A Pontiac man and convicted sex offender is accused of planning and executing the homicide of Susie Zhao, a professional poker player, in White Lake Township.
Jeffery Bernard Morris, 60, was arraigned Tuesday
by a 52-2 District Court judge in Clarkston on a felony charge of first-degree premeditated homicide.
Township Police Chief Dan Keller confirmed by phone the charge is for Zhao’s death.
Morris is scheduled to appear in court for a probable cause conference on Aug. 18. Online court records indicate he is accused of killing Zhao on July 13.
It was that morning, at around 8:05 a.m., that two men found Zhao’s burnt remains at a wooded parking area on the edge of the Pontiac Lake State Recreation Area, near Maceday Lake and Cross roads.
Investigators eventually identified her remains through a fingerprint analysis. They also interviewed people who spoke to Zhao in the days before she disappeared.
They were able to take Morris into custody Friday morning after locating his vehicle. They stopped the suspect near Interstate 275 and Michigan Avenue and executed a search warrant, White Lake Township Police Det. Lt. Christopher Hild said.
According to the Michigan Sex Offender Registry, Morris was convicted of third-degree criminal sexual conduct in Oakland County Circuit Court in 1989.
He is now accused of killing Zhao at the state park before setting her body ablaze.
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Zhao, 33, was considered rather transient after leaving Cranbrook Schools. She lived in
California before returning to her parents’ home in Waterford earlier this summer.
She apparently returned from seeing Saginaw friends on July 12. The last time her mother saw her that day was at about 5:30 p.m.
Her car had been impounded for traffic-related offenses and she had a past as a hitchhiker.
The Department of Natural Resources’ staff checked the area where Zhao was found at about 11:45 p.m. Online court records indicate that Morris’ alleged offense took place the next day.