Suitcase Bodies Suspect Dodged Discipline As Cop
WEST ALLIS, Wis. (AP) — The suspect in the deaths of two women whose bodies were found in suitcases dumped along a rural Wisconsin highway resigned his job as a police officer to avoid discipline amid allegations of stalking, lying and abuse of power, according to personnel records released Wednesday.
Multiple women told investigators with the West Allis Police Department that Steven Zelich showed up at their workplaces while on duty, pestered them for dates and used his position to get their home phone numbers and other personal information. Several women told investigators they feared for their safety or that of their children.
Zelich resigned from the Police Department in August 2001 to avoid charges being filed with the city’s Police and Fire Commission. He had been under investigation for months by his own department.
“Over the last few months, a very distinct pattern has developed,” then-Chief Dean Puschnig said in a draft of charges dated Aug. 8, 2001. “Every complaint is very similar in nature and involves young women. He has engaged in inappropriate actions with a known prostitute. While he has been on duty in his police uniform, Officer Zelich has asked numerous young women to go on dates with him. All of these women have felt intimidated and pressured into giving out their phone numbers and other personal information because he is a police officer in uniform.”
Zelich resigned less than two weeks later, a move that allowed him to later pass criminal background checks and obtain a private security license from the state. He was working a security officer when he was arrested June 25, the same day detectives removed large bags of evidence and a refrigerator from his West Allis apartment.
Authorities have identified the dead women as Jenny Gamez, a 19-year-old college student from Cottage Grove, Oregon, and Laura Simonson, 37, of Farmington, Minnesota.
A detective testified last week that Zelich said he killed the women accidentally during rough sex and stored their bodies for months in his home and car before dumping them in early June. He has been charged with two counts of hiding a corpse in Walworth County, where the suitcases were found. Authorities have said they expect homicide charges to come in the counties where the women died.
Puschnig, who retired as chief six years ago and is now the spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Milwaukee, declined to comment Wednesday.
West Allis Police Chief Charles Padgett, West Allis Police and Fire Commission President Joseph Kempen and Zelich’s public defender did not immediately respond to phone messages.
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