Suspect Arrested In Death Of Professional Poker Player Whose 'Badly Burned' Body Was Found In Michigan Parking Lot

A 60-year-old man from Pontiac was taken into custody, though it's not clear what charges he'll face in the slaying of 33-year-old Susie Zhao.

Susie Zhao Pd

Police have arrested a suspect in the death of a professional poker player, whose body was found burned and abandoned in a Michigan parking lot.

A 60-year-old man from Pontiac was taken into custody around 9 a.m. Friday in connection with the death of 33-year-old Susie Zhao, White Lake Township Police said according to local station WDIV.

Police secured multiple search warrants in the case on Thursday. An FBI task force began searching for a suspect vehicle named in one of the warrants and discovered the vehicle around 9 a.m. on Friday.

The vehicle was stopped in the area of I-275 and Michigan Avenue, police said.

Authorities have not released the identity of the suspect or the charges he could be facing in connection with Zhao’s death.

Zhao was found dead around 8 a.m. on July 13 in a parking area near the Pontiac Lake Recreation Area. The body had been “badly burned,” police said in a statement.

Zhao had recently moved to Michigan, where she grew up, from Los Angeles to live with her family, according to The Detroit News.

Those who knew the bubbly, outgoing poker player were shocked to discover the 33-year-old had been killed.

“This is a horrendous thing that has happened,” longtime friend Kinga Wierzbicka told the local paper. “It’s amplified because we have no answers.”

Wierzbicka described Zhao, who she had known since middle school, as someone with a “beautiful aura.”

“People loved her,” she said. “She was just super bubbly. She had one of those personalities you wanted to be around.”

Zhao was born in China but grew up in Troy after her family immigrated to the United States. Zhao had been an only child, according to her online obituary.

After high school, she went to Northwestern University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Her interest in poker began when she was a child and continued in college, where she honed her online gaming skills. After college, she decided to pursue a career as a professional player.

According to The Hendon Mob, an online poker database, Zhao had total live earnings of $224,671 during her career—including a $73,805 prize in 2012 after placing 90th in the World Series Of Poker.

“Being able to quickly turn a little money into a big pot of money gave her the freedom to live life how she wanted, and she got a lot of satisfaction dominating in a mostly male profession,” friend Meredith Rogowski told the paper.

Zhao referenced her success in the typically male dominated profession in her Twitter profile, writing: “I prance like a unicorn in a sea of horses. I proficiently play high stakes poker for a living. It’s kinda weird because I’m a girl.”

Those who sat across the table from her described her as a friendly—but formidable—opponent.

“Everybody liked her,” professional poker player Yuval Bronshtein told The Detroit News. “Everybody rooted for her.”

Comedian Clayton Fletcher recalled playing against Zhao in the 2015 World Series of Poker main event.

“First prize was something like $8 million, but you wouldn't have known there was that much at stake from the atmosphere of joyful (camaraderie) at our table,” he said.

Her obituary credited her “inborn talents of super memory,” mathematical prowess and sensitivity to the human spirit as some of her most powerful weapons during a poker game.

Family and friends held an open air funeral and memorial service for Zhao on Saturday in Troy.

Authorities have released few details about the man they believe is connected to the slaying.

Detective Lt. Christopher Hild said in a statement obtained by radio station 560 KPQ that the case will be forwarded to the Oakland County Prosecutor’s office, who will make any charging decisions related to the suspect’s arrest.

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