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Second Wisconsin suitcase body is identified as Oregon woman

By Brendan O'Brien

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - An Oregon mother has been identified as the second victim whose body was found in a suitcase dumped in a grassy ditch along a rural road in southeastern Wisconsin, authorities said Monday.

The badly decomposed body of Jenny Gamez, 21, who disappeared in 2012 from Cottage Grove, Oregon, was found on June 5 stuffed in a suitcase in Walworth County, 50 miles (80 km) southwest of Milwaukee, Town of Geneva Police Chief Steve Hurley said.

Gamez's foster mother, Lorraine Eriksen, said she submitted dental records to police to help in her identification. Eriksen said she last saw Gamez on Mother's Day in 2011 when she stopped to bring her a plant.

"I often wondered what happened," Eriksen said in a telephone interview. "We were surprised that she didn't keep in contact with us. And now we know why."

Eriksen said Gamez had lost custody of a son before coming to live with her in Cottage Grove, but had been turning her life around. She attended a community college and planned to later study water conservation at a state school, she said.

The body of another woman, Laura Simonson, 37, of Farmington, Minnesota, was found in another suitcase along the road after a crew cutting grass moved the luggage out of the way. Simonson was identified earlier in June.

Steven Zelich, 52, was charged on Thursday in Walworth County with two felony counts of hiding a corpse. He is accused of putting the bodies of Gamez and Simonson in suitcases he concealed in his vehicle and in his apartment in West Allis, a Milwaukee suburb.

Zelich was being held on a $1 million bond. During a bond hearing on Friday, a prosecutor said additional charges are being considered in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, and Olmsted County, Minnesota, where authorities say the women died.

An investigation into the circumstances surrounding the deaths is ongoing in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Zelich, a former police officer, told authorities that in late 2012 or early 2013, after meeting Gamez online, he went to see her in Kenosha County in southeastern Wisconsin, where he caused her death, according to the criminal complaint.

Zelich told investigators he also met Simonson online and caused her death while they were together at a hotel last November in Rochester, Minnesota.

(Additional reporting by Shelby Sebens in Portland, Oregon; Editing by Gunna Dickson and Sandra Maler)

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