The morning he was arrested for allegedly stuffing the bodies of two women into suitcases, Steven Zelich of suburban Milwaukee apparently used a mobile device to visit an S&M website under the name “mrhandcuffs.”
“Seeking a long-term (perm) 24/7 slave, for absolute ownership/slavery,” his profile on Collarpsace.com read. “There is nothing better than a slave, tied tight, gagged, blindfolded, hooded, chained, caged...or being lead by her collar w/leash, wearing wrist and ankle manacles.”
The profile photo for this 52-year-old “male, dominant” shows a half-smiling man relaxing on a white brocade sofa in a black polo shirt, shorts, and sandals. He is almost certainly the same man described in an April 28 online classified ad posted by a friend of one of the women found in the suitcases, 37-year-old Laura Simonson:
“Steven Mark Zelich is a sadist who has enslaved a petite female named Laura Jean Simonson. He keeps her naked, handcuffed, shackled, and caged. He has no intention of ever releasing this poor woman who suffers from various mental disabilities. She has been whipped and tortured by Steven Mark Zelich since November 2, 2013.”
The friend’s post went on, “Laura is the mother of 7 young children and has not been allowed by Steven to contact them in any way. The police have not been able to locate where Steven has Laura imprisoned. Please join our effort to find and free Laura Simonson. I encourage you to harass Steven constantly by calling his cell phone repeatedly and flooding his email inbox with similar messages.”
The posting provided Zelich’s cellphone number and email address. The posting concluded: “Steven openly talks about his treatment of women on a website called ‘collarme.’ You can find him using the profile name ‘mrhandcuffs.’”
The username seems to reflect not only Zelich’s interest in S&M but also his previous life as a police officer in West Allis, outside Milwaukee. He had been on the job for a dozen years in May 2001, when he met a prostitute at a bar and brought her home.
The woman ran naked from the apartment and later told police that she had bolted when she heard what she took to be the sound of Zelich taking out a pair of handcuffs. Zelich maintained that she had been trying to steal from him.
But if nothing else, he acknowledged patronizing a prostitute and was forced to resign in August 2001. He subsequently worked as a security officer. He became “mrhandcuffs” on the S&M site in 2007.
One of the people he apparently met online was Laura Simonson. Her family says that she indeed suffered mental health problems and lost custody of her eight children in 2010. One of her five daughters, Alyssa, was blind and confined to a wheelchair. The daughter’s lifetime struggle with her disabilities ended with her death on June 20, 2013, at the age of 13.
“When she was days away from taking her first steps independently, a tragic accident changed forever the course of her young life and the lives of those who loved her,” an obituary reads. “Following a courageous struggle, she was left with disabilities that would challenge both the strength and spirit of Alyssa and her family in the coming years. Although it took great effort to achieve the smallest things, and pain and discomfort were often close by, Alyssa’s spirit would always break through with a great sunshine smile. Alyssa adored spending time with her brothers and sisters, and she loved when they would interact with her, playing catch or giving her wheelchair rides in circles.”
In the aftermath, the oldest daughter, 18-year-old Kaylee, went on a fundraising website seeking donations “to help my mother get help with my sisters death.”
Kaylee posted what she titled “The Story of Laura Simonson”:
“Well it all started when Laura had a beautiful family. Happy with their mother, they were smiling and dancing ‘til they got tired. We had a good life until the county took all of us away. We cried for our mom every night. We still do at this time of our years. We worried about our mom and we were scared with people who we don’t know!…Some of us got raped when we were in foster care.
The posting goes on: “When we were with mom we didn’t get raped. We had food, shelter and each other…My stepfather came out of prison and took the kids to stay with him and me and alyssa was still in foster home. When Alyssa died, I felt bad because she always makes me happy.”
Kaylee subsequently added, “My mother is homeless. Her car is breaking down and her car is the only shelter she has.”
The appeal raised not a dollar, but by the fall Simonson was apparently living with her mother, Mary Wierson, in Farmingdale, Minnesota. Simonson headed out from the mother’s house on November 2 for her first face-to-face meeting with her online buddy Zelich. A detective would later describe her as having been rendered particularly vulnerable by her many troubles.
