ELKHORN, Wis. (AP) — A former police officer suspected in the deaths of two women whose bodies were found in suitcases dumped on a rural Wisconsin highway said he killed the women during separate meetings at hotels to have rough sex, a detective testified Thursday.
Steven Zelich, a 52-year-old security officer, has been charged with two counts of hiding a corpse in Walworth County, where the suitcases were found June 5 by highway workers cutting grass. Authorities there have said they expect homicide charges to be filed in the counties where the women died, but Zelich’s public defender Travis Schwantes said Thursday in court that the deaths were accidents that may not merit additional charges.
Judge Phillip Koss disagreed, saying the fact that Zelich hid the bodies, first in his home and car and then in tall grass along the road, indicated Zelich knew a crime had occurred.
“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, it’s not clear why these need to be hid at all,” Koss said as he ordered Zelich held for trial on the charges of hiding a corpse.
Walworth County Sheriff’s Detective Jeffrey Recknagel testified that Zelich told him that he met both women in online chat rooms, set up dates for sex at hotels and killed the women after bondage sessions.
Recknagel said one woman, Jenny Gamez, 19, of Cottage Grove, Oregon, spent several days with Zelich at a hotel in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, before he killed her in 2012. The other woman, Laura Simonson, 37, of Farmington, Minnesota, died in November at a hotel in Rochester, Minnesota, authorities said.
Zelich kept the bodies hidden in suitcases before discarding them in early June, the detective said.
“He told me that he had been storing these bodies in the trunk of his vehicle and the smell was so strong that he decided he had to get rid of them,” Recknagel said.
Zelich worked for the West Allis Police Department from February 1989 until his resignation in August 2001. He had been working as a private security officer when he was arrested June 25, the same day detectives wearing hazmat suits removed a refrigerator and large brown bags of evidence from his apartment in West Allis, a Milwaukee suburb.