CHICAGO - Heather Mack hopes to regain custody of her 7-year-old daughter if a federal judge grants Mack’s recent request to be released from jail while she awaits trial for the alleged murder conspiracy that sparked a years-long international legal drama.
Mack, 27, testified for roughly three hours Monday during a state-court bench trial meant to decide the fate of Mack’s child, Estelle Schaefer. Mack confirmed for Cook County Judge Stephanie Miller that she prefers that the girl, known as Stella, be placed in the care of Diana Roque Ellis of California if a woman who previously cared for Stella in Indonesia, Oshar Suartama, is unavailable.
Mack said she also hopes to live with Ellis and Stella if she is released from federal custody. Suartama, who also spent the summer in the United States with Stella, was recently forced to return to Indonesia.
Despite allegations to the contrary, Mack also said, "I do not believe that Diana would exploit Stella for money." And though Mack acknowledged that she and Ellis had years ago discussed "telling my side of the story" through TV production company P&L Media, Mack said, "I am no longer involved in a contract, and neither is Diana."
A representative of P&L Media could not immediately be reached for comment.
For now, Stella is in the care of a maternal cousin of Mack’s, Lisa Hellmann of Colorado. Mack said Monday she has concerns about that arrangement, but she acknowledged they were lessened by a recent virtual visit with Stella.
"She’s looking at it as a vacation," Mack said of her daughter. "She’s transitioned very well. She finds it neat that she has all these cousins she didn’t know she had."
Stella’s future has been uncertain ever since she arrived with her mother in the United States a little more than a year ago. Mack spent seven years in Indonesian custody for helping murder her own mother, Sheila von Wiese-Mack. The body of the Oak Park woman was discovered in a suitcase left outside the St. Regis Bali Resort on Aug. 12, 2014.
Tommy Schaefer, Mack’s onetime boyfriend and Stella’s father, is still locked up overseas. Mack gave birth to Stella during the couple’s Indonesian trial in 2015.
When Mack finished serving her sentence in Indonesia, she was deported with Stella and returned to the United States in November 2021. An indictment was then unsealed in U.S. District Court in Chicago charging Mack and Schaefer with conspiring to kill von Wiese-Mack in Indonesia. Mack was arrested when she landed at O’Hare Airport.
Mack has been held ever since in Chicago’s downtown Metropolitan Correctional Center. Last week she asked U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly to release her pending trial, which is set for July 31. The request came days after Hellmann became the third person chosen to care temporarily for Stella in the last year.
Hellmann’s mother is von Wiese-Mack’s sister.
Mack acknowledged Monday that Hellmann was "nice" during her recent virtual visit with Stella, and she said Hellmann didn’t seem to "let on to Stella how she feels about any situation regarding me."
But when told by one of Ellis’ attorneys that Hellmann had previously testified about Mack’s "propensity for violence," Mack said, "Lisa has no idea what kind of a mother I was to Stella."
"I was never violent," Mack said. "I was a loving, caring mother."
Hellmann’s own attorney, Clarke Mac Gillespie, told the judge early in the trial that Ellis and Suartama had struck deals that would lead to Stella’s exploitation. Stella’s court-appointed advocate has accused Ellis of wanting custody of Stella for a documentary — a claim Ellis’ attorneys have called "way out of line."
Gillespie insisted to the judge Monday that he had "at least one page" of an agreement between Mack, Ellis and P&L Media dated Aug. 17, 2021 — around the time news broke that Mack would be leaving her Indonesian prison. But Mack only confirmed that she and Ellis had discussed such contracts in the past and that they are "no longer involved."
Mack’s testimony mostly skirted around the central question at issue in her criminal case. But Stella’s paternal grandmother, Kia Walker, eventually asked Mack, "Did you kill Sheila von Wiese?"
The judge sustained an attorney’s objection before Mack answered the question.