The Oakland County murder of a poker player this month could be tied to the victim’s life on the professional circuit, police said.
So say White Lake Township police after the death of Susie Zhao, 33, whose burned body was found July 13 at the Pontiac Lake Recreational Area, according to the Associated Press.
“We have to determine whether or not this is a cover-up or this may be some sort of retaliatory incident because of her profession,” said Det. Lt. Chris Hild of the White Lake Township Police Department about the apparent homicide. However, the motive for her death was still unclear.
Many in the poker world were stunned by Zhao’s death.
Zhao returned home to Michigan recently
Zhao had lived in Los Angeles but returned home to Michigan recently. Friends said she was back to “confront challenges in her personal life,” according to PlayCA.com.
Known as Susie Q in the poker world, Zhao had earned nearly $250,000 in live earnings.
Zhao was originally from Beijing but grew up in Bloomfield Hills. She started playing poker as a teen in Troy and graduated with a psychology degree from Northwestern.
White Lake police said her mother was the last person to see Zhao at 5:30 p.m. on July 12. Her remains were found at 8:30 a.m. the following day.
Poker players offer words of sympathy
Zhao frequently played poker at the Commerce Casino in the Los Angeles suburbs, which has a prestigious room.
Friend and fellow poker pro Bart Hanson said she was formidable at the table.
“She really was an excellent player,” Hanson said. “One of the best in L.A.”
“I never would have thought anyone would want to do anything to her.”
Poker player Clayton Fletcher added, on Twitter: “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.”
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. Do you remember her from our Day Five in 2015, @jeffplatt? I'm heartbroken reading this. RIP Susie Zhaohttps://t.co/eTdnV07N4q
— Clayton Fletcher (@claytoncomic) July 21, 2020
Friends in Michigan, who met with the local media last week to help get the word out, were stunned about Zhao’s death.
“Everybody loves her,” Michelle Lagrou said to WXYZ. “Nobody ever remembers her fighting with anybody ever, no conflict, no drama.”
“Surprised, confused, and saddened,” added former roommate Yuval Bronshtein. “It’s hard to picture her having enemies.”
The FBI is also helping with the investigation. An autopsy and toxicology reports are pending.
Anyone with information about the murder, or on Zhao’s whereabouts around the time of her death, can call White Lake police at 248-698-4400 or 911.