"Jenny always had a positive twist on things:" Gamez's foster father, foster sister say she had a big heart

OAKRIDGE, OREGON (WITI) -- Her body has been positively identified -- after it was found inside a suitcase in the Town of Geneva on June 5th. Now, the foster father and foster sister of 21-year-old Jenny Gamez, who last lived in Cottage Grove, Oregon -- but grew up in Oakridge, Oregon are speaking out about the girl they say had a big heart -- and a positively outlook on life.


Officials in Walworth County on Monday, June 30th held a press conference in the case involving two bodies found inside suitcases in the Town of Geneva on June 5th. During that press conference, officials announced the unidentified woman, whose body was found in one of two suitcases discovered on the side of the road is 21-year-old Jenny Gamez of Oregon state. She was positively identified through dental records.

52-year-old Steven Zelich -- a former West Allis police officer, has been charged with two counts of hiding a corpse. Those charges have been filed in Walworth County.

A criminal complaint issued against Zelich says Zelich admitted to authorities to causing the death of both of the women whose bodies were found in the suitcases -- discovered in the area of N. Como Road, east of Co. Rd. H.

Now, both of those women have been positively identified.

Jenny Gamez

Jenny Gamez, of Cottage Grove, Oregon, disappeared in 2012.

Apparently, Gamez wasn't reported missing initially. She told her family she was moving, and police say the young woman's family just thought she was moving on with her life.

Investigators are still working on the time frame involving when she disappeared and when she was killed, but they believe it was in late 2012 or early 2013.

The criminal complaint issued against Zelich says Zelich met the woman, now identified as Gamez, while chatting online in 2012.

They met in person in late 2012 or early 2013 in Kenosha County, and Zelich told officials he caused this woman's death during that meeting, according to the complaint.

Zelich told police he put her body into a suitcase, and hid her at his home in West Allis. In 2014, Zelich said he moved the body to his vehicle, according to the complaint.

The complaint says when the body of Gamez was found in the suitcase in the Town of Geneva, her hands were bound with rope behind her back.

The complaint says she was found partially concealed in garbage bags.

The other victim was previously identified by officials in Rochester, Minnesota.

Laura Simonson

She is 37-year-old Laura Simonson of Farmington, Minnesota.

Simonson was reported missing by her mother in November of 2013.

The complaint says Zelich told officials he met Simonson online -- and he said the two met personally in Rochester, Minnesota in November of 2013.

The complaint says Zelich admitted to causing Simonson's death. He says he put her in a suitcase and hid her in his vehicle.

When her body was discovered in the suitcase in the Town of Geneva, the complaint against Zelich says she was found with a rope wrapped around her neck, and a sexual ball gag strapped into her mouth with a collar. She was found naked.

"At this time we`d like to send out our condolences for Laura and Jenny. Through this investigation, it`s our hope that we can help bring closure to their families," Town of Geneva Police Chief Steve Hurley said.

The complaint says Zelich admitted to eventually taking both bodies to the Town of Geneva during the first week of June. They were found on June 5th -- off the road, in tall grass.

"There was no particular reason that we could come up with for why the Town of Geneva was picked -- other than it was just a road the individual decided to drive down," Chief Hurley said.

As to the possibility of more victims in this case...

"I think we leave that question wide open for now," Chief Hurley said.

Zelich made his initial court appearance on Friday, June 27th -- where he was ordered held on $1 million bond. We're told Zelich is being kept in segregation for his own protection.

Zelich is due back in court on Thursday, July 3rd in Walworth County for his preliminary hearing.

Meanwhile, officials in Kenosha County are trying to prove Zelich killed Gamez through computer evidence and hotel records before they bring the case to the District Attorney's Office for possible murder charges.

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