News from around Wisconsin at 5:28 a.m. CDT

  • Associated Press
  • June 28, 2014 - 6:35 AM

ELKHORN, Wis. — Two women whose remains were found stuffed in suitcases dropped along a rural Wisconsin highway may have died accidentally, perhaps during consensual sex, the defense attorney for a former police officer suspected in their deaths said Friday.

Steven Zelich, a 52-year-old security officer, has been charged with two counts of hiding a corpse. A prosecutor convinced a judge to set bond at $1 million, saying he expected homicide charges to be filed in the counties where the women were killed, but Zelich's attorney said it's unclear how the women died.

"It could be anything from premeditated homicide down to accidental death that occurred through a consensual sex-related act," Walworth County public defender Travis Schwantes said after the bond hearing.

Zelich previously was involved in an incident with a prostitute, according to police records, and authorities have said he may have met one of the women in the suitcases on a bondage website.

He was arrested Wednesday, when detectives wearing hazmat suits removed a refrigerator and large brown bags of evidence from his apartment in West Allis, a Milwaukee suburb. He appeared for Friday's bond hearing through a video from jail but did not speak.

According to a criminal complaint, Zelich told investigators that he met the women online. He said he killed one in late 2012 or early 2013 in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, and the other in November in Rochester, Minnesota. Authorities have not identified the first woman, but say the second was Laura Simonson, 37, of Farmington, Minnesota.

Zelich stored the bodies in suitcases kept in his apartment and vehicle for months before dropping them in the Town of Geneva, some 50 miles southwest of Milwaukee, in early June, the complaint and prosecutors said. Highway workers cutting grass discovered the suitcases on June 5.

COLFAX, Wis. (AP) — A weak tornado has struck the western Wisconsin village of Colfax, downing trees, tearing roofs off homes and knocking out power.

Police Chief Bill Anderson tells The Associated Press the brief tornado struck without warning "right on main street" around 3:15 p.m. Friday.

Anderson says the tornado damaged a gas station and tore roofs off some houses, but only one family was displaced. No injuries are reported.

The storm also twisted goalposts at the high school football field and ripped venting off the school roof.

National Weather Service technician Ross Carlyon tells the Leader-Telegram it was a "very fast-moving thunderstorm" that briefly dropped a weak tornado.

Colfax is a village of about 1,100 about 75 miles east of Minneapolis. In June of 1958, a deadly tornado nearly obliterated Colfax.

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Milwaukee police says an internal investigation is underway into why it took nearly 22 minutes for officers to respond to a stabbing that resulted in a woman's death.

Lt. Mark Stanmeyer says a preliminary investigation indicates the dispatch call was not handled within protocol. Stanmeyer says Chief Edward Flynn has addressed the situation with his command staff and by issuing a department-wide directive.

Barbara Killebrew was stabbed in a north side residence Tuesday. Dispatch records show a 911 call about the stabbing was placed at 5:28 p.m. and it was 5:48 p.m. before an officer reached the scene. The Journal Sentinel ( ) reports fire department personnel responded within three minutes, but as a matter of procedure, waited to treat Killibrew until police arrived to secure the scene. She was pronounced dead at 5:54 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Two people are asking a federal judge to issue an order designed to protect their identities if more documents are made public in an investigation into allegations of campaign law violations by Gov. Scott Walker's recall campaign and a host of conservative groups.

Attorneys for the unnamed parties filed a request with U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa late Thursday asking that they be notified before any more documents are unsealed in the case. Last week a federal appeals court judge unsealed more than 250 pages of court filings, despite their objections.

Prosecutors have said in court filings that they are looking into allegations of illegal campaign activity involving Walker's campaign and conservative groups during the 2011 and 2012 recalls. In a document written in December but made public last week, the special prosecutor described what he called a "criminal scheme" to evade campaign fundraising and coordination laws.

An attorney for special prosecutor Francis Schmitz released a statement Thursday saying that document laid out a legal theory, but that no determination had been made whether to charge Walker or anyone else with a crime. Attorney Randall Crocker also said Walker was not a target of the probe.

The investigation began in 2012 but was put on hold by Randa last month. Randa sided with conservative group Wisconsin Club for Growth, which argued the investigation was a violation of its free speech rights.

The state court judge overseeing the probe, known as a John Doe, in January quashed prosecutors' requests for subpoenas, also effectively halting the investigation.

Walker has repeatedly said he did nothing wrong and that his political opponents, including Democratic challenger Mary Burke, are slandering him by referring to the December court document that talked about his involvement in a "criminal scheme."

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