A Chicago woman accused of conspiring to kill her mother and putting her body in a suitcase while on vacation in Bali nearly a decade ago pleaded guilty in federal court on Friday.
Heather L. Mack, 27, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Illinois to one count of conspiring to kill a U.S. national in the 2014 death of her mother, Sheila A. Von Wiese, according to court documents. The two other charges brought against her in 2017 — conspiracy to kill in a foreign country and obstruction of justice — were dropped as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors, according to Michael Leonard, one of her lawyers.
Ms. Mack and her then-boyfriend, Tommy E. Schaefer, were both convicted in Indonesia of crimes related to the death. Ms. Mack was released after seven years and returned to Chicago in 2021, where she remains in custody. Mr. Schaefer, who was sentenced in 2015 to 18 years, remains in prison there.
The maximum sentence for conspiring to kill a U.S. national is life in prison. Ms. Mack’s lawyers, however, are hoping that the plea agreement they reached with federal prosecutors will result in a term of no more than 28 years in prison, and possibly less. The judge, who will sentence Ms. Mack on Dec. 18, is not bound by the agreement.
Ms. Mack’s lawyers argue that she should get credit for the seven years she served in prison in Indonesia; the prosecution disagrees.
Speaking about Ms. Mack’s reasons for accepting the plea agreement, Michael Leonard, one of her lawyers, said: “In this case, a couple of the counts had up to life. If the judge accepts the cap that we’re proposing — of 28 years — then obviously risks above that are eliminated.”
Relatives of Ms. Von Wiese issued a statement after the plea hearing, saying they were “very relieved that the mastermind of Sheila’s murder admitted her guilt today,” The Associated Press reported.
“We will continue to be our sister Sheila’s voice throughout the sentencing process to ensure that real justice is served,” they said.
In 2014, Ms. Mack, then 18, arranged for Mr. Schaefer to travel to Bali using her mother’s credit card, according to court documents. Text messages revealed the couple had planned to kill Ms. Von Wiese.
Mr. Schaefer beat and killed Ms. Von Wiese with her daughter present, according to court documents, then the couple fled the hotel and left the suitcase with the body in a taxi cab.
In the days leading up to Ms. Von Wiese’s death, Ms. Mack told Mr. Schaefer that she intended to share part of her inheritance with him after her mother was dead, according to court documents.
Mr. Schaefer responded: “I can’t wait to be rich.”
Ms. Mack was also pregnant at the time of her mother’s killing. Her daughter is now in the care of a family member.
Ms. Von Wiese’s late husband and Ms. Mack’s father, James L. Mack, was a composer who worked alongside famous musicians including Nancy Wilson, Jerry Butler and Tyrone Davis, according to The Chicago Tribune. In previous interviews, Ms. Mack had indicated she had a strained relationship with her mother.