The badly burned body of 33-year-old Susie Zhao has been discovered in a remote Michigan park.
The professional poker player was last seen by her mother at 5:30pm on July 12 (local time), less than three hours later her body was found in the parking lot of Pontiac Lake recreational area on the outskirts of Detroit, in the United States.
White Lake Township Police Department confirmed the body has been identified as Ms Zhao, adding that "the female subject" was "badly burned".
Police said Ms Zhao’s death may be connected to her gambling in other states or to somebody locally.
‘She was absolutely brilliant’
Ms Zhao regularly played in poker tournaments in Los Angeles and Las Vegas winning as much as $73,000 (AU$104,000) in the 2012 World Series, but on June 9 she moved back to Michigan to live with her parents after reportedly having financial troubles.
Close friends told local outlet WXYZ-TV she had returned home to “confront challenges in her personal life”.
“It’s hard to picture her having enemies,” Ms Zhao’s former roommate Yuval Bronshtein said.
At a media conference three friends described Ms Zhao as a “free spirit”.
“She played by her own rules, she followed her dreams, she was absolutely brilliant,” Meredith Rogowski said.
Her friends mentioned that while Ms Zhao kept details of her personal life private, she was well liked by people who knew her.
“Everybody loved her, I never remember her fighting with anybody,” Michelle Lagrou said.
“No conflict, no drama,” another friend added.
Please see the attached press release reference an ongoing investigation. Anyone with information, please call Det./Lt. Hild at 248-698-4404 ext. 2381. Thank you. pic.twitter.com/8beDaEjKQ6
— WLTPD (@WhiteLakePolice) July 20, 2020
Murder may be a cover up, police say
White Lake Township Detective Chris Hild said police were currently trying to determine a motive for the gruesome killing.
“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,” he told media.
“She really was an excellent player. One of the best in LA at the level we played at the Commerce Casino and it’s the biggest poker room in the world,” fellow competitor and friend, Bart Hanson, told WXYZ.
“I never would have thought anyone would’ve wanted to do anything to her”.
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