, according to a criminal complaint filed Thursday.

Zelich, 52, West Allis, said he met the first woman, who remains unidentified, through an online dating website in 2012 and met her in person in late 2012 or early 2013 in Kenosha County.

It was at their first meeting that Zelich killed her, according to the complaint.

Zelich told officers he hid her body in a suitcase at his apartment, later hiding it in his car.

The West Allis man was arrested Wednesday in connection with two female bodies found in two suitcases along North Como Road in town of Geneva on June 5. The complaint filed Thursday charges him with two counts of hiding a corpse.

Zelich also admitted being involved in the death of Laura Simonson, according to the complaint.

Zelich said he met Simonson online and then met her in person in November 2013 in Rochester, Minnesota, where he killed her, put her into a suitcase and put the suitcase into his vehicle, according to the complaint.

Rochester police said investigators are looking into questions about whether Zelich was involved in sexual bondage.

Simonson was found naked, with a rope around her neck and a sexual ball gag strapped into her mouth with a collar, the complaint states. The other woman's hands were bound behind her back with rope.

Dental records were used to identify Simonson, 37, of Farmington, Minnesota.

Zelich told police he dumped the bodies in the suitcases along the town of Geneva road during the first week of June 2014, according to the complaint.

The suitcases were found by a worker mowing along North Como Road on June 5.

When found, the bodies showed “obvious signs of decomposition” indicating both victims were dead for “a long period of time,” according to the criminal complaint.

Zelich was arrested at his West Allis apartment.

Investigators searched the apartment Wednesday and carried out large, brown paper bags as well as a refrigerator.

Asked if investigators are looking into whether any other bodies or disappearances might be linked to  Zelich,  Walworth  County Undersheriff Kurt Picknell said: “There is a wide view to see if there are any other activities that have taken place. That is part of the ongoing investigation.”

Simonson's family reported her missing Nov. 22. She was identified Wednesday as one of the women found inside suitcases.

Authorities have not released the identity of the second woman, but Wisconsin investigators have a tentative identity, Rochester police Lt. Casey Moilanen told The Gazette.

Picknell said investigators still are working to confirm the second woman's identity.

Zelich was transferred at about 4 a.m. Thursday to the Walworth County Jail. He was scheduled to appear in court Friday via video from the jail, according to a brief sheriff's office news release.

Zelich is not on a suicide watch, Picknell said.

Picknell said there is “reasonable potential” that Zelich could be arrested on other charges related to the deaths.

West Allis Police Chief Charles Padgett said in a statement Thursday that Zelich resigned 13 years ago after 12 years on the force.

Town Police Chief Steven Hurley has said local residents have no reason to fear and that the crime did not occur where the bodies were located.

Person of interest

Simonson was last seen Nov. 2, 2013, in Rochester, when she stayed at a Microtel Inn with Zelich, police there said.

Police theorize that Zelich drove to Farmington to meet her and stayed the night in Rochester on his way back to Wisconsin, Moilanen said.

Simonson, the mother of seven children, went with Zelich willingly, said Detective Sgt. Lee Hollatz of the Farmington Police Department.

Hollatz said he identified Zelich as a person of interest in Simonson's disappearance in January but never found any reason to have him arrested.

Simonson had struggled with mental illness, and Hollatz believed she was vulnerable.

Hollatz said he asked West Allis police to visit Zelich's apartment, but there was no sign of her. Hollatz sent Zelich a letter asking him to contact Hollatz but got no response.

The FBI and Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation joined the case and interviewed Zelich, but Simonson's whereabouts remained unknown. Zelich remained a person of interest, Hollatz said.

“My goal was to bring home Laura Simonson. Well, it looks like we will be bringing her home, but not the way we wanted to,” Hollatz said.

Motel workers identified Simonson from a photo and said she stayed there with Zelich on Nov. 2 and 3.

Zelich registered under an assumed name but was identified through surveillance camera footage, and Zelich admitted being there, Moilanen said.

An ad placed by “family and friends” of Simonson appeared on SecondCityClassifieds.com after she was reported missing. The ad claims Simonson was mentally disabled and links Zelich to sadomasochistic web forums.

Moilanen acknowledged police are looking into that aspect of the case.

Picknell would not confirm that but added: “Certainly as a wide scope of our investigation, anything would be investigated.”

 The ad provided a cellphone number for Zelich, which matches a contact number on the website for LegalShield. Zelich works for the company as an independent contractor, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Zelich is a licensed private security officer who has worked for Securitas Security Services USA since June 28, 2007, according to the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services, the Journal Sentinel reported.

Simonson's father, Richard Wierson, told the Journal Sentinel his daughter had struggled with mental illness since adolescence. He said he was unaware of the ad.

Simonson, who had sought work as an escort through postings on Craigslist, had seven children, Wierson said. They were placed in foster care with him in 2010, he told the Journal Sentinel.

Picknell said he expected to turn over some investigative materials to the district attorney Thursday in preparation for a bail hearing Friday.

Moilanen said Rochester police still are investigating Simonson's death.

“There's still a lot of things we're looking into,” he said.

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