CHICAGO (CN) — Heather Mack, a native of Chicago's wealthy suburb of Oak Park, spent seven years in an Indonesian prison for killing her mother Sheila von Wiese-Mack on the island of Bali in August 2014. Indonesian authorities released her and sent her back to Chicago in November 2021, where she immediately entered a not guilty plea on U.S. murder conspiracy and evidence tampering charges.
But on Thursday, almost two years later, the 27-year-old Mack seemed ready to change her plea.
During a Thursday morning status call for her case — and subsequently confirmed by a Thursday afternoon federal court filing — federal prosecutors informed U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly, a Bill Clinton appointee, that Mack planned to enter a guilty plea on all charges. The news comes on the heels of Mack's legal team suffering numerous setbacks, including the suspension of her lead attorney Jeffrey Steinback from practicing law in the northern Illinois federal court district last November.
However, during the status call, prosecutors also said they had made significant progress in reaching a plea agreement with Mack's remaining legal team.
The announcement upends Mack's planned criminal trial, which the court had set to begin on Aug. 1. Mack's official plea change hearing is now set for June 15, with Kennelly suspending all deadlines for Mack's pending pre-trial motions until then. The judge did keep Mack's trial date on the docket, just in case plea negotiations fall through at the last minute.
The events leading up Thursday's announcement form a macabre tale of irreparable family schism; a lifelong feud between a mother and a daughter made worse by their dispute over their late husband and father's $1.5 million estate.
Mack's father, famous Chicago jazz musician James Mack, died in August 2006 of a pulmonary embolism. He had filed a lawsuit against Royal Caribbean Cruises in Cook County Circuit Court only three months prior for allegedly injuring his foot on cruise ship. The case didn't settle until 2011, but it paid out the $1.5 million in question. The court at first directly awarded von Wiese-Mack $840,000 from the settlement, and according to later court filings, allowed her to pay herself an additional $500,000 in 2012.
The elder Mack named Heather as a recipient in his will, compounding the years of already-ongoing conflict between her and her mother. A 2014 report from the Chicago Sun-Times found police had responded to 86 calls to the Macks' Oak Park home over the course of the preceding decade; calls in which von Wiese-Mack reported her daughter had bit and punched her.
By the time von Wiese-Mack took a vacation to the Indonesian island of Bali in summer of 2014, federal prosecutors claim the younger Mack and her now ex-boyfriend Tommy Schaefer were already forming plans to kill the older woman.
A separate federal murder conspiracy indictment against Schaefer's cousin Robert Bibbs, filed in 2015, show that Schaefer sent Bibbs text messages discussing his and Mack's plan to kill Von Wiese-Mack a few weeks before the murder took place.
"Bang Bang + [repeated money bag emojis] = we on in a month," the indictment claims Schaefer texted Biggs in July 2014.
Bibbs pleaded guilty to the murder conspiracy charge in 2017, and admitted to federal authorities that he advised Mack and Schaefer on how best to kill von Wiese-Mack in exchange for $50,000.
"[Mack] asked me for my advice... So I told her like, 'If you would ever do something [to kill the victim], don't get your hands dirty... don't, don't like grab a gun and shoot your mom," court records quoting Bibbs read.
According to the U.S. government's indictment against Heather, first filed in July 2017, Mack arrived in Bali on Aug. 2, 2014 and subsequently paid for Schaefer to come to Bali himself on Aug. 10. After exchanging text messages between themselves about how best to kill von Wiese-Mack, the pair reportedly committed the murder on Aug. 12. Indonesian authorities arrested them the next day, after finding von Wiese-Mack's remains in a suitcase in a taxi outside the St. Regis Bali Resort where she had been staying.
An autopsy revealed the cause of von Wiese-Mack's death to be blunt force trauma that caused an airflow obstruction and asphyxiation.
Tried in Indonesian court, Schaefer received an 18-year sentence for murder and remains imprisoned in-country. Mack was sentenced to ten years for conspiracy to commit murder and only served seven. She was reportedly released early for good behavior, but not before giving birth to her and Schaefer's daughter Estelle Schaefer in 2015.
U.S. federal prosecutors subsequently charged both Mack and Schaefer with additional murder conspiracy and evidence tampering charges, supported by the pair's alleged mishandling and hiding of von Wiese-Mack's body.
"Heather L. Mack and Tommy E. Schaefer... each aiding and abetting the other, corruptly destroyed, mutilated and concealed objects, and attempted to do so, with intent to impair the object's integrity and availability for use in an official proceeding, by forcing the body of Sheila A. Von Wiese into a suitcase after she had been killed and removing the suitcase from the place of the murder; and by removing linens and items of clothing worn during the killing," the indictment against the pair reads.
While the details of Mack's new plea agreement have not yet been made public, a federal murder conspiracy conviction could potentially see her behind bars for the rest of her life.
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