MILWAUKEE (MCT) — A former Wisconsin police officer was charged Thursday with two felonies for hiding two women’s bodies — one for more than a year — that were found in suitcases along a road in the Town of Geneva.
Steven M. Zelich, 52, of West Allis told investigators that he met a woman — referred to as Jane Doe in court documents — through online dating in 2012 and that they met in late 2012 or early 2013 in Kenosha County.
He also told police that he caused her death at that meeting, put her in a suitcase and hid her body at his home in West Allis, later hiding her body in his vehicle in 2014, according to a criminal complaint.
He also admitted to meeting Laura Simonson online, arranging to meet her in person in Rochester, Minn., in November 2013 and killing her during that encounter, the complaint says. Like the first woman, he put Simonson’s body in a suitcase and hid her body in his vehicle, court documents state.
Simonson, 37, of Farmington, Minn., was reported missing Nov. 22.
In the first week of June, Zelich told investigators, he put both suitcases — each containing a body — in the trunk of his car and hid them along North Como Road in the Town of Geneva, where they were discovered June 5 by a highway worker cutting grass, the complaint says.
Although the complaint does not specify how the women died, it does say that Simonson was found with a rope around her neck and a gag strapped into her mouth with a collar. The body of the second woman — police have not released her name — was found inside a garbage bag with her hands tied behind her back.
Zelich was forced to resign from the West Allis police department in 2001 after an off-duty altercation with a prostitute, according to police sources.
Although the circumstances may have warranted criminal charges against Zelich, the earlier case was never referred to the Milwaukee County district attorney’s office for possible prosecution, sources said.
Zelich was hired as a patrol officer in West Allis in 1989, according to the police department. With his resignation, he was able to avoid both criminal charges and department discipline. After he left the police department, Zelich obtained a state license to work as a security officer.
Physical evidence linking Zelich to the women whose bodies were found in suitcases June 5 was recovered Tuesday, police said. He was arrested Wednesday on two preliminary charges of hiding a corpse, according to the Walworth County sheriff’s office. Zelich was being held in the Walworth County Jail and was scheduled to appear in court Friday.
Physical evidence linking Zelich to the victims — one of whom was likely killed in Minnesota — was recovered June 24, according to Capt. John Sherwin of the Rochester, Minn., police department.
Officers recovered potential evidence of Simonson’s death in a room at the Microtel Inn and Suites in Rochester, Sherwin said. Police believe Simonson and Zelich stayed in the room together.
Sherwin would not comment on the manner of either woman’s death.
Rochester police became involved in the investigation into Simonson’s disappearance June 10, after a months-long missing-person investigation by the Farmington Police Department led to the Microtel Inn and Suites, Sherwin said.
Motel employees recognized Simonson’s photo and told officials she had stayed in a room with Zelich Nov. 2 and 3, according to Sherwin. Zelich checked out of the motel alone on Nov. 3, Sherwin said.
“Basically, after Nov. 2 she was never seen from or heard from again,” Sherwin said.