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.
Breaking: The man arrested in connection with the murder of Susie Zhao was 60-year-old sex offender Jeffery Bernard Morris, of Pontiac, MI. He does not appear to have a connection to poker. This information has NOT been released yet. Details: https://t.co/Rjs3ACSh8b
— Poker Fraud Alert (@PokerFraudAlert) August 2, 2020
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.
If i cut this pic the right way it looks like i have heaps pic.twitter.com/TvMxZiV0
— Susie Q (@ChompChompMoFo) July 14, 2012
Drivin back to LA now with a bittersweet smirk. Biggest cash month eva, deep Main run, media attention, and a sponsorship deal. Sweet summer
— Susie Q (@ChompChompMoFo) July 16, 2012
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.
So sad Clayton. I remember her well. Had dinner with her that WSOP. 💔
— Jennifer Shahade (@JenShahade) July 21, 2020
Being in poker has allowed me to meet some coolass people. Susie was one of them, and she is a big reason why S Africa is one of my favorite trips. She brought incredible energy everywhere she went, but also struggled as many of us do. May her case be met with justice. pic.twitter.com/SormScAlW8
— Xuan Liu (@xxl23) July 23, 2020
— Susie Q (@ChompChompMoFo) October 31, 2015
RIP in Susie Q you were brilliant Poker world will miss you😢
— Nate.eth 🍌 NRN (@shellpooh7) July 28, 2020
Wow very sad news played with her a few dozen times, she was a great player with an even better personality 😢
— Scott Davies (@sdaviespoker) July 22, 2020
So sad to hear of the tragic passing of Susie Q Zhao. She always so sweet and kind to me and always smiling! You will be missed Susie 😭💛 pic.twitter.com/umZctzvVKM
— Drea Renee (@DreaRenee_N) July 25, 2020
Saddened and shocked. I enjoyed playing with her at the Bike and Commerce. She was the one who got me to come to Hollywood Park. Something about needing more fish. She was always smiling and happy. RIP Susie Q
— Barry “Blue Check” Woods (@BDub100) July 22, 2020
I knew her quite well. Was very saddened when I heard this a few days ago. She’s been thru a lot over the last few years. The people I’ve talked to in the LA poker community are all very saddened by this. RIP Susie Q.
— Ryan Feldman (@TheRyanFeldman) July 21, 2020