A professional poker player whose charred body was found in a Michigan park last month was bound and sexually assaulted before she was burned alive, according to authorities.
Cell phone records suggest Susie Zhao, 33, met Jeffery Morris, 60, at the Sherwood Motel in Waterford Township on July 12. Morris — a convicted sex offender — claimed he met Zhao on Watkins Lake Road and they both checked into the Sherwood Motel at around 9:26 p.m., WXYZ reported, citing court documents.
Morris allegedly told police that at some point they left the motel to purchase alcohol. He also said Zhao left the motel around midnight and took all her belongings, including her cell phone, according to the news outlet.
An investigation revealed that Zhao’s cell phone didn’t leave the motel until 5 a.m. Phone records reportedly show Morris left around the same time and drove to a secluded spot in the Pontiac Lake Recreation Area. Authorities alleged he was at the location for approximately seven minutes.
White Lake police said they believe Zhao was killed sometime after 11:45 p.m. on July 12. Her charred remains were found July 13 in a parking area located near the Pontiac Lake State Recreation Area. Fingerprints were used to identify Zhao as the decedent.
Court documents stated that Zhao was bound with zip ties and sexually assaulted with a large object before being “lit on fire until she died.”
Morris was arrested in Ypsilanti days after Zhao’s slaying. Investigators who searched his car reportedly found foot impressions, hairs, and miscellaneous fibers.
WXYZ reported that they also recovered duffel bags containing Morris’ identification, a bed sheet with possible bloodstains, and a baseball bat that possibly had a sizeable bloodstain on it.
State records indicated that Morris is a Tier 3 sex offender with a 1989 conviction for third-degree criminal sexual conduct — force or coercion. He was charged with first-degree premeditated murder in connection with Zhao’s death.
Zhao was known in the professional poker circuit as Susie Q. She reportedly lived in Los Angeles and moved in with her parents in Michigan on June 9.
Friends said Zhao bounced between cities, including Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and had recently moved back to Michigan to be closer to family and deal with some issues in her personal life.
Authorities have not disclosed a motive but previously said they’re unsure if Zhao’s murder is connected to gambling in other states, or to someone she recently met. It’s also unclear why or how Zhao and Morris met.
The items allegedly found in Morris’ possession are being tested at the Oakland County Crime Lab.
For the latest true crime and justice news, subscribe to the ‘Crime Stories with Nancy Grace’ podcast. Listen to the latest episode.
[Featured image: Jeffery Morris/Oakland County Sheriff’s Office; Susie Zhao/Facebook]