On November 22, Simonson’s family reported her missing. She left a cyber trail that led the police to Zelich, who was interviewed in January. He is said by investigators to have acknowledged going with Simonson to a motel in Rochester, Minnesota. But he insisted that she had been fine when they parted and that he had not heard from her since.
A Farmingdale detective described Zelich as “the number 1 person, by far, of interest” in Simonson’s disappearance from the very start. But interest does not translate into probable cause without evidence. The detectives had no body, and a search of Zelich’s apartment provided no sign of her.
Even so, the police attention may have rattled Zelich. The self-described “male dominant” announced on an online forum called “MasterB Slave Club” that he was interested in becoming a full-time, perpetual slave.
“I have just joined the group, with the hope of finding an owner (male/female/couple),” he wrote in late January. “I seek no limit no release enslavement, imprisonment, captivity, animalization...ideally in a farm/caged situation. If this level of control interests you, please feel free to make contact."
A woman inquired, “Are you serious?”
He responded in the predawn hours of the next day, “Yes, I am extremely serious…If you know of an owner who desires this level, please let me know.”
The police who continued to consider him the leading suspect in Simonson’s disappearance no doubt would have been happy to make this particular fantasy a reality in the form of a life term in a prison. But they still had little more than suspicion. And as the months passed, Zelich seemed to recover himself. He was going online once again as mrhandcuffs looking for a permanent “24.7 slave, for absolute ownership.”
Then, in April, the detailed accusation describing Zelich as a predator was posted on a classified ad website. The poster asked people to harass Zelich by cellphone and email. His nerves may have frayed.
On June 5, a highway worker cutting an overgrown patch along a road in Geneva, Wisconsin, came upon a pair of discarded suitcases. He moved them to the side of the road and out of the way of the mower. The suitcases were soon after spotted by passersby who approached to see swarms of flies.
According to the subsequent criminal complaint, the more decomposed of the two bodies was partly concealed in black plastic garbage bags and had her hands bound behind her back with rope. The other body “was found with a rope wrapped around her neck, had a sexual ball gag strapped into her mouth with a collar and was naked.”
The discovery of the bodies in the suitcases was widely reported, but Zelich was still going on the SM site in the morning of June 25 in search of a new slave, saying there “is nothing better” than binding and gagging a woman and leading her by a collar and leash.
In the meantime, the police had used dental records to identity the less decomposed body as Laura Simonson. Zelich was arrested at 10:30 a.m. on June 27.
Police tentatively identified the other woman but did not immediately release her name. The complaint describes her only as “Jane Doe.” The document reports that Zelich “stated that he met Jane Doe via an online chatting in 2012. He and Doe met in person in late 2012, or early 2013 in Kenosha County, Wisconsin.”
The complaint adds: “The Defendant admitted that during that meeting he caused the death of Jane Doe…The defendant further admitted that, after causing her death, he put Jane Doe in a suitcase and hid her at his home in West Allis, and that he later hid Jane Doe’s body in his vehicle in 2014.”
As for Simonson, the complaint says Zelich told police that he also had met her online. He confirmed that they had met in person in November.
The complaint adds, “Defendant further admitted that during this meeting with Simonson he caused her death, put her in a suitcase, and transported and hid her body in his vehicle.” The complaint notes that Zelich admitted driving both suitcases in the trunk of his car to Geneva, “where he hid them off the roadway in the tall grass.”
Perhaps Zelich had the suitcases in his car when detectives initially searched his apartment. Police now searched it again, along with a room at the Microhotel and Suites in Rochester where an employee remembered Simonson and Zelich from when they checked in. The employee recalled seeing only Zelich check out the next day.
On Friday, Zelich appeared in court via videoconferencing from the Walworth County jail. He was arraigned on two counts of hiding a corpse, and bail was set at $1 million. He sat silent, twiddling his thumbs.
Murder charges are expected to follow. Zelich’s present court-appointed public defender has suggested that his client might argue that the deaths were the result of rough sex.
The detectives and the prosecutors can be counted upon to do all they can to ensure that Zelich is imprisoned in a no-release caged situation for the rest of his days.
Meanwhile, the online realm of S&M is buzzing about mrhandcuffs. Someone who calls herself “Bad girl missy” reported that “years ago I talked to the person, 2-3 online conversations and you could tell he was out there.”
She added, “Just a warning to always be safe when meeting anyone.”