The Wisconsin man accused of killing his girlfriend’s son during a fight over stolen reptiles has agreed to sell his exotic animals to pay for his defense attorney, according to court documents.
William Zelenski, 44, and Tiffany Powell, 35, both face homicide charges over the death of Tiffany’s 18-year-old son Ryelee Manente-Powell.
William worked as a reptile and exotic animal dealer under the business name Wild Bill’s Exotics, Waupaca, WI. His wife April also resides at the property.
On October 19, 2020 William called police several times to report guns, alcohol and reptiles valued at more than $27,000 had been stolen from his home. The reptiles included venomous Mexican beaded lizards, a Nile crocodile, a red tail boa and burmese pythons. Also stolen was a west African gaboon viper; considered one of the most deadly snakes in the world.
William reported to dispatch he received a tip that Ryelee and Ryelee’s 17-year-old friend had stolen the reptiles. William and Tiffany then began driving to the location where Ryelee and his friend had left the stolen reptiles to retrieve them. On the way, they spotted Ryelee walking on the sidewalk and pulled over to confront him, according to the criminal complaint.
The ensuing altercation was largely caught on a nearby doorbell camera, according to documents. The camera captured William confronting Ryelee, who was unarmed, with a shotgun and a taser while Ryelee told William to “put the gun down and fight like a man.”
At one point William handed the shotgun to Tiffany and said, “hold this on your son, hold this on your son.”
William and Ryelee then began squaring off with each other before Ryelee broke away and started running toward the vehicle. Tiffany pointed the gun at her son and William started running after him and took the gun back from Tiffany, court transcripts indicate.
The doorbell camera cut out and does not capture the gunshot that took Ryelee’s life. The video begins again shortly after Ryelee has been shot, according to court transcripts.
“No one checked on Ryelee. No aid was given,” an officer testified.
William called 911 and reported that he had shot Ryelee three times, documents say, although evidence showed Ryelee was shot once.
“The individual who made the 911 call admitted to shooting Ryelee,” an officer testified.
Ryelee was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Earlier in the day, Tiffany had a fight with her son and told him “you’re dead to me,” documents say. An officer testified that after Tiffany witnessed her son’s murder she appeared “very calm and non-emotional.”
Officers recovered the shotgun used to kill Ryelee in William’s vehicle and they also found a 20 gauge long gun, 112 rounds of unspent ammunition, six knives, two pairs of handcuffs, a hammer, a baseball bat and a pick axe. An ammunition belt with 14 unspent shotgun shells was on the rear passenger seat in plain view.
A history of violence
Just a month before the Manente-Powell homicide, a woman had filed for a restraining order against William and Tiffany.
“For four weeks every day William Zelenski and April Zelenski and Tiffany Powell have been threatening my life,” the Sept. 23, 2020 petition says. The woman also indicated William kept a handgun, a taser and knives in his car and he had asked her to sell them for him.
Waupaca Circuit Court Judge Troy Nielson dismissed the woman’s petition for a restraining order for failing to meet the burden of proof.
“I learned a few months ago through the course of a different case that Jerry Springer was starting to have his own small claims court,” Nielson said. “It seems like this is the perfect case for that venue.”
The 2020 restraining order was not William’s first time being accused of threatening to kill. In 2015, one of his former employees filed a restraining order against him, alleging violence, intimidation and harassment.
“He said he would kill me if I quit,” the woman alleged in court documents. “He struck me, he threw me, he held me against a wall, he goaded animals into attacking me, he killed animals to intimidate me, he admitted on recording of an incident where he shot at a target inches from me. He was actually planning to shoot me and changed his mind.”
Documents indicate William was accused of sexually harassing and drugging his employees.
“He put controlling substances in my food,” a former employee alleged. “He tried to give us drugs to make us work faster. When we got injured he offered us a drug called ketamine.”
The woman alleged William gave his employees nicknames like “cum guzzler” and “Satan” and he revealed his genitals to them, insisting “he wanted our opinion on his genital piercing.”
One former Wild Bill’s Exotics employee said they quit after William “pulled a gun on me and threatened to kill me if I didn’t give him money,” according to documents.
The judge in that case granted a restraining order against William.
Animal neglect and mistreatment
Court records indicate William also had a history of neglecting and mistreating the exotic animals and reptiles he kept at his rural Waupaca home.
“[The] animals were emaciated, dehydrated,” a former employee said. They were “living in their own excrement and fecal material.”
The former employee alleged six birds and up to 10 mammals died while she worked there.
The employee said William brought in a shipment of wild-caught reptiles from Africa and the reptiles carried parasites and other diseases that infected other animals at the facility and caused many of the reptiles to die.
At the time of William’s Oct. 2020 arrest, many exotic animals and reptiles remained in his possession with his wife April taking over their care during his incarceration.
April and William have agreed to sell the animals and use the money to pay for William’s defense. $1,500 has been paid to the court for William’s defense since the Nov. 30 agreement to sell the animals, according to documents.
Tiffany and William both remain incarcerated with Tiffany’s next hearing May 28 and William due back in court June 8.
Angela Borzick, a witness in the case, spoke with Roadside Zoo News about the homicide.
“I want people to know this man did this over reptiles,” she said. “Reptiles. I don’t get it ... he would have gotten the reptiles back. You had to go and take his life?”
Full criminal complaints: