WEST ALLIS, Wis. — A former police officer suspected in the death of at least one of two women whose bodies were stuffed into suitcases and discarded on a rural Wisconsin highway may have met the woman through a bondage website, police said Thursday.
Steven Zelich, a 52-year-old security officer, was charged Thursday with two counts of hiding a corpse. He was arrested the day before, when detectives wearing hazmat suits removed large, brown bags of evidence and a refrigerator from the man's apartment in West Allis, a Milwaukee suburb.
Highway workers discovered two suitcases containing female remains June 5 in the Town of Geneva, some 50 miles southwest of Milwaukee. 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.
Farmington police detective Sgt. Lee Hollatz told The Associated Press that Zelich has long been his "No. 1 person, by far, of interest" in Simonson's disappearance.
Zelich is scheduled to appear in court Friday afternoon in Wisconsin, but police said they expect him to be charged with homicide in Minnesota because they believe Simsonson died in a hotel there.
Simonson and Zelich checked into the Microtel Inn and Suites in Rochester, Minnesota, on Nov. 2, and Zelich checked out alone the next day, Rochester police Capt. John Sherwin said. Zelich told investigators during questioning that Simonson died in Rochester, and he was there when she died.
Investigators have collected evidence from the hotel and interviewed people who stayed there on those days. A woman who answered the phone at the hotel said employees had been told not to talk to the media. Rochester is more than 300 miles northwest of Milwaukee.
Investigators determined Simonson met the security officer over the Internet, possibly through a bondage site, Sherwin said.
The second woman was not from Minnesota, and investigators believe she was killed in Wisconsin, Sherwin said. He declined to say more, noting it would be up to Wisconsin authorities to release her identity.
At least a half-dozen law enforcement agencies have been involved in the investigation because events happened in different places.
Hollatz said he discovered Simonson went to the hotel with Zelich soon after her family reported her missing on Nov. 22, but all he had was a missing person's case until the bodies were discovered. He said Simonson was identified within a day by her tattoos.
"I saw Laura as a vulnerable adult because of things in her life that she was dealing with," Hollatz said.
Simonson's father, Richard Wierson, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that his daughter had struggled with mental illness since adolescence and her seven children were placed in foster care with him in 2010. Wierson also said she placed escort ads on CraigsList.
Zelich worked for the West Allis police department from February 1989 until his resignation in August 2001.
He has been a licensed private security officer with Security Services USA since 2007, according to the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services. Securitas said Zelich passed criminal background checks done by the state every two years to renew his license and his employment record reflected "no extraordinary or remarkable incidents."