The 60-year-old Michigan man charged in the death of
professional poker player Susie Zhao is a homeless sex offender
who met her at a motel the night before her charred body was
found, police said Wednesday.
Jeffery Bernard Morris, of Pontiac, was charged Tuesday with
first-degree premeditated murder from his hospital bed in the
death of Zhao, a 33-year-old rising poker star whose badly
burned body was found July 13 near the Pontiac Lake Recreation
Area, the Detroit News reports.
No evidence has been found indicating that poker or gambling was
in any way connected to Zhao’s death, White Lake Township police
Lt. Christopher Hild told reporters at a news conference
“This is not the end of the investigation into Susie’s death,
but the beginning of the pursuit of justice for her and her
family,” Hild said, adding that investigators are continuing to
seek a motive in the slaying.
Morris is suspected of having met Zhao on July 12 at a Waterford
Township motel where she frequently stayed, police said, citing
cellphone records reviewed by local and federal investigators.
In 1989, Morris was convicted of third-degree criminal sexual
conduct in Oakland County Circuit Court, according to the
Michigan Sex Offender Registry.
He was arrested in the death of Zhao early Friday after being
pulled over on a warrant while driving west of Detroit in White
Lake Township, police previously told the Detroit Free Press.
Hild said Wednesday that Morris was taken into custody based on
unspecified evidence found by investigators. The transient man’s
last known address was in Pontiac, police said.
Zhao had stayed at the same motel several times in the month
leading up to her death, but it’s unclear how or if she had any
connection to or relationship with Morris, Hild said.
Morris, who remains held without bond, was still hospitalized
Wednesday, Hild said.
Hild declined to elaborate on Morris’ condition, but told
reporters he’s expected to be discharged soon and taken to the
Oakland County Jail, the Detroit News reports.
A judge has set a probable cause hearing in the case for Aug. 18.
Zhao, who was last seen alive by her mother on July 12, had been
living in Los Angeles, but moved to Michigan in June to stay
with her parents as she confronted “challenges in her personal
life,” friends have said.
Zhao, known as “Susie Q” at the card table, had raked in nearly
a quarter-million dollars in poker winnings since 2009,
according to an online poker database.
In her last WSOP event in 2017, Zhao took home $18,693 after
finishing in 697th place. Since 2009, Zhao won $187,441 at WSOP
events, including $73,805 at the 43rd annual World Series of
Poker main event in Las Vegas, where she finished in 90th place,
her WSOP player profile shows.