The case of Susie Zhao, a beloved member of the poker community, will proceed in court in September. Originally, the man suspected of her murder, Jeffrey Bernard Morris, was due to appear before a judge for a probable cause hearing on August 18, but the session was adjourned and deferred to September 14.
With Morris awaiting trial, the community has expressed sorrow for the loss of a fellow player. On August 1, Zhao’s family held a memorial service as friends and family await justice.
Who Is Zhao and Why Is So Missed?
While Zhao may not be big in terms of having won the biggest and juiciest poker prizes with some $222,671 to her name, she remains a memorable face. She won $187,441 at WSOP events alone.
Born in China and raised in Michigan, Zhao attended schools ok Oakland County and then enrolled in the Northwestern University of Chicago to obtain a degree in psychology, which helped her pursue her love of poker.
Zhao didn’t have the ambition to win the world’s hardest tables, but she loved poker and was always excited to play. She pursued her hobby and turned it into a career in Los Angeles where she chose to go down the road of a poker pro.
With the COVID-19 lockdown hitting across Southern California, though, Zhao was forced to travel back home to Michigan and spend some time with her mother. Zhao was 33 in June.
What Happened to Zhao and Who is Morris?
On the night of Sunday, July 12, Zhao left her house, a White Lake Township Police Department report said, interviewing her mother and other individuals who proved helpful to the investigation. Her body was found on the next morning on Monday, July 13 in the Pontiac Lake Trial area.
Due to severe burns to her face and body, authorities needed a week to identify Zhao as the victim of the crime. On July 31, investigators found evidence linking the 60-year-old Morris to the murder of Zhao and arrested him.
Morris had to be transferred to a psychiatric facility for treatment right way. Registered as a Tier 3 sex offender, Morris has a long criminal record, including but not limited to criminal sexual conduct, domestic violence and drug convictions.
The Details of the Crime
The evidence was scant and not too easy to construct. Without a motive, police officers are still perplex as to why Morris would act the way he did. According to investigators, Morris picked up Zhao on July 12 on Watkins Lake Road.
They knew each other prior to the meeting, investigators said, and checked in together at the Sherwood Motel at 9:30 pm. According to camera footage, Morris and Zhao left the hotel once, to buy alcohol.
The owner, Mike Patel, said he hadn’t seen Zhao on the night of the crime, but said he had seen her in general at the motel, and described her as a pleasant and kind person. To confirm the story, police used phone records as well as Morris’ phone which had Zhao’s number.
While the previous reports were uncertain what happened exactly, further investigation found out that Morris had sexually assaulted Zhao with a wooden bat while in the hotel room. Originally, Morris claimed that Morris left the room at midnight, but cellular date disproved this claim indicating that Zhao’s phone changed cellular triangulation around 5 am.
Morris then drove to a secluded part of the area where Zhao’s body was found and spend seven minutes in the area. Morris’ car was thoroughly searched and upon investigation, blood and hairs were matched to Zhao and her murder.
After his arrest, Morris had to be hospitalized and he took his first court session from a hospital bed. However, he was transported to Oakland County Jail after Judge Kelly Kostin of the 52nd District Court denied bail due to the suspect’s extensive criminal history.
The next date for Morris’ hearing has been set for September 14.