Bond set at $1M for ex-cop in suitcase deaths

Steven Zelich

ELKHORN, Wis. (AP) — Bond was set at $1 million on Friday for a former police officer suspected in the deaths of two women whose bodies were stuffed into suitcases and dumped along a rural Wisconsin highway.

Steven Zelich, a 52-year-old security officer, is charged with two counts of hiding a corpse. Walworth County prosecutors convinced a judge to set the high bond after saying they expected homicide charges to be filed in the counties where the women were killed.

But Zelich’s attorney suggested the women may have died during accidents, perhaps during consensual sex. Investigators have said he met the two women online.

Zelich appeared for the hearing Friday through a video from jail but did not speak.

Zelich was arrested Wednesday, when detectives wearing hazmat suits removed a refrigerator and large brown bags of evidence from his apartment in West Allis, a Milwaukee suburb.

Highway workers cutting grass discovered two suitcases on June 5. Police identified one woman as Laura Simonson, 37, of Farmington, Minnesota. Authorities have not released the identity of the second woman but describe her as a white female with long, dark hair, a pronounced overbite and a small heart tattoo on her lower left abdomen.

Investigators allege that Zelich said he met both women online, killed them and stored their bodies in his home and vehicle for months before dropping the suitcases in the Town of Geneva, some 50 miles southwest of Milwaukee. He killed the unidentified woman in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, in late 2012 or early 2013 and Simonson in Rochester, Minnesota, in November, according to a criminal complaint.

Judge David Reddy accepted the prosecutor’s request for a $1 million cash bond, noting that the most important thing was to protect the public.

Walworth County District Attorney Daniel Necci justified the request in part by saying he expected homicide charges to be filed in Kenosha County and Olmsted County, Minnesota, which includes Rochester.

Walworth County public defender Travis Schwantes unsuccessfully argued that the bond should reflect the charges filed, not those that may come. He said later that it’s not clear yet how the women died.

“It could be anything from premeditated homicide down to accidental death that occurred through a consensual sex-related act,” Schwantes said.

Farmington police detective Sgt. Lee Hollatz said previously that Zelich was long his main suspect in Simonson’s disappearance because soon after her family reported her missing, he learned she had checked into a Rochester, Minnesota, hotel with Zelich on Nov. 2. Zelich left alone the next day.

But Hollatz said he all he had was a missing person’s case until the bodies were discovered.

Jim Martinson, chief deputy attorney in Olmsted County, said Friday that he needed to see the evidence before deciding what charges to file and the “lion’s share” of that was in Wisconsin. He said he hadn’t received reports yet from the many law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation.

Martinson also said it could be a while before forensic evidence from the hotel was processed and Zelich was extradited to Minnesota.

Schwantes said Zelich has asked for a public defender in Kenosha County in anticipation of charges there, and would seek one in Minnesota.

Simonson was found naked except for a collar, with a rope around her neck and a gag in her mouth, according to the criminal complaint filed in Walworth County. The other woman’s hands were bound behind her back.

Police have said that at least in Simonson’s case, Zelich may have met her through a bondage website.

Zelich worked for the West Allis police department from February 1989 until his resignation in August 2001. From 2007 until his arrest, he worked as a licensed private security officer with Securitas Security Services USA. The company said he passed regular background checks to keep his state-issued license.

 

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