A former Wisconsin police officer told investigators he accidentally killed two women during rough bondage sex before stuffing their bodies into suitcases, hiding them for months in his home and car, and then dumping the bags in tall grass along a county road, a detective testified Thursday.
Walworth County Sheriff's Detective Jeffrey Recknagel said during a preliminary hearing that the suspect, 52-year-old Steven Zelich, told him "it was an accident."
He said Zelich, a former police officer in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis, told him that he met both women in S&M chat rooms and that they had agreed to meet him for sex.
"Unfortunately, I have not been able to ask anyone other than Mr. Zelich if it was consensual," Recknagel said.
Two suitcases containing the remains of 19-year-old Jenny Gamez, of Cottage Grove, Ore., and 37-year-old Laura Simonson, of Farmington, Minn., were found June 5 by a highway worker in the Town of Geneva, Wis.
Zelich was arrested June 25 and charged with two counts of hiding a corpse. Homicide charges could still be filed in the cities where the women died.
"He told me that he had been storing these bodies in the trunk of his vehicle and the smell was so strong that he decided he had to get rid of them," Recknagel said.
Zelich's public defender argued that the deaths were accidental and that he was not trying to conceal crime.
Judge Phillip Koss disagreed.
"If there's purely no crime, I'm not sure why one doesn't call 911 immediately, but beyond that, if there's no crime, it's not clear why these (bodies) need to be hid at all," Koss said. He then ordered Zelich held for trial and scheduled a July 17 hearing for him to enter a plea.
Zelich, a private security officer since resigning from the force after an altercation with a prostitute in 2001, made his first court appearance Thursday but did not testify.
Gamez, a teen mother who lost custody of her son, was the first to die.
Zelich told the detective he spent several days with her in a hotel in Kenosha County, Wis., in late 2012 before she was killed during a bondage session. Her foster family and friends did not report her missing, telling police they thought she had fallen out of touch after moving away from Oregon.
Police had suspected Zelich in the November disappearance of Simonson, a mother of seven who had struggled with mental illness and placed her children in her father's care. Her father said she had advertised on Craigslist as an escort.
After being contacted by Simonson's family, officers searched Zelich's apartment in January but found no signs of her. She was last seen checking into a Rochester, Minn., hotel with Zelich on Nov. 1; he checked out alone the next day.
Zelich quit the West Allis Police Department in 2001.. He was working for Securitas Security Services USA when he was arrested and had passed regular background checks.