Man faces Wisconsin homicide charge in suitcase killings
The man accused of causing the death of a Farmington, Minn., woman and then hiding her body in a suitcase has been charged with homicide in Wisconsin.
Steven M. Zelich, 52, of West Allis, Wis., was charged last week with one count of first-degree intentional homicide and one count of hiding a corpse in the death of Jenny Gamez, 19, of Cottage Grove, Ore., in 2012.
Gamez’s body was found, along with the body of Laura Jean Simonson of Farmington, in a ditch near Geneva, Wis., on June 5. Simonson had been reported missing last November. Two suitcases were found, one containing Simonson’s body and the other containing Gamez’s body.
Gamez’s death occurred on or about Aug. 28, 2012, in Kenosha, Wis., according to a criminal complaint issued by Kenosha County District Attorney Robert D. Zapf. The Waukesha County medical examiner performed an autopsy on Gamez on June 7, and determined her cause of death to be airway obstruction and neck compression during restraint.
According to the complaint, Zelich told Kenosha police that he met Gamez online and told her to come to Wisconsin. When she arrived, he took her to a hotel in Kenosha, where they engaged in “breath play,” otherwise defined as erotic asphyxiation, the complaint said.
On the morning Gamez died, Zelich allegedly blindfolded her, put a gag in her mouth and used a rope tied around her neck to restrict her breathing. Zelich told investigators he lost control while choking her and caused her death, the complaint said.
Zelich allegedly put Gamez’s body in her suitcase and brought it back to his West Allis home, where he kept it in his refrigerator.
The complaint also states that in March, Zelich was interviewed by Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Gilbert Hernandez and FBI Special Agent Jonathan Adkins in connection with the missing person report for Simonson. At the time, Zelich admitted he had met Simonson online but said he did not know where she lived, nor did he have a sexual relationship with her. He denied ever meeting Simonson.
After the discovery of the bodies, Zelich said he went to Rochester, Minn., to meet with Simonson. According to the complaint, Zelich also admitted going to a motel with Simonson and engaging in breath play, which caused her death.
Zelich told investigators he put Simonson’s body in a suitcase and brought her body to his West Allis apartment in November. He later put both suitcases holding the bodies in the trunk of his vehicle, where he kept them until early June. According to the complaint, he dumped the suitcases “because he could no longer keep them due to the warmer weather and the smell.”
A preliminary hearing on the Wisconsin charges is scheduled for Friday.
Because Simonson died in Rochester, the Olmstead County Attorney’s Office is working with Rochester police to investigate her death. No formal charges have been issued by Olmstead County.