Poker player Susie Zhao was killed by a sex offender and transient, Jeffrey Bernard Morris, according to White Lake Township, Mich. police, who charged Morris with first-degree premeditated murder Wednesday.
Police said Zhao appears to have met Morris at a motel they both frequented in Waterford Township on July 12, the night she is believed to have died. Zhao’s badly burnt body was found the following day near a recreation ground in White Lake.
According to Police Lt. Christopher Hild, it’s still unclear whether Zhao had any connection or relationship with Morris.
Zhao had recently returned to the Detroit area where she grew up after a decade in California pursuing a career at the poker tables of Los Angeles. She told friends she had returned to “confront challenges in her personal life” and to look after aging parents.
But according to investigators, Zhao had visited the motel several times in the months leading up to her death.
We’re trying to determine whether Susie knew this individual prior to the date of her death and how long that interaction took place,” Hild said at a news conference Wednesday.
Morris was apprehended by White Lake police and an FBI task force on July 31 while driving west along I-275, around 30 miles from where the body was found. He sustained unspecified injuries during his arrest and required hospitalization. Authorities said the suspect was charged Wednesday while still in his hospital bed.
Hild declined to comment on Morris’ condition, but said he is expected to be discharged shortly and will be taken to Oakland County Jail. The suspect has been denied bail because he is a registered sex offender with a 1989 conviction for rape.
“Susie Q,” as she was known to the poker world, was born in Beijing, but grew up in Waterford Township, graduating with a degree in psychology from Northwestern University.
She was a regular player at the Commerce and Hollywood Park card rooms in Los Angeles, and made occasional appearances on the original poker online stream Live at the Bike, from the Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens.
Mainly a cash-game player, Zhao enjoyed some success in tournaments, amassing $224,671 in earnings since 2010.
At a press conference appealing for information, friends described her as a “free spirit in the truest sense” who “played by her own rules [and] followed her dreams.”