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Former Wisconsin cop charged after bodies found in suitcases

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Friday, June 27, 2014 - 8:54 am

WEST ALLIS, Wis. — A former police officer has been charged with hiding a corpse after the bodies of two women were found stuffed in suitcases deposited along a rural road in Wisconsin.

Fifty-two-year-old Steven Zelich was charged Thursday in Walworth County, which is southwest of Milwaukee.

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

Police in Minnesota say Zelich is a suspect in the death of a 37-year-old Farmington, Minnesota, woman whose remains were in the suitcase.

He has not been charged in her death, however.

Investigators have not yet identified the second woman whose remains were in the suitcases.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

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.

The 52-year-old security officer was arrested Wednesday on tentative charges of hiding a corpse. The same day, 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 the arrested man has long been his "No. 1 person, by far, of interest" in Simonson's disappearance.

The man 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 the security officer checked into the Microtel Inn and Suites in Rochester, Minnesota, on Nov. 2, and the man checked out alone the next day, Rochester police Capt. John Sherwin said. The security officer 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 the security officer 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.

The suspect 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 spokeswoman Lynne Glovka said the company and the state did background checks when he was hired and she was not aware of any problems while he worked there.