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‘Suitcase killer’ Heather Mack pleads guilty to conspiracy to murder – facing up to 28 years in US prison

On 12 August 2014, Mack and her then-boyfriend Tommy Schaefer bludgeoned Sheila von Wiese-Mack to death with the metal handle of a fruit stand and shoved her body in a suitcase at the luxury 5-star St. Regis resort in Bali

Rachel Sharp
Friday 16 June 2023 17:14 BST
Heather Mack at her sentencing in Indonesia in 2015
Heather Mack at her sentencing in Indonesia in 2015 (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

“Suitcase killer” Heather Mack is facing up to 28 years in US prison after she pleaded guilty to conspiring to murder her socialite mother Sheila von Wiese-Mack at a luxury 5-star resort in Bali back in 2014 – finally bringing some sort of conclusion to a horror case that has rumbled on for almost eight years.

Mack, now 27, reached a plea deal with prosecutors in federal court in Illinois on Friday morning, pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to kill a US national so that she and her then-boyfriend Tommy Schaefer could gain access to a $1.5m trust fund.

“I plead guilty, your honor,” she told US District Judge Matthew Kelley during the short hearing.

Under the terms of the agreement, prosecutors recommend that she faces a maximum sentence of 28 years in prison, with consideration given to the seven years that she’s already served in Indonesian jail.

If she is sentenced to 28 years, she could be eligible for release in 2042 – taking into account the time served in Indonesia and behind bars in the US. She will be 46 years old.

The daughter that she gave birth to in Bali prison – Stella – will be an adult.

However, Judge Kelley warned that he could ignore the sentencing guidelines, with the charge carrying a maximum penalty of life in prison.

“I have to make up my own mind,” he said. A sentencing date was set for 18 December.

Under the deal, Mack is unable to file any appeals in her case.

Earlier in the hearing, Mack told the judge that she had been hospitalised “a few times” with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder while growing up.

Coming face-to-face with their “mastermind” killer niece in the courtroom, Von Wiese-Mack’s siblings welcomed the plea deal and told reporters that they hoped the judge would accept the prosecution’s agreement with Mack.

Heather Mack being led to court in 2015 (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

In a statement after the brief hearing, William Wiese and Debbi Curran spoke of their relief that Mack had finally admitted some guilt in the heinous crime and slammed the “corruption” of the criminal case in Indonesia, where she walked free after seven years in prison.

“After almost nine years, we are very relieved that the mastermind of Sheila’s murder admitted her guilt today,” they said.

“We will continue to be our sister Sheila’s voice throughout the sentencing process to ensure that real justice is achieved. It has been devastating to witness the corruption in Indonesia which prevented true justice from being obtained eight years ago.

“Thanks to the incredible efforts of the US Attorney’s Office and FBI, we are hopeful for a sentence that more appropriately reflects the heinous and premeditated nature of the crime.”

Mack has spent almost every day of her adult life behind bars since she was arrested in August 2014 in Bali.

On 12 August 2014, Mack, then 18, and her then-boyfriend Schaefer, 21, bludgeoned von Wiese-Mack, 62, to death with the metal handle of a fruit stand at the luxury 5-star St. Regis resort in Bali.

Prosecutors say Mack covered her mother’s mouth with her hands while Schaefer beat her.

They then stuffed her body into a suitcase, hailed down a taxi and loaded it into the trunk of the car.

When they were unable to check out of the luxury resort – using her mother’s credit card – the couple fled the scene, leaving the bloodstained suitcase behind.

They were soon tracked down to a budget motel and arrested on suspicion of murder.

At the time of the murder, Mack – the daughter of socialite von Wiese-Mack and famed musician James L Mack – was pregnant with Schaefer’s child.

Prosecutors revealed that she had flown her lover out on a $12,000 business-class ticket just hours earlier charged to her mother’s credit card. Surveillance footage later captured the trio arguing in the hotel lobby after he arrived.

Less than 12 hours after Schaefer flew in, von Wiese-Mack was dead.

Chilling text messages later surfaced showing how the couple likened themselves to the notorious duo Bonnie and Clyde and plotted methods of murder.

“I also know what is in my control … I know what makes people tick … the witch … I know what make [sic] her tick … I’m with her so much … I know her habbit [sic]… how she acts … what she does at certain times … its like breaking out of jail … It takes several years of watching … I have been watching her routine … and I know what I do control … Im sneaky … Im smart … and I watch … trust bonnie … Dn’t make everyone else mistake and under estimate me,” Mack wrote, according to US court documents.

Sheila von Weise-Mack, 62, was found stuffed in a suitcase in Bali (Provided/Caxton Club)

Oak Park Police records reveal that officers had been called to Mack’s home dozens of times due to incidents of domestic violence by the teenager against her mother.

Between 2008 and 2013, at least 35 police interactions were recorded including accusations that Mack broke her mother’s arm, bit and punched her. In 2013 – just over one year before her murder – von Wiese-Mack had confided in a detective that she feared Mack was going to kill her.

At their Indonesian trial in 2015, both Mack and Schaefer were both convicted of premeditated murder in Indonesia and narrowly avoided facing the firing squad. Mack was sentenced to 10 years in prison while Schaefer was sentenced to 18 years.

While behind bars, Mack gave birth to the couple’s daughter Stella in March 2015 (who she raised in prison for the first two years of her life before the child became the focus of international custody battles).

In 2017, Schaefer’s cousin Ryan Bibbs, then 24, was also convicted of conspiracy to kill von Wiese-Mack and sentenced to nine years in prison after it emerged that he had coached the two killers in different murder methods.

Mack was released from prison in Bali in October 2021 after serving seven years – three years early due to good behaviour – and was briefly reunited with her daughter Stella, then six, who she planned to begin a new life with.

But her newfound freedom was short-lived.

Five days later, the then 26-year-old was deported from the Indonesian island back to the US and was arrested by FBI agents as soon as she touched down on American soil at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

She was indicted on two counts of conspiring to commit murder in a foreign country and one count of obstruction of justice. The indictment, which was filed in 2017 but remained sealed while she remained in Indonesian prison, also charged Schaefer with the same counts.

Sheila von Wiese-Mack was stuffed in this suitcase (AP)

Since then, she has been behind bars in Illinois awaiting trial and had been fighting against the charges, insisting that she had served her time for her crime in Indonesia.

The case was set to go to trial on 1 August in Chicago before Mack revealed her intentions to change her plea earlier this month.

Speaking to The New York Post last week, Mack said: “I have served nearly 10 years in prison. I felt that I had done my time, so I was gung-ho for trial,” she said.

“Now, after sitting for so long, I know what I have to do. I’m going to be a felon in America, and that is fine. I understand from [the US government’s] perspective that, if I don’t plead guilty and they didn’t indict me, I wouldn’t be a felon.”

She added: “I could become a police officer and work for the government… I could carry a firearm on the street.”

Schaefer is still serving his 18-year sentence in Indonesia before he too will face charges on US soil.

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