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Trapped by his texts, man pleads guilty in Heather Mack case

Robert Bibbs enters the Dirksen Federal Building before entering his guilty plea on Tuesday. Bibbs is admitted helping Tommy Schaefer and Heather Mack as they planned the murder of Mack's mother, Sheila von Wiese-Mack, in 2014. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Robert Bibbs never thought his cousin capable of the kind of gruesome crime that would end with a Chicago socialite’s body stuffed into a suitcase in the trunk of a taxi cab.

As he came clean Tuesday about his role in the sensational 2014 murder of Sheila von Wiese-Mack, Bibbs told a federal judge he expected someone other than Tommy Schaefer would ultimately end the woman’s life. Bibbs thought it would be her own daughter, Heather Mack, who allegedly spent months plotting her mother’s demise.

“I thought Heather was going to do it,” Bibbs, 26, told U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer.

In the end, authorities say Schaefer bludgeoned von Wiese-Mack to death after receiving text messages filled with encouragement and advice from Bibbs. And Tuesday, Bibbs found himself pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit the foreign murder of a U.S. national. He told Pallmeyer he knew von Wiese-Mack’s life was in danger when his cousin left for Indonesia in August 2014.

This photo taken on Aug 12, 2014 shows the suitcase where the body of Sheila von Wiese-Mack was found on the Indonesian resort island of Bali. | Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP/Getty Images

A suitcase containing von Wiese-Mack’s body was found in the trunk of a taxi outside the St. Regis Bali Resort later that month.

Prosecutors have agreed not to recommend more than 20 years in prison for Bibbs, the only person to be prosecuted in the United States in connection with von Wiese-Mack’s murder. His sentencing is set for March 23. Schaefer and Mack were convicted in Indonesia. Schaefer, 23, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for beating von Wiese-Mack to death. Mack, 21, was sentenced to 10 years for helping.

Von Wiese-Mack’s brother, William Wiese, wrote in a statement after Tuesday’s hearing that “we are glad that our dear sister Sheila is finally receiving justice for her brutal murder.”

“We hope that this is the first step toward learning the truth of what happened in that Bali hotel room and obtaining justice against all perpetrators involved in this horrific crime,” Wiese wrote. “We thank the FBI and Justice Department for their hard and tireless work on this difficult case.”

The judge on Tuesday urged Bibbs, dressed in a white shirt and blue pants, to explain what happened. He described a “situation” in 2014 with Mack, who was pregnant but being encouraged by her mother to “kill the kid” while complaining about the race of the father, Schaefer.

Bibbs said those actions drove Mack to want to get rid of her mother.

Heather Mack holds her boyfriend, Tommy Schaefer, in a cell at the Indonesian prosecutor’s office on Dec. 8, 2014. They were later convicted in the murder of Mack’s mother. | Firdia Lisnawati/AP

In fact, Schaefer told Bibbs that Mack had offered him $50,000 to kill her mother, prosecutors say. And when Mack visited Bibbs’ home in summer 2014, authorities said Mack told Bibbs she wished her mother was dead and asked him if he knew someone she could pay to do the job.

Meanwhile, Schaefer thought he could make up to $11 million off von Wiese-Mack’s murder, through Mack’s inheritance. Bibbs also thought he would get a cut.

The feds have said Mack and her mother arrived for a vacation in Bali on Aug. 4, 2014. Bibbs told the feds he knew Mack wanted to try to kill her mother there.

Authorities have said Schaefer arrived on the island Aug. 12. Mack allegedly told him in a text message they should wait until her mother “passes back out” before trying to kill her.

Sheila von Wiese Mack | Sun-Times Library

While waiting, Schaefer texted Bibbs and said an earlier attempt by Mack to kill her mother by overdose had failed. Bibbs suggested Schaefer try to drown her in the ocean or “go sit on her face wit a pillow then.” When Bibbs asked Schaefer by text, “What would u do?” Bibbs replied, “If it’s no cameras then,” followed by an emoji of a hand indicating “OK.”

Eventually, authorities say Schaefer texted Bibbs: “This is for you n—a. And the fam. One time. Here I go. Pray for me cuz.” Bibbs replied, “Done. It’s go time.”

After the murder, authorities say Bibbs told Schaefer by text that von Wiese-Mack “wasn’t a good person” and “there wasn’t any positive energy released from her body.”

But standing before the judge on Tuesday, Bibbs said he wasn’t expecting Schaefer to actually go through with it.

“I never thought that my cousin would do anything like that,” Bibbs said.

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