Michigan Man Arrested in Susie Zhao Murder Case

Michigan Man Arrested in Susie Zhao Murder Case

The story is heartbreaking and mysterious.

Susie Zhao was a regular in Los Angeles cash games, a professional poker player on her own terms. She spent much of her time on the West Coast, where the games were good and tournaments were available. Her friends in the poker community called her Susie Q.

On July 13, someone discovered her badly-burned body in a parking area near the Pontiac Lake Trail in White Lake Township outside of Detroit, Michigan.

This weekend, Zhao’s family and friends held a funeral and memorial service for her in Troy, Michigan.

On the same day, August 1, the White Lake Township Police Department arrested a 60-year-old man in connection with Zhao’s death. Officials have not yet released his name, charges, or motive. Some poker sleuths may have found more information, though.

Life of a Female Poker Pro

Shu Zhao was born on June 9, 1987 in Beijing, China. Her parents brought her to Michigan as a young child. She grew up in the city of Troy, where she also attended school, and then went on to high school in West Bloomfield. From there, she left home to attend college at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois. In 2010, she graduated from there with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Her mother described her as possessing “inborn talents of super memory, mathematics potential, and uncommon sensitivity to human deep inside,” per her obituary. She said that those qualities, in addition to her “free spirit,” led her to poker at an early age.

After college, Zhao moved to the Los Angeles area of California, where she regularly played in cash games at the local card rooms and traveled to relatively short distance to Las Vegas for cash game and tournament action.

On or around her 33rd birthday in June of this year, Zhao moved back to Michigan to live with her family. Her father, Jingping Zhao, passed away before this incident, but Zhao wanted to be near her mother, Fang Dai and stepfather in Waterford, Michigan.

Her mother had seen Zhao about 15 hours before her body was discovered. Her obituary indicates that police believe she actually died on the evening of July 12.

Her death was deemed a homicide, but the manner of death was not revealed.

Initial Reports Consider Poker

It was clear by initial reports and police statements that many people were unaware of what it means to be a professional poker player.

Zhao reportedly played cash games for relatively medium-to-high stakes – pots worth thousands of dollars, on average – she likely didn’t walk around in Michigan with wads of cash in her pockets. Even so, the police originally made an effort to see if her death could be connected in any way to her poker career.

White Lake Township Detective Chris Hild said, “We have to determine whether or not this is a cover-up, or this may be some sort of retaliatory incident because of her profession.”

Regardless, the local police department reached out to the FBI for support in the investigation due to the need for the FBI’s technology. They all initially sought information about any contact with Zhao between on or after July 11.

Officials still seek any and all pertinent information at tips.fbi.gov or via telephone at 1-800-CALLFBI.

Suspect in Custody

According to many reports, the FBI Task Force and White Lake Township Police Department had issued search warrants last week in the effort to find a suspect and his vehicle. They found that person driving said vehicle on the morning of July 31 near I-275 and Michigan Avenue.

The only information revealed over the weekend indicated that the arrested Michigan man was 60 years old, a resident of Pontiac, Michigan, and in custody.

After his arrest, officials forwarded the case to the Oakland County Prosecutor’s office for review.

Someone at Poker Fraud Alert posted yesterday that they may have uncovered information about the suspect. This person cannot, however, find a poker connection.

This link to the site’s forum noted that the person in custody might be Jeffery Bernard Morris, a 60-year-old white man with a 1989 conviction as a Tier 3 sex offender. The photo in the post notes that he was booked on August 1.

(Tier 3 offenders include those convicted of rape, attempted rape, molesting a child under the age of 13, or kidnapping a minor, the latter even without a sexual component to the crime. These offenders must report to officials four times each year for the rest of their lives.)

Remembering Susie Q

On her own Twitter account, albeit a rarely-used one, she wrote her own miniature bio.

“I prance like a unicorn in a sea of horses. I proficiently play high stakes poker for a living. Its kinda weird because I’m a girl.”

Zhao had another Twitter account, for which she wrote called herself a professional poker player, amateur dreamer, knowledge seeker, adventurer, and a little hippie at heart.

Mostly a cash game player, Zhao doesn’t have a written record of that action, though there are some videos of her playing in live cash games for Live at the Bike.

Her Hendon Mob page shows earnings of more than $222K in live tournaments. Her cashes were intermittent, dating back to 2009 and ending in late 2017. Her results showed some cashes in World Series of Poker and WSOP Circuit events through the years, including a 90th place finish in the WSOP Main Event in 2012 for $73,805 – her largest tournament cash. Most tournaments were in smaller local series in the Los Angeles area.

Many in the poker community fondly remembered her via social media, sharing memories of a kind, gentle, positive, bubbly person and a savvy poker player.



About Jennifer Newell

Jennifer began writing about poker while working at the World Poker Tour in the mid-2000s. Since then, her freelance writing career has taken her from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back to her hometown of St. Louis, where she now lives with her two dogs. She continues to follow the poker world as she also launches a new subscription box company and finishes her first novel. Jennifer has written for numerous publications including PokerStars.com and has followed the US poker and gaming market closely for the last 15 years. Follow Jen on Twitter

Disclaimer: The information on this site is my interpretation of the laws as made available online. It is in no way meant to serve as legal advice or instruction. We recommend that you seek legal advice from a licensed attorney for further or official guidance.

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