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Zelich charged with murder

The man accused of causing the death of a Farmington woman and then hiding her body in a suitcase has now been charged with homicide in Wisconsin.

Steven M. Zelich, 52, of West Allis, Wisc., was charged Aug. 5 with one count of first degree intentional homicide and one count of hiding a corpse, in relation to the death of 19-year-old Jenny Gamez 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 the town of Geneva, Wisc., on June 5. Simonson had been reported missing in November, 2013. Two suitcases were found, one containing Simonson’s body, the other containing Gamez’s body.

Gamez’s death occurred on or about Aug. 28, 2012, in the city of Kenosha, Wisc., according to a criminal complaint issued by the 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 criminal complaint, in an investigation conducted by the Kenosha Police Department, Zelich allegedly told police 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.

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, according to the complaint.

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, 2014, Zelich was interviewed by Wisconsin Department of Justice, Division of Criminal Investigation special agent Gilbert Hernandez and FBI special agent Jonathan Adkins in connection to the missing person report for Simonson. At the time, Zelich admitted he had met Simonson online but 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 and the subsequent investigation, Zelich admitted to also meeting Simonson online and said he went to Rochester to meet with her. According to the complaint, Zelich also admitted to 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 back to his West Allis apartment in November, 2013. He later put both Simonson’s and Gamez’s bodies, in suitcases, 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 against Zelich is scheduled for Aug. 15.

Because Simonson died in Rochester, the Olmstead County attorney’s office is working with Rochester police to investigate her death. At this time, no formal charges have been issued by Olmstead County.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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