“Suitcase Killer” Heather Mack is about to be released from prison — and she’s scared.
“I am fearful and nervous of returning to Chicago. I’m not worried about the idea that people cannot understand the tragedy for my sake. But I’m nervous for [my daughter] Stella,” Mack exclusively told The Post. “I’m scared that if she comes back to the States with me, she will be exposed to what happened.”
Stella was born in prison during the sensational trial of her parents, Mack and Tommy Schaefer, in March 2015. The two were convicted by an Indonesian court of killing Mack’s mother, Chicago socialite Sheila von Wiese-Mack, 62, in August 2014.
Schaefer, then 21, bludgeoned Sheila to death with a metal fruit bowl in a room at Bali’s five-star St. Regis resort. He and Heather, then 18, stuffed the body into a suitcase, loaded the bloody bag into a taxi, and fled the scene. After the cabdriver alerted police, the couple was arrested at a budget hotel a few miles away.
Both were found guilty of murder in the first degree and locked up in Bali’s Kerobokan prison, with Schaefer sentenced to 18 years and Heather to 10. But Indonesian President Joko Widodo last week decided she will be released in October — nearly three years early — for good behavior.
Heather, who grew up in the well-heeled Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Ill., will be immediately deported to the US. Yet she is considering leaving Stella, now six, temporarily with the Bali foster family who has raised her since she was two years old
“I do not want anyone shoving a camera into Stella’s face. I know that it will happen to me but I will do my best to protect Stella from that trauma,” Heather, 25, told The Post.
The girl remains unaware of why her parents are in prison. Heather would like to keep it that way.
“I absolutely regret what happened. I loved my mom — I still do,” Heather said. “She wasn’t evil, and she didn’t deserve to die the way she did. I didn’t kill her for money. It was for my freedom and Stella’s freedom, or so I thought at the time. I think of her a thousand times a day.”
Heather was raised in a $1.5 million Italian Renaissance-style home in Oak Park by her mother and her father, famed jazz arranger and composer James L. Mack. A guest conductor for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he also worked with the London Philharmonic and jazz legends like singer Nancy Wilson and pianist Ramsey Lewis.
In 1996, James, then 66, married Sheila von Wiese, 22 years his junior. A political-science grad, Sheila told a publication she had once worked as a researcher for Sen. Ted Kennedy, adding, “I even poured tea for Rose Kennedy a time or two.”
Parties at the family home were a hot ticket among musicians, literary-types and Oak Park high society. But police were called to the home in 2004 when James’ ex accused Sheila of preventing a visit from James’ son. (He has another son and four daughters from previous relationships.) The ex claimed that Sheila would turn off the lights and pretend not to be home when they came to see James, who was ill and confined to bed.
In 2006, James — who was suffering from Stage IV colon cancer and had been wheelchair-bound since 2000 — died of a pulmonary embolism while on vacation with Sheila and Heather in Athens, Greece. Sheila left her husband’s body in a Greek morgue to continue her holiday, cruising off to Santorini with 10-year-old Heather.
“It was in Santorini that my anger at my mother started,” Heather told The Post. “It never really stopped. It grew.”
Back at home, Oak Park police logged 86 calls to the family’s 13-room residence between 2010 and 2013. Records show 911 calls about domestic violence and theft. Sheila also filed missing persons reports for Mack.
The teen spent a week in the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center in 2010 and was placed on psychiatric holds after violent outbursts, but Sheila routinely dropped charges against her daughter.
Heather was a senior in high school when she began dating Schaefer, an unemployed would-be rapper called Tommy EXX, in early 2014. Sheila was opposed to the relationship, feeling that Schaefer — three years older than Heather — wasn’t good enough for her daughter. She sold the Oak Park home and moved herself and Heather to an apartment on Chicago’s ritzy Gold Coast, perhaps hoping to put space between the young couple.
But Heather and Sheila continued to argue, with the teen often storming off to five-star hotels on her mother’s dime. Once, when she learned that Schaefer was with Heather, Sheila reported her credit card stolen and the couple was arrested. Sheila dropped the charges against Heather, while Schaefer was charged with disorderly conduct.
In 2014, Heather dropped out of school and became pregnant. Sheila scheduled a vacation to Bali, where she hoped to persuade her daughter to end the pregnancy. But when Sheila hurt her ankle in a drunken fall and was bedridden on painkillers, Mack used her mom’s credit card to buy a $12,000 business-class ticket to fly Schaefer in.
