A 60-year-old drifter and registered sex offender has been identified as the suspect in professional poker player Susie Zhao's murder last month in Michigan.
Jeffery Bernard Morris was formally charged with first-degree murder in Zhao’s death on Tuesday, White Lake Township police announced at a press conference, according to the Detroit News. The Pontiac man was arrested on July 31. He’s currently hospitalized.
"This is not the end of the investigation into Susie's death but the beginning of the pursuit of justice for her and her family," Det. Chris Hild told the press, according to the Detroit News.
Morris, who police believe to be homeless, is also a registered sex offender, according to the Michigan Public Sex Offender Registry. He was convicted of third-degree sexual misconduct in 1989.
Zhao’s burnt remains were found in a parking lot in White Lake Township on July 13. A fingerprint analysis was required to identify her. She was 33.
A motive in Zhao’s slaying isn’t currently known. Authorities don’t suspect Zhao’s death is related to her poker playing, USA Today reported.
Zhao, who was known to stay at the Sherwood Motel near her mother’s home, supposedly met Morris there. She spent time with Morris the night before her remains were found, police said, according to the Detroit News.
Zhao reportedly checked in on July 9 and checked out two days later, according to WDIV. Morris checked into the same room on July 12, a day before Zhao’s remains were discovered. The motel’s owner told local media he never saw Morris and Zhao together. Police haven’t specified the exact nature of their relationship, if they had one.
“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 added.
Zhao, who competed in several high stakes poker tournaments, was known as “Susie Q.” She earned $187,441 in total winnings on the World Series of Poker circuit, dating back to 2009. In her last World Series of Poker appearance in 2017, Zhao raked in $18,693.
She was described as a “free spirit” by friends, the Detroit News reported. The 33-year-old had recently relocated from California to Michigan, according to the FBI.
Morris was hospitalized this week for non-life threatening issues. He has a probable cause hearing scheduled for Aug. 18, according to the Detroit News.
White Lake Township Police Department didn’t immediately respond to Oxygen.com’s request for comment on Thursday.
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