Back in Chicago, Woman Is Charged in Killing of Mother on Indonesian Vacation

It was a homecoming of sorts when Heather L. Mack arrived at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago on Wednesday after having served more than six years in an Indonesian prison after the discovery of her mother’s body stuffed in a suitcase at a Bali resort.

Ms. Mack, 26, was promptly taken into custody by federal agents.

Later on Wednesday, she appeared in a federal courtroom to face U.S. charges in the 2014 killing of her mother, Sheila A. Von Wiese, 62, the wealthy widow of a Chicago composer. The charges — one count of conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, one count of conspiracy to commit foreign murder of a U.S. national and one count of obstruction — stem from a 2016 indictment returned by a grand jury while Ms. Mack was imprisoned in Indonesia.

Federal prosecutors said the setting for the murder was a tropical resort in Bali, where Ms. Mack, then in her teens, traveled with her mother in August 2014. A week into the trip, Ms. Mack arranged for her boyfriend at the time, Tommy E. Schaefer, to fly to Bali, and they later exchanged text messages in which they planned Ms. Von Wiese’s murder, according to the 2016 indictment, which was released by the U.S. attorney’s office for the Northern District of Illinois.

Mr. Schaefer had also texted his cousin Robert Ryan Justin Bibbs about how to get away with the crime, prosecutors said. Mr. Bibbs was sentenced in 2017 to nine years in prison after he pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit foreign murder of a U.S. national.

When Mr. Bibbs pleaded guilty, he told prosecutors that Ms. Mack had offered her boyfriend around $50,000 to kill her mother after she failed to kill Ms. Von Wiese herself. Mr. Bibbs told his cousin about different ways to kill Ms. Von Wiese, including drowning and suffocation, prosecutors said.

Mr. Schaefer, who was tried and convicted in Indonesia, killed Ms. Von Wiese in a hotel room while Ms. Mack was present, the indictment alleges. They then stuffed the body into a suitcase and loaded it into the trunk of a taxi before fleeing the resort, prosecutors said in 2017.

An Indonesian court sentenced Ms. Mack to 10 years in prison for aiding in the murder, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. She was released early for good behavior and deported, her lawyer, Brian Claypool, said. Mr. Schaefer, now 28, is serving the rest of an 18-year sentence in an Indonesian prison.

Although the motive for the murder was unclear, Mr. Schaefer expected to receive millions of dollars after the killing from Ms. Von Wiese’s estate, of which Mr. Bibbs expected to receive a cut, Mr. Bibbs told prosecutors when he pleaded guilty.

Ms. Von Wiese’s husband and Ms. Mack’s father, James L. Mack, was a well-known composer who died in 2006, according to The Chicago Tribune. The family was wealthy and often took international trips. Ms. Mack and her mother had a difficult relationship, and they often got into fights, she told in a 2019 interview from prison in Indonesia.

On Wednesday, Mr. Claypool called the charges against Ms. Mack “ridiculous” and said this was a case of double jeopardy that they would contest.

The U.S. attorney’s office for the Northern District of Illinois did not return phone calls seeking comment on Wednesday.

There is also the question of who will have custody of Ms. Mack and Mr. Schaefer’s 6-year-old daughter, Stella, with whom Ms. Mack was pregnant at the time of the murder. An Indonesian foster mother named Oshar had raised the child while Ms. Mack was in prison, Mr. Claypool said. The girl is now in the temporary custody of an unidentified person in Chicago who is familiar to the family, but Mr. Schaefer’s mother wants to have custody, Mr. Claypool said.

Ms. Mack’s case echoes the ordeal of Amanda Knox, an American who was arrested in 2007 on a study abroad trip in Italy and served prison time in the death of her roommate. The case attracted intense media attention for years on both sides of the Atlantic as people debated Ms. Knox’s possible role in the murder. An Italian court acquitted her in 2015.

Back to top button