Heinous Zhao Murder Case Awaits September Court Date

Heinous Zhao Murder Case Awaits September Court Date

(Trigger warning: Details of sexual assault and murder)

The details of Susie Zhao’s murder paint a worse picture with each news report.

The man who is in custody for Zhao’s murder was set to participate in a probable cause hearing on August 18, but that was adjourned. There is now a new hearing set for September.

Meanwhile, the poker community mourns the loss of a competitor, colleague, and friend. Zhao’s family memorialized her with services on August 1. And everyone awaits justice.

Initial Pieces of the Puzzle

Poker players knew her as Susie Q.

China-born and Michigan-raised, Zhao attended undergraduate schools in Oakland County before attending Northwestern University in Chicago to obtain a degree in psychology. Her love of poker then took her to Los Angeles, where she lived and worked as a poker pro.

The coronavirus pandemic was not kind to poker players, as it shut down the live poker industry for months in 2020. That may have led to her ultimate decision to leave Southern California and move back to her mother’s home in Michigan in the second week of June. She turned 33 on June 9.

Initially, the White Lake Township Police Department indicated that Zhao left her mother’s house on Sunday, July 12. Someone discovered her body near the Pontiac Lake Trail on Monday, July 13. It took authorities nearly a week to identify her as Zhao, due to her body being badly burned.

On July 31, officers acted on evidence and searched for, found, and arrested a 60-year-old man for the murder. He was ultimately identified as Jeffrey Bernard Morris, a white male with a long criminal record that included drug convictions, domestic violence charges, and criminal sexual conduct. He was a registered Tier 3 sex offender.

Painting a Very Ugly Picture

Police officers initially said they tracked Morris after finding his number in Zhao’s cell phone records.

WXYZ Detroit was one of the first media outlets to reveal more details on August 11-12.

According to evidence and scant details offered by Morris, he knew Zhao prior to the meeting on July 12. It is now known how they were acquainted, but his phone number was in her cell phone. He picked up Zhao on the evening of July 12 on Watkins Lake Road. They checked in to the Sherwood Motel just before 9:30pm. They left the hotel to buy alcohol at a nearby “party store” and returned to the motel.

The motel owner, Mike Patel, indicated in a previous interview that Zhao had stayed at the hotel from July 9-11. Morris then checked in to the same room on July 12. Patel did not see the two together.

Morris claimed that Zhao left the room at midnight and took everything with her, including her cell phone. However, cell phone records determined that to be untrue, as her phones (more than one) did not ping away from the hotel room until approximately 5am.

Surveillance cameras match the phone records to show Morris leaving the hotel near 5am. He drove to a secluded part of the park, where he remained for seven minutes.

At some point during the time at the hotel room, Morris sexually assaulted Zhao with a wooden bat. Police found the blood-stained bat and bloody sheets in duffle bags in Morris’ car when they arrested him. They also found hairs and fibers in his car that connect him to Zhao, as well as other items with “possible blood stains.”

Morris is said to have taken Zhao, who was bound with zip-ties, to the park, where she was “lit on fire until she died.”

A visitor to a parking area of the park found her body and called the White Lake Township Police Department. The FBI also helped in the case, as her body was too badly burned to initially identify her.

Next Court Date: September 14

Morris was arrested and made his first court appearance from a hospital bed. (Police indicated that the hospitalization was temporary.)

On August 4, Judge Kelly Kostin of the 52nd District Court denied bond for Morris due to his extensive criminal history. Once out of the hospital, he was taken to Oakland County Jail. He was charged with first-degree murder, premeditated homicide.

Detroit News reporter Mike Martindale told us that the original August 18 probable cause hearing was adjourned. The next court date will be September 14 for a preliminary examination of the charges.

Police have yet to release information pertaining to possible motives and the initial reason for Zhao and Morris to meet.


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

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