Hotel cameras show the three arguing in the lobby of the St. Regis on Aug. 7, the night he arrived. After Sheila went to bed, Heather and Schaefer didn’t cool down — instead, they spent hours plotting Sheila’s murder.
Heather wanted to be free of Sheila’s control, and Schaefer wanted the riches — which he had been led to believe could be as much as $11 million — that his girlfriend stood to gain from her mother’s estate. In texts presented in court, Schaefer encouraged Heather to suffocate Sheila in her sleep, but the girl couldn’t bring herself to do it.
It wasn’t a new idea. Back in Chicago, the lovers had spent months scheming to kill Sheila by overdose and offered Schaefer’s cousin Ryan Bibbs to pay $50,000 to find a hitman. (Bibbs, who advised on murder methods, was found guilty of conspiracy to commit foreign murder of a US citizen and sentenced to nine years in prison.)
The next morning at the hotel, another argument erupted between the three. According to Schaefer, a furious Sheila, calling him the “n” word, threatened to cut the baby out of her daughter’s body.
Enraged, he pulled out a metal fruit bowl nicked from his room and beat Sheila to death with it. According to the coroner, she suffocated due to a broken nose.
“Tommy was saying we should leave her there and run but I was like no, I just didn’t want to leave her there,” Mack told News.com.au. Instead, they wrapped Sheila’s body in a bedsheet and stuffed it into her own silver suitcase — snapping her neck in the process.
They then wheeled the luggage out through the high-end hotel, hailed a cab and loaded the bag — spotted with blood — into the trunk. But when the driver expressed suspicion, the couple ran from the scene. The driver and hotel workers alerted police.
In 2016, Schaefer told the Daily Mail: “I am … disgusted with myself just as much as anyone else is.”
Ironically, Mack now says that her relationship with her own daughter is the most important in her life.
On her second birthday, Stella was taken from the prison and turned over to the local foster family she lives with today.
“I could not have wished for a better family to raise her,” Mack told The Post. “However, it’s hard not being with her, particularly when she is sick or for important moments like graduating kindergarten.”
Mack said that becoming a mother triggered a life change. She no longer has anything to do with Schaefer, although he maintains a relationship with Stella.
But neither parent has seen the girl since March 2020, when Indonesian authorities stopped prison visits because of COVID.
“Out of seven years in jail, the hardest part has been the past 18 months because I have not seen Stella,” Mack said. “Video-calling Stella three times a week from the prison phone is my only option. I’m grateful I can do that.”
In 2017, Mack uploaded an unhinged video to YouTube, in which she said: “I don’t regret killing my mother … I made it up in my heart, in my mind, in my soul, in my blood, in the oxygen running through my body that I wanted to kill my mother.” She claimed that, “When I was 10, my mother killed my father … ”
In the early days, Mack was known to party in jail, drinking contraband alcohol. More than once she was thrown into the feared Cell Tikus (“rat cell”), sleeping on a dirt floor.
But she has apparently turned into a model prisoner. Mack has become the prison’s chief choreographer for dance performances, sings with the ladies’ choir and is a fitness instructor.
“Heather has never been violent to other prisoners or the guards and is a helpful aid in daily life. She teaches Zumba classes daily, conducts dances for special festivals and participates in the spiritual life,” Mrs. Lili, chief of the women’s prison, said.
Mack learned the Indonesian language and also mastered the local dialect of Bahasa Balinese.
“I was locked in my room, between 5 p.m. and 6 a.m., with 20 Indonesian women,” she said. “I’m so talkative. I had to learn the language.”
She is often called on to translate for new inmates.
“The guards asked me to help when a new woman had a meltdown or just could not understand what was required according to the rules,” Mack said. “I’m … called to calm the waters when foreigners have issues.”
She may feel like a foreigner herself when she returns to the US in November.
In 2018, her maternal uncle William Weise fought to prevent her from collecting Sheila’s $1.56 million estate. Mack signed over her status as sole beneficiary to Stella, although it is unknown when the girl can access the funds.
Mack will leave prison with little more than the clothes on her back. She plans to fly to Chicago and stay with a friend. How she will cope in society remains to be seen.
“I have learned things about myself that I didn’t even know before. I like to make people laugh, and I know how to put other people before myself. I do this to the point of stupidity,” Mack told the Post. “I think that I am kind, and I have become a peacemaker in the jail, which is a strange thing for a murderer to say.”
Andrea Dixon is an Australian journalist based in the UK and Indonesia. She is currently working on a book about Heather Mack. Ondz@ymail.com