It began with a gruesome discovery inside a suitcase on the resort island of Bali, and it led to a prison sentence overseas for an Oak Park woman accused of plotting her mother’s murder.
Now, Heather Mack is expected to be released from an Indonesian prison and returned to the United States this fall. But whether the international legal saga ends with Mack’s freedom — just seven years after the death of Sheila von Wiese-Mack — remains to be seen.
Mack has been serving a 10-year sentence for helping her then-boyfriend, Tommy Schaefer, murder von Wiese-Mack, 62. The slaying generated international headlines after von Wiese-Mack’s body was discovered in a suitcase left in a taxi outside the St. Regis Bali Resort in August 2014.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported a year later that it had also led to an investigation by U.S. authorities.
Mack’s attorney, Yulius Benyamin Seran, told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday he expects Mack to be released from prison overseas some time in October due to “good behavior.” He said he’d not yet been given a specific date for her release.
“She is very happy,” Seran said.
Meanwhile, Schaefer is serving an 18-year prison sentence for von Wiese-Mack’s murder. Mack gave birth to his daughter, Stella, during their 2015 trial.
Seran said that, under Bali law, Mack will be deported to the United States when she is released, though that could be delayed due to a rise in local COVID-19 cases. Asked whether Mack fears prosecution when she arrives on U.S. soil, he said, “The process of law is final and binding [in Indonesia]. She realizes she never did something wrong in America.”
Still, federal court records show the FBI immediately initiated an investigation into the murder. Mack’s attorneys have acknowledged a U.S. grand jury investigation into Mack’s role. And Schaefer’s cousin, Robert Bibbs, was sentenced in 2017 to nine years in prison after pleading guilty to a conspiracy to commit the foreign murder of a U.S. national.
Joseph Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney John Lausch, declined to comment Tuesday.
Von Wiese-Mack’s brother, William Wiese, said in a statement that he has “not had any personal contact with Heather and [does] not want to have contact with her.” He took issue not with Mack’s early release, but with her original 10-year sentence, and he suggested it was the result of a corrupt judicial system.
“For a brutal murder, I feel that type of light sentence was a travesty of justice,” William Wiese said.
Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor who is now senior managing director at Guidepost Solutions, said it’s unlikely Mack will face further criminal charges here.
“The decision in Bali and the sentence there is not binding on the [U.S.] Department of Justice or any prosecutor here … Having said that, it’s highly doubtful she’ll face additional charges here because she was prosecuted by a reputable court — it wasn’t a kangaroo court — and she was sentenced to a not unreasonable period of incarceration,” Cramer said. “So it’s doubtful that the U.S. authorities would go after her again for the exact same crime.”
U.S. prosecutors have said von Wiese-Mack was bludgeoned to death with the metal handle of a fruit stand so that Mack, Schaefer and Bibbs could enrich themselves with the proceeds of von Wiese-Mack’s $1.5 million estate.
Mack’s father was the highly regarded jazz and classical composer James Mack, who died at age 76 in 2006.
Federal court records show Mack and Schaefer traded text messages ranging from giddy to tense all the way up to the murder on Aug. 12, 2014. They called each other Bonnie and Clyde and used the phrase “saying hi” as code for the killing, records show.
About two-and-a-half hours after the text messages ended, the pair took a loaded luggage cart to the resort’s entrance and placed a large suitcase and other items into the trunk of a taxi before re-entering the resort and fleeing the property through another exit.
Von Wiese-Mack’s body was later found in the suitcase placed in the cab by Mack and Schaefer.