Ex-officer pleads not guilty in slaying of Oregon woman

KENOSHA, Wis. — A former police officer pleaded not guilty Monday in the death of one of two women whose bodies were found hidden in suitcases left along a rural Wisconsin highway.

Steven Zelich, 52, entered his plea in Kenosha County, where he has been charged with first-degree homicide and hiding a corpse in the 2012 death of Jenny Gamez, a 19-year-old college student from Cottage Grove, Oregon. Zelich also is a suspect in the death of a Farmington, Minnesota, woman.

The women’s bodies were found in June in suitcases dumped about an hour southwest of Milwaukee in Walworth County. According to court records and testimony, Zelich told investigators that he met the women online, killed them accidentally during dates for sex and hid their bodies until they began to smell. Then he dumped them on the roadside, where they were found by highway workers mowing grass.

Zelich faces two counts of hiding a corpse in Walworth County related to the discovery of the bodies. Kenosha County District Attorney Robert Zapf said the charge there refers to Zelich’s actions on the day Gamez died.

According to a criminal complaint, Zelich picked Gamez up at the airport in Milwaukee and drove to a hotel in Kenosha, where they spent several days together. After she died, he placed her body in her suitcase and took it back to his apartment in West Allis, where he hid it in his refrigerator and then in the trunk of his car, the complaint said.

Investigators believe 37-year-old Laura Simonson died in similar circumstances at a Rochester, Minnesota, hotel. No homicide charges have been filed yet in her death.

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