Ex-cop still has body dumping charges in Walworth County

By Jason Arndt

Staff Writer

Although a former West Allis police officer still has charges pending in Walworth County Circuit Court, the 55-year-old man appeared in Olmsted, Minn., County Circuit Court, where he stands accused of killing 37-year-old Laura Simonson, according to Rochester-area news sources.

Steven Zelich

Steven Zelich

Steven Zelich, already convicted in Kenosha County Circuit Court of first-degree reckless homicide and hiding a corpse in the killing of 19-year-old Jenny Gamez of Oregon state in 2012, was sentenced to 35 years for the reckless homicide charge and a concurrent five-year sentence for hiding her corpse at a March 30 hearing.

Zelich initially faced a maximum 75 years, but his sentence was reduced by the court, which cited his cooperation in the investigation since his June 2014 arrest.

Zelich reached a plea bargain in January when Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder granted a prosecutor’s motion to admit information about the alleged homicide of Simonson in Minnesota.

Instead of facing a jury, Zelich pleaded guilty to the Aug. 28, 2012, death of Gamez of Cottage Grove, Oregon.

Zelich faces two felony counts of hiding a corpse in Walworth County, where a county highway worker discovered in separate suitcases the remains of Gamez and Simonson while mowing grass.

In a June Walworth County hearing, officials scheduled an Oct. 3 jury trial, but postponed until Jan. 17 a month later, according to online court records.

Since then, according to online jail records, Zelich had been imprisoned at Dodge Correctional Institute in Waupun until Nov. 2, when he was released to Minnesota authorities to face charges related to Simonson’s death.                  ‘                 According to the Rochester Post-Bulletin, Zelich made his first appearance in a Rochester courtroom on Nov. 3, three years after Minnesota authorities first suspected he killed Simonson in a Rochester hotel room.

The Post-Bulletin reports Zelich is accused of first-degree meditated murder, second-degree intentional murder and second-degree unintentional murder and is held without bail until his Jan. 3 status hearing.

Meanwhile, Olmsted County Attorney Mark Ostrem told Rochester’s ABC affiliate KAAL the case involving the death of Simonson is bizarre.

“It’s certainly one of the strangest sets of circumstances that I’ve ever seen. I mean some really weird things happened and it’s tragic that a young lady was killed,” said Olmsted County Attorney Mark Ostrem.

Those events, according to Kenosha County prosecutors, started when Zelich, then 49, allegedly met then 16-year-old Gamez through an online sexual bondage website.

After six months of dialogue, Zelich ceased discussions, until she turned 18 years old, when he convinced her to fly to Mitchell International Airport for an August 2012 meeting.

Zelich and Gamez went to the Comfort Inn and Suites on Interstate 94 and Highway 50 in Kenosha, where she died during what Zelich said was “breath play.”

In Zelich’s sentencing hearing, Kenosha County prosecutors contend that Zelich selected Kenosha to minimize the Gamez “footprint.”

However, Zelich’s defense attorney, Jonathan Smith, argued that his client chose the hotel based on familiarity.

Smith added that Zelich was not accustomed to any hotels near Mitchell International Airport.

According to the criminal complaint, Zelich stated it was an accident that resulted in her strangulation during consensual sexual relations.

In an effort to conceal the homicide, Zelich stored Gamez’s body in a suitcase and put it in a refrigerator of his West Allis home.

Zelich then came in contact with Simonson, of Farmington, Minn., through a similar online site.

Zelich met Simonson in person in November 2013 in Rochester, Minn. He said she also died accidentally during the sexual encounter, according to the criminal complaint.

He also stored her body in a suitcase and placed it in his West Allis home.

When odor became a problem, Zelich alleged placed both suitcases in the trunk of his car, until his supervisor at Johnson Controls complained about the smell coming from his car.

Then, Zelich allegedly stashed both suitcases on North Como Road in the Town of Geneva in Walworth County in 2014, where the highway worker discovered them while mowing grass June 5.

Gamez was partially covered in a garbage bag with her hands bound with a rope behind her back, according to the earlier reports.

With no missing persons complaint filed in the Gamez disappearance, it took authorities weeks to identify her using dental records.

In Simonson’s case, the Waukesha County medical examiner found her naked with a rope wrapped around her neck and a ball gag in her mouth.