Woman in Bali ‘suitcase murder’ freed from jail


DENPASAR, Indonesia—An American woman convicted of helping to kill her mother on Indonesia’s tourist island of Bali in 2014 walked free from prison Friday after serving seven years of a 10-year sentence and will be deported to the United States.

The badly beaten body of a wealthy Chicago socialite, Sheila von Wiese-Mack, 62, was found inside the trunk of a taxi parked at the upscale St. Regis Bali Resort in August 2014.

Heather Mack, who was almost 19 and a few weeks pregnant, and her then-21-year-old boyfriend, Tommy Schaefer, were arrested a day later after they were found at a hotel about 10 kilometers from the St. Regis.

Police said the hotel’s CCTV showed the couple had argued with the girl’s mother in the lobby of the hotel shortly before the killing, which is alleged to have taken place inside a room in the hotel.

An Indonesian court sentenced Mack to 10 years in prison for assisting Schaefer in her mother’s murder and stuffing the body in a suitcase. Schaefer received an 18-year sentence.

Their daughter, Stella Schaefer, was born shortly before her parents were convicted in 2015. Under Indonesian law, she was allowed to live with her mother in her cell in Kerobokan female prison until she turned 2 years old, and Mack gave custody of her young daughter to an Australian woman until her release from prison.

Mack and her mother had a troubled relationship, with officials confirming police had been called to the family’s Oak Park, Illinois, home dozens of times.

In 2016, Robert Bibbs, a cousin of Schaefer, pleaded guilty to helping to plan the killing in exchange for $50,000 that Mack was expected to inherit, and was sentenced the next year to nine years in prison.

Mack, now 26, was escorted through a crush of reporters outside the Kerobokan Female Prison in Denpasar, the Bali provincial capital, into a waiting car that took her to an immigration office near Bali’s international airport on Friday morning.

Wearing a mask, sunglasses and an immigration deportee’s orange vest, she made no comment to reporters except to say, “Oh my God… you’re insane!” from behind the car’s window.

A few of friends of Mack were seen welcoming her outside the prison, including Oshar Putu Melody Suartama, an Australian woman married to a Balinese man, who has been raising Stella.

Mack’s sentence was shortened by a total of 34 months due to reductions that are often granted to prisoners on major holidays because of their good conduct, including a six-month remission of sentence awarded during Indonesia’s Independence Day in August, said Lili, the prison chief warden, who goes by a single name.

Lili said that Mack was entitled to the sentence reduction under Indonesian law for good behavior and Mack also got involved in activities arranged by correctional officers, such as organizing fashion shows featuring designs by inmates, and teaching them to dance.

She described that Mack was a bit shocked, sad and frightened when she was about to leave, “but we all cheered her on and reassured her that everything would be all right.”

“Heather used to say that prison has changed her life a lot, she loves Indonesia and the people who have surrounded her all these years,” Lili said, “She will miss us so much and so do we here.”

Mack will have to stay for a few days at the Immigration Detention Center while waiting for flight tickets and travel documents to be ready, said Amrizal, chief of the Bali immigration office for the Ministry of Law and Human Rights.

Amrizal, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, said his office was coordinating with the US consulate in Bali on repatriating the mother and child.

Mack has not seen her daughter for about 20 months because authorities halted prison visits during the coronavirus pandemic, but Indonesian law allows for their reunion now that Mack has been released. Her attorney, Yulius Benyamin Seran, said earlier that Mack had asked for the girl to remain with her foster family to avoid media attention.

However, Amrizal said Indonesian regulations would not allow that. “Minors must be accompanied by their mothers when their mothers are deported, there is no policy that allows a mother to leave her underage child here.”

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