Slain poker star Susie Zhao was tortured, sexually assaulted with 'large object' before being burnt to death

Authorities have charged a homeless transient, Jeffery Bernard Morris, 60, of Pontiac, in the 33-year-old's death

                            Slain poker star Susie Zhao was tortured, sexually assaulted with 'large object' before being burnt to death
Jeffrey Morris and Susie Zhao (White Lake Township Police)

OAKLAND, MICHIGAN: A professional poker player, whose charred body was discovered in a remote Michigan parking lot last month, was allegedly tortured by a convicted sex offender, who is the primary suspect, court documents show.

MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) previously reported how a local resident discovered the body of Susie Zhao, 33, next to the Pontiac Lake Recreation Area on the morning of July 13. On Tuesday, August 4, authorities formally charged Jeffery Bernard Morris, 60, of Pontiac, in Zhao's death. They said Morris had met with Zhao the night before her body was found in the parking area at Maceday Lake and Crossroads in White Lake Township.

Court documents obtained by WXYZ in the FBI's and White Lake Township Police's investigation include disturbing details about Zhao's murder, including how she was bound with zip ties, sexually assaulted with a "large object," and then "lit on fire until she died." It also stated that her body was so burned she had to be identified by her fingerprints.

Cell phone records obtained by investigators confirmed Morris met with Zhao on July 12, the evening before she was killed. Following his arrest, he told police he picked up the 33-year-old on Watkins Lake Road before checking into the Sherwood Motel in Waterford Township at around 9:26 pm. He said they left the motel to buy alcohol at a party store and returned to the motel to drink but insisted she left at midnight and "took all of her belongings, including her cell phone, with her."

However, his claim was proved wrong by cell phone records which indicated Zhao's cell phone did not leave the motel until 5 am. Surveillance footage from cameras nearby also showed the 60-year-old leaving the motel around the same time and driving to a secluded section of Pontiac Lake Recreation Area where the poker player's body was ultimately found. A few days later, investigators tracked Morris and his vehicle to Ypsilanti. A search of the vehicle turned up several footwear impressions, several hairs, fibers, and other items with possible bloodstains, as well as duffle bags with Morris’ identification. They also found a wooden baseball bat with a possible big bloodstain that is believed to be the murder weapon. All the evidence is now being tested at the Oakland County Crime Lab.

Morris, described by police as a transient, homeless person, has already been charged with first-degree, premeditated murder in the slaying of Zhao but a motive for the killing is still unclear. Detective Lt. Chris Hild admitted they do not know why he killed Zhao and that they do not have any evidence that it had anything to do with her gambling or card-playing. Zhao was known in professional poker circles as 'Susie Q' and had earned a name for herself following successes in high-profile tournaments, including the 2012 ESPN World Series of Poker Main Event. She had earned over $200,000 in prize money and was described by her peers and competitors as the "freest spirit" who "played by her own rules."

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