Pictured: Jeffery Bernard Morris, 60, has been charged with the first-degree premeditated murder of poker player Susie Zhao, 33
A homeless sex offender from Michigan has been charged with planning and executing the murder of poker player Susie Zhao, 33, whose badly burned body was found at a remote parking lot after she met up with him at a motel.
Jeffery Bernard Morris, 60, was arraigned for first-degree premeditated murder in Oakland County on Tuesday after Zhao’s charred remains were discovered at Pontiac Lake State Recreation Area in Michigan on July 13.
The suspected killer, who has a long rap sheet including multiple domestic violence charges and is a registered sex offender, was arrested Friday but his identity had not been released by authorities.
He was formally charged with Zhao’s murder from his hospital bed Tuesday after he suffered an undisclosed, non-life-threatening medical issue earlier in the day.
Zhao was last seen alive by her mother on July 12 around 5.30pm.
Her badly burned body was discovered the next morning at around 8:05 a.m. by two men in the wooded parking area. Her remains were identified through fingerprint analysis.
The Michigan homeless sex offender was arraigned for first-degree premeditated murder in Oakland County on Tuesday from his hospital bed (pictured) after he suffered an undisclosed, non-life-threatening medical issue earlier in the day
White Lake Township Police Det. Lt. Christopher Hild said at a press briefing Wednesday that Morris and Zhao are believed to have met at a Waterford Township motel the night before her body was found.
Police believe Morris then killed Zhao at the state park on July 13 before setting her body on fire.
Cellphone records reviewed by local and federal investigators led officers to the motel.
Det. Lt. Hild said Zhao had stayed at the motel on multiple occasions prior to her death.
It is not yet clear whether Zhao and Morris, who Hild described as a transient, homeless person, knew each other prior to the murder, he added.
Investigators had been exploring whether Zhao’s high stakes job was a motive in her killing but police said Wednesday there is no evidence of this.
Morris was arrested after he was pulled over in his vehicle on a warrant by officers from White Lake Township around 9 a.m. Friday morning.
Court records revealed Morris has a long history of violent and sexual crimes dating back more than three decades.
He was convicted of third-degree criminal sexual conduct in Oakland County Circuit Court in 1989 and has multiple domestic violence charges including pleading guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence in 2009.
Susie Zhao’s badly burned body was found at a remote parking lot after she met up with the suspect at a motel. Pictured: Zhao during a poker game
Morris has a long rap sheet including multiple domestic violence charges and is a registered sex offender. It is not yet clear if he knew Zhao (left and right) before her death
At the time of Zhao’s murder, Morris was on probation for retail fraud.
A former landlord for the alleged killer told Fox 2 Detroit that Morris was a ‘real creeper’ and that she evicted him soon after he moved in.
‘He answered an ad to rent from me and I rented a basement to him for four months,’ said Dawn Carr, who first met him about six months ago.
‘He seemed like a real creeper to me so I had to get him out of here, so I evicted him.’
Carr told Fox she believes he had been couch surfing since she turfed him out.
Morris is being held without bond and will be taken to Oakland County Jail on his release from hospital.
He is scheduled to appear in court for a probable cause conference on August 18.
Zhao’s body was found at Pontiac Lake State Recreation area (pictured) in Michigan on July 13
Zhao, who lived in Los Angeles but would regularly come back to her mom’s house in the Waterford area, has been described as a ‘national talent’ on the competitive poker circuit, where she was known as ‘Susie Q.’
She would easily take home prizes of tens of thousands of dollars and is believed to have won $224,671 over the course of her career.
Zhao began to play in high school before moving on to high-stakes games after college and going on to win tens of thousands of dollars as she jetted between tournaments in Vegas and Los Angeles.
She was a regular on the circuit at Commerce and Hollywood Park in Los Angeles and appeared from time-to-time on the original poker online stream Live at the Bike from the in Bell Gardens.
Fellow poker players said they were ‘heartbroken’ to learn of her death and described her as an ‘excellent player’ and ‘one of the best in LA’.
According to friends she had recently moved back to live with her parents in Michigan this summer because she could no longer afford the rent.
Zhao has been described as a ‘national talent’ in the competitive poker circuit and was known as ‘Susie Q’. Pictured: Zhao during a poker game
She lived in between Los Angeles and Las Vegas for a decade before moving back to live with her parents in Michigan this year. Pictured: Zhao during a poker game