Heather Mack’s cousin named guardian of daughter Stella as Mack awaits 2nd murder trial

Custody was decided by a bench trial that began in September and ended Tuesday.

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Heather Mack holds Stella in a cell before her trial on March 31, 2015, in Indonesia.

Agung Parameswara, Getty Images

A Cook County judge named a maternal cousin of Heather Mack as the guardian of Mack’s 7-year-old daughter Tuesday, offering the girl stability for the first time since she came to the United States with her mother in November 2021.

Judge Stephanie Miller said she decided to put Lisa Hellmann of Colorado in charge of Estelle Schaefer in part to prevent another potentially traumatizing move for the girl to another home.

But the judge also said she wanted to make sure the girl, known as Stella, would “not be used as a pawn or exploited in any fashion.”

Mack, 27, served seven years in Indonesia in connection with the 2014 murder of her mother, Sheila von Wiese-Mack. She was then deported. But as a plane carrying Mack and Stella neared O’Hare Airport in November 2021, an indictment was unsealed in U.S. District Court in Chicago charging Mack with conspiring to kill her mother overseas.

Federal authorities arrested Mack at O’Hare. She has been in custody at the downtown Metropolitan Correctional Center ever since. Her trial is set for July 31.

Mack’s case drew tabloid attention around the world, with some news outlets referring to her mother’s death as the “Bali Suitcase Murder.” Von Wiese-Mack’s body was discovered in a suitcase left outside the St. Regis Bali Resort on Aug. 12, 2014.

But also at the center of the case is Stella, whose future has been up in the air since her arrival in the United States and whose custody was decided by a bench trial before Miller that began in September.

Mack’s defense attorney, Michael Leonard, declined to comment on the judge’s decision. Hellmann’s mother is von Wiese-Mack’s sister.

Stella initially lived in the United States with Vanessa Favia, an attorney who had previous ties to Mack’s case, and then with Oshar Suartama, who had also helped raise Stella in Indonesia. Miller then placed Stella in Hellmann’s temporary care in November, when Suartama was forced to leave the United States.

Miller said Tuesday she might have named Suartama as Stella’s guardian if Suartama weren’t disqualified by failing to reside in the United States.

Miller said another petitioner, Diana Roque Ellis of California, appeared to be at the center of efforts to exploit Stella through book or TV productions about the murder of von Wiese-Mack.

“She is the one who has started all of this in motion,” Miller said. “And the court has serious concerns about her credibility and her judgment.”

Ellis’ attorney, Enrico Mirabelli, disputed such claims during his closing argument Tuesday and said his client was a “loving, caring person who would make Stella a priority.”

Also seeking custody of Stella was her grandmother, Kia Walker, who told the judge she was “not going to stop” advocating for her granddaughter. Walker is the mother of Tommy Schaefer, the onetime boyfriend of Mack’s who remains locked up in Indonesia for von Wiese-Mack’s murder.

Miller said she has “no doubt” that Walker “loves and cares about Stella.” But she said she had concerns about Walker’s judgment, credibility and competence.

Since being in Hellmann’s care, Miller said Stella has been in school and continues to see a therapist. The judge said the unrebutted testimony “was that she is doing well there.”

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