Zhao, 33, was last seen alive by her mother July 12 at 5:30 p.m., according to the White Lake Township Police Department.
Her badly burned body was found around 8:30 a.m. the next day in a parking lot near the Pontiac Lake Recreation Area, on the outskirts of Detroit.
The high-stakes card player bounced between Los Angeles and Las Vegas but had recently moved back to Michigan to live with her parents and “confront challenges in her personal life,” friends told local outlet WXYZ-TV.
“It’s hard to picture her having enemies,” Zhao’s former roommate Yuval Bronshtein told the station.
Police didn’t immediately release a cause of death and an autopsy and toxicology results from the Oakland County Medical Examiner are pending.
Cops are asking for anyone who may have seen Zhao between July 11 and 13 or has any information related to the investigation to call Detective Lt. Christopher Hild at 248-698-4404, ext. 2381.
The FBI is also helping in the investigation.
Zhao’s success at the card tables included walking away with more than $73,000 at the 2012 World Series of Poker Main Event, where she placed 90th, according to PokerNews.com.
“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.”
Another fellow player, Clayton Fletcher, wrote in a tweet that Zhao “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,” he wrote.