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This story isn’t the standard story of violence and psychological sickness, the place a homicide instantly invokes hypothesis concerning the perpetrator’s psychological well being. It is the story of a vibrant, profitable younger girl identified with schizophrenia who informed none of her mates about her private struggles and who met a sexual predator who took benefit of her vulnerability. Just like the overwhelming majority of severely mentally sick adults, her relationship with violence was as a sufferer, not a perpetrator. Her title was Susie Zhao.
The Lifetime of Susie Zhao
Susie Zhao was born in Beijing, China, on June 9, 1987. She immigrated to america together with her mom when she was eight. Whilst a younger little one, Susie beloved video games. Nevertheless it was in center college that she discovered a card recreation that modified the course of her life. She found poker. It wasn’t lengthy earlier than she was profitable her schoolmates’ lunch cash within the basement of her residence complicated.
In 2010, after graduating from faculty with a psychology diploma, she headed to Los Angeles to pursue her dream of being an expert poker participant. She spent the subsequent ten years there, taking part in money video games at native casinos and infrequently traveled between L.A. and Las Vegas for tournaments. She was an up-and-comer, having earned round $200,000 – not sufficient to dwell a lifetime of luxurious however sufficient to pay the payments. She supposedly had a killer poker face.
Sadly, it appears it was powerful for her to indicate her hand even when she was not on the poker desk. Mates stated Susie by no means expressed any vulnerability or weak spot. Whereas they’d observed her getting quieter and extra subdued over the previous few years, they have been fully unaware of her psychological well being challenges.
However Susie’s dad and mom knew. That they had watched Susie endure. In an announcement after her daughter’s demise, she stated Susie had been identified with schizophrenia years in the past. They tried their greatest. In 2015, Susie’s dad and mom tried to have Susie involuntarily hospitalized by courtroom order. They have been unsuccessful. In 2018, they sought authorized guardianship; this failed additionally.
By July 2020, Susie might have been experiencing energetic signs of psychosis. A longtime buddy, Michelle Lagrou, stated that Susie had referred to as her out of the blue – the 2 have been mates as youngsters however hadn’t been in touch for a number of years – just a few days earlier than her demise. The 2 made plans to spend the second weekend of July collectively. Michelle was additionally going to carry alongside her three-year-old daughter. However the Susie she picked up was not the Susie she remembered. And it scared her.
Michelle stated that issues have been unusual earlier than she even picked her buddy up. She modified their assembly place 3 times. Michelle stated that Susie’s conduct continued to be erratic. On Friday, July 11, she took Michelle’s automobile with out permission for a number of hours. Within the automobile the subsequent day, Susie repeatedly rolled the automobile window up and down. She did the identical with the music. At one level, she acted as if somebody was choking her.
By this time, Michelle believed Susie was utilizing medication (what else may clarify Susie’s conduct?) and was frightened about her preschooler’s security. Michelle finally requested Susie to get out of the automobile and left her at a fuel station.
Susie’s mother got here and picked her up.
Susie was gone when she and Susie’s stepfather returned from dinner round 10:15 p.m. It was Sunday, July 12, 2020. Susie could be lifeless earlier than the solar got here up.
Assembly Up With a Assassin
I’m wondering how Jeffrey Bernard Morris satisfied Susie to satisfy up with him. It’s laborious to think about Susie Zhao agreeing to satisfy up with sixty-year-old Morris below much less fragile circumstances. That they had each beforehand stayed on the identical lodge, so possibly she knew him by sight.
In his mugshot, he appears soiled and matted. A former landlady described him as “creepy;” she had just lately kicked him out of the basement he had been renting from her for the previous 4 months due to her discomfort round him.
However what you could not see was a lot worse. Jeffrey Bernard Morris had an extended and diversified rap sheet relationship again to a 1989 intercourse crime conviction. He had a number of home violence expenses and had pleaded responsible to misdemeanor home violence in 2009. He additionally had convictions for assault with intent to rob whereas armed, larceny, driving below the affect, drug possession, and failure to adjust to intercourse offender reporting duties. On the time of his arrest, he was on probation for retail theft.
Cellphone information confirmed eight cellphone calls between the 2 earlier than they met. They checked into the Sherwood Lodge at 9:26 p.m. on July 12, 2020. Safety digicam footage later revealed that Morris had stolen zip ties and petroleum jelly at a close-by Meijer retailer shortly earlier than closing. This stuff have been later discovered on the crime scene.
Susie’s badly burned physique was discovered by a hiker on July 13 at a trailhead on the Pontiac Lake Recreation space, about six miles from the lodge. She had been sure by zip ties and had sustained extreme accidents, particularly to her genitals. She had additionally been set on fireplace, sustaining burns to over ninety-five % of her physique. The health worker testified that she suffered a few of these burns whereas she was nonetheless alive. He was arrested ten days after the invention of the physique. He was driving west alongside I-275, round 30 miles from the place Susie lay.
A Glimpse Into Morris’ Psyche
We have talked about Susie Zhao’s battle with psychological sickness and the doable position her psychiatric signs might have performed in leaving her weak to exploitation. However what about her killer?
We all know Jeffrey Bernard Morris had deviant sexual pursuits. Along with his sexually abusive historical past, regulation enforcement later discovered over 2,000 web searches for violent, nonconsensual pornography. Many photographs have been of sexual assault, bondage, and torture of Asian ladies. Prosecutors later argued that these have been glimpses into the sexual fantasies that fueled his sadistic rape, torture, and homicide of Susie Zhao.
Whereas I’ve by no means evaluated Morris, given his legal and web historical past, it might not be stunning if he had a paraphilia often called sexual sadism. Sexual sadism dysfunction is hallmarked by intense sexual pleasure when fantasizing about or witnessing one other particular person present process bodily or psychological ache. Whereas sexual sadism is a diagnosable dysfunction within the DSM-5, I’ve by no means seen it used to excuse or downplay somebody’s legal conduct in a courtroom of regulation.
I believe that is for a few causes. First, fantasies of dominance and coercion (even rape) throughout intercourse are surprisingly widespread amongst well-adjusted adults. But only a few individuals ever act on these. And, for individuals who do, it’s most frequently with a consenting grownup, within the context of BDSM intercourse play or “nonconsensual consent.” Second, regardless of how sturdy, vivid, or intense fantasies are, they don’t harm anybody. It’s the option to act on these fantasies (on this case, with a nonconsenting accomplice) that’s unlawful. I believe Morris’ excessive sexual fantasies are like gasoline on a hearth, nevertheless it takes extra (narcissism, psychopathy, an absence of empathy, and so on.) to get the hearth began.
The Backside Line
I had so many needs as I researched this case. I want Susie may have shared her psychological well being struggles with those that cared about her. I want her dad and mom had gotten the help they wanted and recommendation which may have helped. I want there weren’t such disgrace and stigma round psychological sickness; I don’t know what position it performed on this state of affairs, however repeatedly, I’ve seen individuals endure in silence. When my very own dad struggled with bipolar dysfunction after I was rising up, I don’t keep in mind telling a single buddy about it. It simply appeared like one thing to cover.
I want we knew extra about individuals like Jeffrey Bernard Morris to catch them sooner and stop the injury they do. In an ideal world, we’d spot issues early on to salvage their lives.
I get some consolation from realizing that Morris won’t ever harm anybody else; on November 10, 2022, he was sentenced to life with out parole. I’m unsure that may assist if I used to be Susie’s mother.