CHICAGO - A federal judge Thursday rejected Heather Mack’s request to be released from jail while she awaits trial for conspiring to have her mother killed overseas in 2014.
The ruling was made by U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly.
Sheila von Wiese-Mack’s grisly killing kicked off a complicated, international legal saga that has yet to be resolved and now also involves a bitter custody battle over Mack’s daughter, 7-year-old Estelle Schaefer.
Mack made a dramatic return to the United States in November 2021 after serving seven years in Indonesia for helping kill her 62-year-old mother. Though some thought she might walk free, a separate murder conspiracy indictment was instead unsealed against Mack in U.S. District Court in Chicago just as her flight neared O’Hare Airport.
She was arrested at the airport and has been in U.S. custody ever since. Her criminal case has been relatively quiet until now, as her lawyers sort through an apparent mountain of evidence. Her trial is set for July 31, and she faces up to life in prison if convicted.
When the possibility of Mack’s release was initially raised after her arrest last year, prosecutors referenced the many visits made by Oak Park police to the Mack home before the murder. Von Wiese-Mack had accused her daughter of biting her repeatedly and punching her in her already broken ankle during an argument over household chores.
In all, Oak Park police said in 2014 they were called 86 times in 10 years to the Mack home.
Prosecutors wrote in a court filing this week that Mack has a history of mental health issues. In an email about a month before von Wiese-Mack was killed, she purportedly wrote that Mack "told me today that she would kill me and then others she ‘hates’ before killing herself if I try to get her admitted to a psych ward …. She is truly out of her mind …. I am more worried than ever."
Meanwhile, Cook County Judge Stephanie Miller has been dealing with the separate custody dispute that has developed around Mack’s daughter, who is known as Stella. Last month, Miller ordered Stella into the temporary care of Lisa Hellmann, a maternal cousin of Mack’s.
Mack opposed that move, and she sought to be released from custody days later. Hellman’s mother is von Wiese-Mack’s sister. Mack told Miller last month that, if she is released, she hopes to regain custody of the girl and live with Diana Roque Ellis of California.
Hellmann and Ellis are among four people seeking custody of Stella before Miller.
Von Wiese-Mack’s body was discovered in a suitcase left outside the St. Regis Bali Resort on Aug. 12, 2014. Mack was arrested the next day, along with her then-boyfriend, Tommy Schaefer.
Federal prosecutors have said von Wiese-Mack was bludgeoned to death with the metal handle of a fruit stand so that Mack, Schaefer and Schaefer’s cousin, Robert Bibbs, could enrich themselves with the proceeds of von Wiese-Mack’s $1.5 million estate.
Prosecutors alleged earlier this week that, during the murder, Mack covered von Wiese-Mack’s mouth after Schaefer hit her.
Court records show Mack and Schaefer traded text messages ranging from giddy to tense all the way up to the killing, calling each other Bonnie and Clyde and using the phrase "saying hi" as code for the crime.
The couple later took a loaded luggage cart to the resort’s entrance and placed a large suitcase and other items in the trunk of a taxi. Then, they went back inside the resort and fled through another exit. Von Wiese-Mack’s body was then found stuffed in the suitcase.
Mack gave birth to Stella during the couple’s ensuing 2015 trial. Schaefer was sentenced to 18 years in prison for beating von Wiese-Mack to death, and Mack was sentenced to 10 years for helping. Schaefer remains behind bars overseas but also faces charges in the United States.
Bibbs was prosecuted in Chicago’s federal court for encouraging and advising the couple on the murder from the United States. He was sentenced in 2017 to nine years in prison and is due to be released in February 2025.
Still, prosecutors said he was "significantly less culpable than Schaefer and Mack."