Newly revealed information details much, if not all, of the key information leading police to believe convicted sex offender Jeffery Bernard Morris, 60, murdered professional poker player Susie Zhao, 33. Cell phone records put the two together on July 12, according to documents obtained by WXYZ-TV. That was the day before the victim’s remains were found burned at Pontiac Lake Park northwest of Detroit.
Morris allegedly told police after being arrested that he picked Zhao up on Watkins Lake Road in Oakland County near Pontiac, Mich. The two then checked in at the Sherwood Motel at around 9:26 p.m., according to his account. They bought alcohol at a store and returned to the motel, but Zhao finally left at midnight, Morris allegedly said. She took her stuff with her, including her phone.
But police say her cell phone remained at the hotel until about 5 a.m. Surveillance video and phone records showed that Morris left the motel at that time and drove to Pontiac Lake Park. There is allegedly evidence to show he was at the park for about seven minutes.
Investigators say they identified Zhao through her fingerprints. She had been bound by zip-ties, sexually assaulted by a large object, and then set on fire, according to authorities.
Cops and the Federal Bureau of Investigation found Morris and his vehicle later on. As part of their investigation, officials say they discovered hairs, fibers, footwear impressions, and items with possible blood stains, including a fitted bed sheet and wooden baseball bat. Testing on the evidence is pending.
The motive remains under investigation. Before the arrest, investigators said they were looking into whether the victim’s life as a pro poker player factored into her murder, but now, with Morris on their radar, that possibility doesn’t seem to be case.
Morris is charged with first-degree premeditated homicide. He did not enter a plea in his arraignment on August 4. Law&Crime could not immediately reach his attorney of record. A probable cause conference is scheduled for August 18. The defendant is on the Michigan sex offender registry because of a 1989 conviction for criminal sexual conduct.
[Mugshot of Morris via Michigan sex offender registry]
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