ELKHORN Wisc. (Reuters) - A Wisconsin judge set bail at $1 million on Friday for a former police officer suspected of stashing the bodies of two women in suitcases and dumping them along the road.
Steven Zelich, 52, has been charged with two felony counts of hiding a corpse in Walworth County. One of the bodies was found naked with a rope wrapped around her neck and a ball gag strapped into her mouth. The other woman’s hands were bound with rope behind her back, according to a criminal complaint.
Zelich, who appeared in court via video in an orange jumpsuit, has accepted responsibility for the deaths, prosecutors said. Homicide charges are being considered in the two counties where authorities say the women were killed.
“We don’t get a lot of hiding corpses in Walworth County,” District Attorney Daniel Necci said after the hearing.
Zelich faces up to 10 years in prison on each charge.
Authorities identified one of the women as Laura Simonson, 37, of Farmington, Minnesota, and have tentatively identified the second woman.
In late 2012 or early 2013, after meeting the unidentified woman online, Zelich went to see her in Kenosha County in southeastern Wisconsin, where he killed her, according to the complaint.
He then put her body in a suitcase, and kept it in his apartment until moving it to the trunk of his car in 2014.
Zelich also told investigators he met Simonson online and killed her while visiting her in November in Rochester, Minnesota. He put her body in a suitcase as well and hid it in his car.
Rochester police believe Zelich and Simonson were together at a hotel in the southeast Minnesota town when she died, police lieutenant Casey Moilanen said.
Zelich dumped the suitcases in a grassy ditch along a rural road in Walworth County, 50 miles (80 km) southwest of Milwaukee, according to authorities.
The suitcases were found by a highway department crew cutting grass on June 5.
Zelich was taken into custody from his apartment on Wednesday. Authorities have not disclosed how they connected Zelich with the suitcases and the women.
Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Will Dunham and James Dalgleish