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Friday, April 5, 2024

The Shelia Von Wiese-Mack Murder Case

     In 2006, 76-year-old James L. Mack, a well-known composer of jazz and classical music died at his home in Chicago. The black musician left behind his 53-year-old wife Shelia Von Wiese-Mack and their 10-year-old daughter Heather Mack. Mr. Mack also left, for his daughter, a $1.5 million trust fund managed by her mother.

     A few years before his death James Mack while on a Royal Caribbean cruise with his wife cut his foot in the ship's swimming pool area. He sued the cruise line for negligence for not keeping the ship safe and for improper onboard medical care. In 2011 his widow received a $800,000 settlement from the company.

     On August 4, 2014, Shelia, now 62, and her 19-year-old daughter checked into the 5-star St. Regis Bali Resort in Bali, Indonesia. Heather Mack and her mother hadn't been getting along for years. More recently they had fought over Heather's relationship with her boyfriend, Tommy Schaefer. Shelia, who was white, didn't approve of her daughter's relationship with the black 21-year-old. (This was according to Tommy Schaefer. It's possible the mother's objections had nothing to do with race.)

     On August 12, 2014, eight days after Heather and her mother arrived in Bali, Tommy Schaefer checked into the same hotel. Later that afternoon he and Heather were outside the hotel with a large suitcase that a cab driver helped place into the taxi's trunk. As the couple headed back into the hotel lobby they told the cab driver to wait while they checked out. They did not return.

     A few hours after Heather and her boyfriend abandoned the heavy suitcase in the taxi cab, police officers opened it up to find the body of Shelia Von Wiese-Mack. She had been bludgeoned to death.

     Detectives, after viewing hotel surveillance camera footage, saw that in the hours surrounding the victim's murder Heather and her boyfriend were the only people who had entered and exited the victim's room, the scene of the murder.

     Homicide investigators determined that the victim had been struck several times in the head with the iron grip to a hotel fruit bowl from Mr. Schaefer's room. Surveillance footage showed Schaefer leaving his room just before the bludgeoning, carrying the murder weapon partially hidden inside his shirt. Moreover, a jacket that he owned bore traces of Von Wiese-Mack's blood.

     Detectives arrested the couple the following day. Tommy Schaefer admitted killing the victim but claimed self defense. According to the suspect, when he informed Shelia that Heather was two-months pregnant with his child, she flew into a rage and tried to strangle him. Detectives didn't buy his story. A local prosecutor charged Schaefer with premeditated murder.

     Heather Mack told investigators that beyond helping her boyfriend get her mother's body out of the hotel, she had nothing to do with the murder. Detectives didn't buy that story either. The prosecutor charged her as an accomplice to criminal homicide.

     On January 14, 2015, the murder defendants went on trial in the Denpasar District courthouse in Bali. Heather Mack's defense was paid for out of her father's trust fund. A judge had denied Schaefer access to this money. If convicted as charged, both defendants faced the maximum sentence of death by firing squad.

     Following the prosecution's case, Mr. Schaefer's attorney put the defendant on the stand to testify on his own behalf. The defendant presented his story of self defense to a jury that was skeptical.

     On April 21, 2015 the jury found Tommy Schaefer and Heather Mack guilty as charged. Judge Made Suweda sentenced Schaefer to 18 years in prison. In justifying this lenient sentence for premeditated murder, the judge noted that the defendant had expressed remorse for the killing. 

     Judge Suweda, ignoring the prosecutor's request that Heather Mack be sentenced to 15 years, sentenced her to ten. The judge said he wanted to go easy on Heather because she had recently given birth to her baby. "In my decision," the judge said, "I have made a special judgment because Heather has a baby who needs a mother." (I'm not sure any baby needs a mother who helped her boyfriend murder her mother for the money.)

     After the verdicts and sentencing, Tommy Schaefer, in talking to reporters said, "Although I do take full responsibility for my actions, I am not a murderer." 

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