A suspect has now been charged in the brutal killing of professional poker player Susie “Susie Q” Zhao. Detectives and FBI Task Force arrested Jeffrey Bernard Morris, 60, after he was identified to have checked in to the same hotel room where Zhao stayed before she was found dead near Michigan lake on the morning of July 13.
Suspect Is A Registered Sex Offender
Morris, whose last known address was in Pontiac, was charged with first-degree murder in connection to Zhao’s gruesome death.
While investigators have yet to release the complete details of the suspect’s extensive criminal history, records from the Michigan Sex Offender Registry show Morris is a registered sex offender, with a 1989 rape conviction. He was required to register after being found guilty of third-degree criminal sexual conduct using force or coercion.
According to White Lake Township Police Lieutenant Chris Hild, Morris had no permanent residence in Michigan and had been living with several different people in the Pontiac area before the incident took place. Apparently, Zhao met him at a hotel in Waterford Township, though the motel owner never saw them together.
Detectives were told Zhao checked into a room at Sherwood Motel on July 9, and checked out on July 11. The following day, July 12, the suspect checked into the same room. On July 13, Zhao’s burnt body was found in a remote parking area of the Pontiac Lake State Recreation Area. Investigators were initially looking at a potential link between her brutal death and her profession as a poker player, or some cover-up or retaliatory incident, prior to Morris’ arrest.
According to investigators, Zhao had been living a transient lifestyle. In June, she returned to Michigan to stay with her mother, whose home is located a couple of miles from the area where her charred body was discovered. Those who personally know Zhao couldn’t remember her having enemies.
While there were speculations the brutal killing might be linked to her poker career, detectives now say it doesn’t appear to be the case, though they said they’re looking at all angles to establish a motive for the crime.
Tributes Pour In for Susie Q
Zhao, who is known in the poker circuit as “Susie Q”, has been remembered by his friends and loved ones as a “positive, brilliant” woman who lived a fascinating life. One of her friends in poker, Bert Hanson, called her a “true gentle soul”.
The “sweet, kind” and always cheerful 33-year-old had been a resident of Los Angeles for around 10 years. She was regularly seen playing high-stakes cash games, and also appeared on the popular “Live at the Bike”, a livestreamed cash game from the Bicycle Casino. She would also sometimes appear on the World Poker Tour, broadcast on Fox Sports Net.
Zhao’s former opponent Clayton Fletcher describes her as one of the “bubbliest and most vivacious” players with a great sense of humor. Allen Kessler, Zhao’s long-time poker friend also expressed his grief at the 33-year-old’s untimely demise, sharing that they had just chatted via Facebook about coping with the quarantine days before her death.
Her friend Meredith Rogowski remembers Zhao as a “true legend” who brightened the lives of all who know her. In a Facebook post, Rogowski urged those who know Susie to remember her for her “fun-loving spirit” rather than her tragic passing.
Zhao’s Poker Career
Based on her record in The Hendon Mob poker database, Zhao had over $220,000 in live tournament earnings throughout her career, over $100,000 of that she won in various World Series of Poker (WSOP) events through the years.
She also competed in the WSOP Circuit and collected $34,589 in winnings. She was one of only five women who were among the Top 150 players at the 2012 WSOP Main Event, where she eventually walked away with nearly $74,000 in earnings – the biggest single cash of her career.
Morris is currently being held in the Oakland County Jail and has been denied bail owing to his criminal history and the severity of the crime.