Professional poker player Susie Zhao was found dead in a Michigan park on July 13, prompting an investigation by the White Lake Township Police Department. Now authorities have formally charged a suspect in the case. Transient sex offender Jeffery Bernard Morris, 60, of Pontiac is facing first-degree murder charges, but the police say that they are still searching for a motive.
"This is not the end of the investigation into Susie's death but the beginning of the pursuit of justice for her and her family," Detective Lt. Chris Hild told reporters, per The Detroit News. Authorities charged Morris with first-degree, premeditated murder. According to the police, Morris reportedly met Zhao at a motel the night before her badly-burned body was found in a park. They came to this conclusion after both local and federal investigators reviewed cell phone records.
Police arrested Morris on July 31 on unspecified evidence. He was later hospitalized for an unknown reason, but the situation is not believed to be life-threatening. Hild told reporters that the expectation is that the hospital will discharge Morris soon. He will then be lodged in the Oakland County Jail.
Clarkston District Judge Kelley Kostin denied bond on July 31, citing the severity of the crimes. Meanwhile, the authorities are still interviewing people who may have information in Zhao's death. There is no evidence that the murder had anything to do with her gambling or card-playing.
Police originally found Zhao's boy burned in the Pontiac Lake recreation area on the morning of July 13. Her mother last saw her alive on July 12 at 5:30 p.m. Authorities began investigating the death and said that they did not have an initial cause of death. However, authorities believed that she was killed near where her burnt body was found.
The police later arrested Morris after finding Zhao's vehicle. They stopped him near I-275 and Michigan Avenue and had a search warrant. They did not initially release Morris' name to the public.
Zhao was born in Beijing and was raised in Michigan. She pursued a professional poker career in Los Angeles and later spent time in Las Vegas as well. The pro finished 90th at the 2012 World Series of Poker Main Event, winning over $73,000. According to The Hendon Mob, she earned over $224,000 in her career. She later moved back to Michigan to live with her parents after 10 years on the west coast.