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The Bali suitcase murder: Heather Mack killed her mother on a luxury trip

Heather Mack
Image Credit: Associated Press / Alamy Stock Photo | Above: Heather Mack waits for her witness trial to start in Bali, Indonesia, on the 4th February 2015

During the evening of 12th August 2014, a couple approached a pre-ordered taxi that was stationed outside the esteemed St. Regis Hotel in Nusa Dua, Bali, one of the region's most prestigious establishments. With a couple of suitcases in tow, they loaded them into the trunk. Assuring the taxi driver, Ketut Wirjana, that they would return after they checked out, the couple's absence stretched longer than expected.

Growing increasingly restless, Ketut decided to remove the suitcases and leave them under the watchful eye of the hotel's doorman. After about an hour, the doorman noticed blood seeping from one of the suitcases. Alarmed, he summoned Ketut and urged him to transport the suitcase to the police station, a task Ketut promptly undertook.

At the police station, detectives unzipped the suitcase, revealing the lifeless, blood-stained body of a woman. Partially unclothed and bearing signs of violent bludgeoning, she appeared to have fought valiantly for her life, even sustaining defensive injuries that had resulted in a broken finger. She had sustained a broken nose and a broken neck, and the nose injury had resulted in asphyxiation.

The woman was identified as Sheila von Wiese Mack, a 62-year-old academic hailing from Oak Park, Illinois. She had checked into the opulent hotel room alongside her 19-year-old daughter, Heather Mack, on 9th August. Joining them two days later was Tommy Schaefer, Mack’s 21-year-old boyfriend.

Upon their arrival at the scene, detectives' initial priority was to identify the individuals behind the abandoned suitcase in the taxi's trunk. After meticulously reviewing surveillance footage, they deduced that the responsible parties were indeed Sheila's daughter and her boyfriend. Once the suitcase was placed in the trunk, the couple walked through the hotel premises and exited through the rear. Their journey continued along the shoreline until they disappeared into an undisclosed destination.

With the primary suspects identified, detectives promptly initiated a search operation. Their hunch led them to believe that the couple might have checked into another local hotel. Their assumptions proved accurate as they located Mack and Schaefer that same night at a hotel situated in the heart of Kuta, approximately six miles from the St. Regis Hotel.

The couple were arrested without incident, but both claimed that Sheila had been killed by robbers, maintaining that they had managed to escape. According to their account, three masked men had broken into their hotel room. Supposedly, Sheila had ordered the intruders to leave, threatening to call police. Subsequently, they alleged that these three assailants subjected Sheila to the fatal assault that cost her life.

Detectives, motivated to reconstruct Sheila's final moments, meticulously combed through the hotel's surveillance recordings. Their scrutiny unveiled a significant detail: on the day Schaefer arrived to join the mother and daughter, he had engaged in a heated altercation with Sheila.
During their extended investigation, detectives delved into the complex dynamics between Sheila and Mack. Insights from friends and family in Illinois unveiled a relationship marked by strife. This prompted a deeper exploration, which unveiled that over the course of nearly a decade, police had been called out to the family residence in Oak Park 86 times.

These incidents spanned from January 2004 to June 2013, with each call centring on domestic conflicts between Sheila and her daughter. On one occasion, Mack reportedly struck her mother's already injured ankle and faced accusations of stealing $1,000. Frequently, Sheila insisted on not having her daughter arrested, attributing Mack's behaviour to her struggle with depression following her father's death.

However, certain instances resulted in Mack's arrest. Notably, in 2011, she was apprehended after physically shoving her mother, causing her to fall and suffer a broken arm. Mack subsequently disconnected the phone cord to prevent Sheila from calling for help. Another incident involved Mack biting her mother, although Sheila declined police assistance in documenting the injuries.

Furthermore, Mack's violent tendencies led to multiple hospitalisations. These episodes often culminated in property damage within the household and threats towards her mother. Mack faced allegations of theft, including credit cards, money, and jewellery, taken from their home.
The already strained relationship between the mother and daughter escalated into a more ominous phase with the entrance of Tommy Schaefer into Mack's life. An unemployed rapper, Schaefer didn't earn the approval of Sheila. As per Mack's defence attorney, an even darker facet emerged: Sheila allegedly forced Mack to undergo two abortions upon learning of her daughter's pregnancies with Schaefer. In fact, at the time of her arrest, Mack was pregnant.

Schaefer provided a confession not long after he was arrested, admitting to the killing of Sheila. In turn, Mack acknowledged her involvement in disposing of the body. Schaefer's account alleged that Sheila had grown furious upon discovering Mack's pregnancy, insisting on her daughter getting an abortion. According to his narrative, an intense argument ensued during which Sheila purportedly attempted to strangle him. He stated that in response, he struck her multiple times with a fruit bowl.

On 14th January 2015, both Mack and Schaefer faced charges of premeditated murder, a conviction that could potentially result in a death sentence by firing squad in Bali. While Schaefer maintained that the act occurred as a result of Sheila's attempt to strangle him, prosecutors presented an alternate version. Prosecutor Ni Luh Oka Ariani Adikarini contended that the evidence indicated Schaefer had deliberately planned Sheila's murder to get her out of their lives and to obtain inheritance.

During the trial, Schaefer claimed he committed the murder in self-defence. Prosecutors, however, maintained he ‘blindly hit’ Sheila with the fruit bowl in a fit of rage after she hurled a racial slur at him. Ultimately, both Heather Mack and Tommy Schaefer were convicted of Sheila’s murder.

During the sentencing phase, the prosecution sought an 18-year prison term for Schaefer and a 15-year term for Mack. They recommended a relatively more lenient sentence for Mack due to her recent childbirth. The Denpasar District Court ultimately rendered its verdict, sentencing Schaefer to 18 years in prison and Mack to 10 years in prison.

During September 2015, Robert Bibbs, identified as Schaefer's cousin, was arrested on conspiracy charges. Prior to Sheila's murder, he had provided counsel to Mack and Schaefer on how to carry it out. Mack had promised him $50,000 from her anticipated inheritance, which was estimated to be around $1.6 million. In the aftermath, Bibbs was handed a nine-year prison sentence.

Heather Mack was subsequently released from prison in 2021 for good behaviour. Upon her deportation to the United States, she was arrested on conspiracy and obstruction charges. The US Supreme Court ruled that the constitution’s injunction against ‘double jeopardy’ did not apply in cases where someone is tried in one country and then pursued in another.

In June 2023, Mack pleaded guilty to conspiracy to murder her mother. She is potentially facing up to an additional 28 years in prison in the United States. She is currently awaiting sentencing.