Authorities are investigating whether the grisly slaying of a professional poker player, whose charred remains were found in a remote Michigan park this month, is connected to her gambling.
Susie Zhao, 33, was last seen around 5:30 p.m. on July 12 by her mother, the White Lake Township Police Department told The Daily Beast. The next day, her “badly burned” body was discovered at around 8:05 a.m. in a parking lot near the Pontiac Lake Recreation Area, about an hour outside of Detroit.
“You have to determine whether or not this is a cover-up, or this may be some sort of retaliatory incident because of her profession,” White Lake Township Detective Chris Hild said in a Wednesday press conference.
Authorities are scrambling to understand the motive behind her “mysterious death” and are asking any witnesses who may have seen the pro poker player, known on the circuit as “Susie Q,” during the hours she was missing. This week, the FBI joined local authorities in the investigation.
A spokesperson for the Oakland County Medical Examiner told The Daily Beast that Zhao’s cause of death is currently unknown, pending an autopsy and toxicology results.
Kinga, who has been friends with Zhao since the 6th grade, told The Daily Beast that Zhao bounced between several cities—including Los Angeles, Vegas, and Florida—both for her job and because she was “a jet-setter.”
“I don’t think there was ever anything else that she wanted to do. She was playing poker from a very young age,” Meredith Rogowski, another childhood friend, told The Daily Beast. “It was not a surprise. She was very bold and did whatever she wanted to do. Whenever we talked about her job, she was very nonchalant. But I do know it was exhausting to be in that world—it was long-hours and some of the people she met weren’t always genuine.”
Clayton Fletcher, a fellow player who has played with Zhao for over five years, tweeted, “She was one of the bubbliest and most vivacious opponents I’ve ever had. She was a very strong player who also liked to have fun at the table.”
Over the course of her career, Zhao won $224,671, according to the poker database The Hendon Mob. But despite her success, she recently moved back to Michigan on June 9.
Kinga stressed that the “hardest part about all of this” is not knowing what happened to her friend. Describing Zhao as a “fun, outgoing, positive, and bubbly,” Kinga said she can’t even count on “one hand” any negative memories about the 33-year-old.
“She valued friendship and she valued family and she was always true to herself. She always had her own style, her own thing—I think that’s why people loved her in poker. She wore her hats and her jewelry and that’s always been her thing,” Kinga said.
“I just wish I had a clue about what is going on and what happened. We just want speedy justice and closure,” she added.