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Police: Woman found in suitcase was killed in Rochester hotel room

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A woman found dead inside a suitcase June 5 in a ditch near Lake Geneva, Wis., was killed in a Rochester hotel room, authorities said today.

Laura Simonson, 37, of Farmington, had been reported missing by her mother on Nov. 22, 2013. A missing persons investigation initiated by the Farmington Police Department determined Simonson had last been seen Nov. 2, 2013, in Rochester.

A coordinated investigation between multiple agencies in Minnesota and Wisconsin led to the arrest Wednesday of Steven M. Zelich, 52, of West Allis, Wis. He's in custody in the Walworth County Jail in Elkhorn, Wis., about 60 miles southeast of Madison.

Law enforcement officials have put together a timeline of what they now believe happened:

Simonson met up with Zelich on Nov. 2 in Rochester, where they checked into the Microtel Inn and Suites by Wyndham, 4210 U.S. 52.

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The next day, Zelich checked out, without Simonson.

The next movement on the case was the missing persons report filed three weeks later by Simonson's family. When a statewide alert about her was issued Dec. 3, local media carried the information; Microtel employees recognized Simonson and contacted Farmington police.

The FPD investigation, though active, didn't produce many other leads.

On June 5, highway workers in Wisconsin discovered the two suitcases in the town of Geneva, just outside Lake Geneva. Believing it to be suspicious, they called local police, who discovered two bodies.

Simonson soon was identified, and Rochester authorities were contacted June 10, said Police Capt. John Sherwin. Two days later, local crime scene investigators processed the hotel room Simonson and Zelich had rented, working on the theory she had been killed there the morning of Nov. 3.

On Tuesday, physical evidence recovered from the bodies connected Zelich to the crime. Based on that evidence, he was arrested Wednesday at his workplace and has confessed to being involved with Simonson's death in Rochester, Sherwin said.

Because of that, Zelich will face murder charges in Olmsted County. A timeline for those charges is unknown.

Zelich is being held today in the Walworth County Jail on two counts of felony hiding a corpse, said Undersheriff Kurt Picknell. It's unclear where the bodies were before the suitcases were found; there was no indication they had been sitting outside since November.

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Zelich was interrogated Wednesday and likely will make his first court appearance Friday.

The second victim has been tentatively identified by Walworth County authorities but not confirmed, he added.

"We're still working on leads, and this is an ongoing investigation," Picknell said. "We hope to have that information soon."

Their causes of death also are being withheld until further investigation, he said.

The second woman is not from the Rochester area, Sherwin said, and likely was killed in another state. Zelich is believed to have been involved in her death as well, Sherwin said, "and we're confident there's not a public safety threat. We don't believe there are other victims."

Initial investigation reveals Zelich and Simonson were known acquaintances, perhaps meeting through the Internet. Authorities are looking into the possibility that the two were linked to bondage websites, Sherwin acknowledged.

There was nothing specific that brought the pair to Rochester, he said, but Simonson's family said she had spent time here in the past.

"We're obviously treating Laura as a victim here," he said. "Our goal is to seek justice for the victims."

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It's a complicated case, Sherwin said.

"We have two victims, one suspect and multiple jurisdictions and agencies," he said. "This doesn't happen frequently, where someone is killed in one state and moved to another. I'm proud of the efforts of the investigations. It presents challenges, but it's gone ... well."

Detectives have interviewed everyone who was a guest at the Microtel Nov. 2 and 3, Sherwin said, but asked that anyone who may have had interaction with Zelich and Simonson contact authorities.

Anyone with information about either woman is asked to call Walworth County Crime Stoppers at 262-723-2677 or the local Crime Stoppers at 800-222-TIPS (8477). Callers may remain anonymous.

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