CHICAGO – Heather Mack plans to plead guilty in the federal murder conspiracy case stemming from the 2014 slaying of her mother, whose bludgeoned body was discovered stuffed in a suitcase in the Bali resort where they’d been vacationing.
Mack, 27, was convicted in Indonesia of helping her boyfriend with the murder and served about seven years of a 10-year sentence, only to be arrested by the FBI when she landed at O’Hare International Airport in 2021 on a federal indictment that had been filed under seal in 2017.
The case had been set for trial in July. However, in a brief status hearing on Thursday, prosecutors said that they had made “significant progress” in plea negotiations and that Mack intended to plead guilty in the case.
U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly set a change of plea hearing for June 15 and scrapped all deadlines for pretrial motions.
It’s not surprising that Mack’s case would be resolved without a trial considering the breadth of the evidence against her and the fact that the charge carries a potential life sentence. No possible sentencing considerations were immediately disclosed.
Mack, a Chicago native, has pleaded not guilty to an indictment charging her with conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country and obstruction of justice in the killing of her mother, whose bludgeoned body was found stuffed into a suitcase outside the St. Regis resort in August 2014, sparking months of international headlines.
Also charged with the same counts was her boyfriend at the time of the murder, Tommy Schaefer, who is still in prison in Bali.
Mack was convicted in Indonesian courts in 2015 of helping Schaefer kill her mother in order to gain access to a $1.5 million trust fund set up after her father’s death. Mack was sentenced to 10 years in prison but was released early for good behavior.
She has been held without bond at the Metropolitan Correctional Center since she was arrested by the FBI in November 2021 as she left the Delta Air Lines flight at O’Hare’s Terminal 5.
Schaefer, who admitted to fatally beating von Wiese-Mack, was sentenced to 18 years and remains behind bars overseas.
Federal prosecutors in Chicago had previously charged Schaefer’s cousin, Robert Bibbs, with helping in the murder plot. The FBI learned of Bibbs’ involvement after analyzing text messages found on Schaefer’s phone.
Bibbs, 32, is serving a nine-year prison sentence in Michigan for coaching the defendants on how to carry out the murder in return for a share of the anticipated multimillion-dollar estate. He is eligible for parole in 2025.
Mack’s daughter, now 7, has been placed with a relative in the U.S. after a lengthy and bitter custody battle in Cook County Circuit Court.
At a bond hearing for Mack in 2022, Bill Wiese, Mack’s uncle, said Mack continues to be a danger to anyone who crosses her, saying in a statement to the court that as recently as 2019, she threatened the life of a journalist who’d told her he thought she was being untruthful in a jailhouse interview.
“Heather said, and I quote, ‘You trust me not to come after you with a big pineapple knife or a fruit bowl when I get out on parole?’ ” Wiese said.
Weise and his sister, Debbi Curran, also decried the sensationalism and profiteering that has continued in the years since their sister’s murder, but said they had to come to court to communicate the truth about Mack.
“Facing Heather at the hearing was one of the necessary steps for justice and healing for our entire family,” Weise said in the lobby of the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse.
Prosecutors, however, argued in a motion to deny bond that Mack has a history of violent and erratic behavior brought on by mental health issues. They also detailed the brutality of von Wiese-Mack’s slaying, including how Schaefer allegedly struck the victim with a heavy fruit bowl in their hotel room while Mack covered her mother’s mouth with her hand.
In a recorded phone call, with Schaefer’s cousin, Mack explained that she covered her mother’s mouth to make sure she died, “because Schaefer would have been in even bigger trouble if (von Wiese-Mack) survived,” prosecutors wrote.
“These and other admissions indicate that Mack didn’t just conspire to kill her mother, but was directly involved in her mother’s murder,” prosecutors wrote in the motion.
In arguing for detention, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ann Marie Ursini said prosecutors were prepared to play a four-minute video from the hotel that allegedly depicted Mack and her boyfriend as they tried to get the bloody suitcase with her mother’s body into a cab. After the cab driver became suspicious, Mack and Schaefer fled and checked into another hotel using fake names but were quickly arrested.
Kennelly, however, said he didn’t need to see the video because there is no real dispute about what happened.