Wisconsin man pleads not guilty in suitcase bodies case

ELKHORN Wis. Thu Jul 17, 2014 6:35pm EDT

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ELKHORN Wis. (Reuters) - A former police officer pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges of stuffing the bodies of two women into separate suitcases and dumping the luggage in a roadside ditch in Wisconsin.

Steven Zelich, 52, is charged with two felony counts of hiding a corpse in Walworth County, about 50 miles (80 kms) southwest of Milwaukee, and investigations into the deaths of the women are continuing in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, and Olmsted County, Minnesota.

Zelich did not appear in the courtroom during the brief hearing but through a closed-circuit video from Walworth County Jail, where he wore an orange jumpsuit.

Zelich's attorney, Travis Schwantes, told reporters after the hearing: "There's still a lot more to be told. At this point we are still back at wondering what really happened."

Walworth County District Attorney Daniel Necci said he has been in contact with investigators but did not know of plans to file more charges against Zelich.

"Theoretically, if someone were to file homicide charges, it would make our charges relatively small potatoes by comparison," Necci said.

Zelich told investigators he accidentally killed Jenny Gamez, 21, of Cottage Grove, Oregon, and Laura Simonson, 37, of Farmington, Minnesota, during sexual encounters at hotels that included bondage, according to court documents.

Zelich told authorities he met Gamez at a hotel in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, in late 2012 or early 2013 and stuffed her body in a suitcase and hid it in his apartment until this year, when he moved it to a vehicle, authorities said.

Zelich met Simonson online and accidentally killed her at a hotel in Rochester, Minnesota, in November, authorities said. He told investigators he also put Simonson's body in a suitcase and hid it in his vehicle.

Authorities believe Zelich dumped the suitcases shortly before they were found on June 5 by a grass-cutting crew.

Zelich could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison if convicted of hiding a corpse. The next hearing was scheduled for Sept. 23.

(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Peter Cooney and Jim Loney)

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