Jeffrey Bernard Morris, a convicted sex offender, has been charged in the gruesome death of professional poker player Susie Zhao. The details of her death, obtained during a joint investigation by the FBI and the White Lake Township police department, were shared by WXYZ on August 11.
Police found Zhao’s “badly burned” body just after 8:00 a.m. on July 13 in the parking lot of a Michigan state park. The 33-year-old’s identity was confirmed through fingerprint identification, according to WXYZ. Police have previously said that there is no evidence that Zhao, who was a professional poker player known as “Susie Q,” was killed in connection with poker or gambling. Detectives are still looking for a motive, the New York Post reported.
In a press conference, police said Morris was arrested on July 31 based on evidence found by investigators. The 60-year-old, who was convicted of third-degree criminal sexual conduct in 1989, is currently in the Oakland County Jail, public records show. According to the Post, he is facing a charge of first-degree premeditated murder.
New Information Obtained From Court Documents Paints a Gruesome Picture of the Poker Star’s Death
WXYZ obtained court documents of the investigation into Zhao’s death, including cellphone records showing that she met Morris the evening before her body was found. According to Morris’ interview with detectives after his arrest, he picked up Zhao and they checked into the Sherwood Motel. He said they left the motel to buy alcohol at a nearby store before returning.
Morris then told police that Zhao left around midnight, “and took all of her belongings including her cell phone with her.” However, the court documents highlight that Zhao’s cellphones did not leave until 5 a.m., around the time that surveillance footage near the motel and cellphone records show Morris leaving and driving to the Michigan park where her body was eventually found. According to the documents obtained by WXYZ, evidence shows Morris was at the park for about seven minutes.
WXYZ reports that the investigation found Zhao had been bound with zip-ties and was sexually assaulted with a large object before she was “lit on fire until she died.”
When Morris was arrested while driving in Ypsilanti, police found evidence including footwear impressions, hairs, fibers and items with possible bloodstains, specifically a fitted bed sheet and a wooden baseball bat, court documents state. The items have been sent to the Oakland County Crime Lab for testing.
Zhao Was Described as a ‘Bubbly’ & ‘Vivacious’ Person & Had Won Nearly a Quarter-Million in Poker Since 2009
We continue to look for assistance from the public in the death of Susie Zhao. Any tips on this investigation can be called into the @FBIDetroit field office tip line at 1-800-CALLFBI (225-5324). pic.twitter.com/3WuLO1hkpS
— WLTPD (@WhiteLakePolice) July 29, 2020
A poker database shows that Zhao made nearly a quarter of a million dollars in poker winnings since 2009, including several wins in World Series of Poker Main Events. The poker star, whose Facebook indicated that she was from Beijing, China, split her time between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. At the time of her death, Zhao had moved back to Michigan where her family lives to “confront challenges in her personal life.”
Her friends and fellow poker players described her as an energetic person and player, who liked to enjoy herself at the tables. “She was one of the bubbliest and most vivacious opponents I’ve ever had. She was a very strong player who also liked to have fun at the table,” Clayton Fletcher wrote. Bart Hanson told WXYZ: “She really was [an] excellent player. One of the best in L.A. at the level we played at the Commerce Casino and it’s the biggest poker room in the world.”