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Poker player was sexually assaulted and burned to death

A professional poker player, 33, whose charred remains were found in a remote parking lot in Michigan was bound with zip ties, sexually assaulted and burned alive after meeting a convicted sex offender, 60, at a motel, according to court documents.  

Gruesome new details have emerged about the slaying of Susie Zhao, whose badly burned body was discovered at the secluded Pontiac Lake State Recreation Area in Oakland County back on July 13.

Homeless sex offender Jeffery Bernard Morris was arrested and charged earlier this month with planning and executing her murder.

Court documents obtained Tuesday by WXYZ reveal Morris, who has a long rap sheet including multiple domestic violence charges and is on the sex offender’s register, was found with a bloodied baseball bat and bed sheet in his vehicle when he was pulled over and detained by officers days after Zhao’s death. 

Zhao was last seen alive by her mother on July 12 around 5.30pm. 

Her charred body was discovered at around 8:05 a.m. the next morning by two men in the wooded parking area of the state park.   

Cell phone records confirm Morris and Zhao met up on the night of July 12, according to newly-obtained court documents.

Morris told cops after his arrest he had picked Zhao up on Watkins Lake Road and they checked into the Sherwood Motel around 9:26 p.m. on July 12.

The suspected killer said the pair then left the motel briefly to buy alcohol at a party store before returning.    

Zhao then left the motel at midnight ‘and took all of her belongings including her cell phone with her,’ Morris told cops.   

However, cell phone records place Zhao’s cell phone at the motel until around 5 a.m. the following morning – the same time both cell phone records and surveillance footage captured Morris leaving the motel, the court documents show. 

The suspect then drove to the remote 3,745-acre park where he stayed for around seven minutes, WXYZ reported.  

Police believe Morris bound Zhao with zip-ties, sexually assaulted her with a large object before she was ‘lit on fire until she died’.  

Morris was arrested on July 31 after he was pulled over in his vehicle in Ypsilanti on a warrant by officers from White Lake Township.   

A search of his vehicle uncovered a fitted bed sheet with apparent blood stains and a wooden baseball bat with a possible big blood stain.

Several footwear impressions, hairs, fibers and other items with possible blood stains and duffle bags with Morris’ identification inside were also found in the car, court records show. 

The evidence is currently being tested at the Oakland County Crime Lab.  

Morris was arraigned for first-degree premeditated murder in Oakland County on August 4. 

He was formally charged with Zhao’s murder from his hospital bed after he suffered an undisclosed, non-life-threatening medical issue earlier that day. 

It is not yet clear whether Zhao and Morris, who police described as a transient homeless person, knew each other prior to the night before her murder. 

Initially, police were exploring whether Zhao’s high stakes job was a motive in her killing but later said there was no evidence of this. 

Investigators said Zhao, who had to be identified through fingerprint analysis, had stayed at the motel on multiple occasions prior to her death.  

Court records reveal her suspected killer has a long history of violent and sexual crimes dating back more than three decades.   

Morris 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.

At the time of Zhao’s murder, he 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 in Oakland County Jail. 

He is scheduled to appear in court for a probable cause conference on August 18.  

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. 

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