By all accounts, Heather Mack's relationship with her mother was volatile, with police often called to their former home in Oak Park.
Now, after Sheila von Wiese-Mack's body was found on Tuesday stuffed inside a suitcase at a luxury resort in Bali, authorities in Indonesia have detained the 18-year-old and her boyfriend for questioning as they investigate the mother's beating death.
Neither has been charged with a crime.
Von Wiese-Mack's slaying stunned her former neighbors, even though they had witnessed the chaotic – and violent – relationship between the woman and her daughter for years. Village officials said police went to the home 86 times since January 2004, mostly for domestic disturbances, theft and missing person calls.
Several friends told the Tribune that Von Wiese-Mack suffered a broken arm during one argument with her daughter. The two fought over everything from school attendance to Heather's boyfriend, neighbors said.
“Police were here all the time,” one neighbor said. “They would call police on each other. It turned very abusive and volatile.”
After von Wiese-Mack's husband, prominent jazz composer James Mack, died while vacationing in Greece in 2006, the mother and daughter continued the family tradition of taking exotic vacations, neighbors said. Last year it was Santorini, off the coast of Greece, this year it was the white sand beaches of Bali.
There were signs of tension shortly before the Bali trip, however, as von Wiese-Mack reported to police that her credit card was being used on July 23 without her permission at the Conrad Hotel in Chicago. When police arrived at the tony downtown hotel, they discovered Heather Mack and her boyfriend, Tommy Schaefer, had used the card to book a room and ring up nearly $1,000 in charges.
Schaefer, 21, was arrested for misdemeanor disorderly conduct after acting unruly during the police response. The Oak Park native was scheduled to appear in court later this month.
An aspiring hip-hop artist who performs under the name Tommy Exx, Schaefer posted an internet video taken from inside the police car and referred to his arrest as a “pig stop.” He also bragged about his upcoming vacation on social media.
“Leaving Aug 4th for Indonesia might not come backkkk,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
He and Mack were taken into custody after police found them sleeping in a hotel room about six miles from the St. Regis Hotel, the resort where they had been staying. The couple told police they had been taken captive at the resort by an armed gang whose members killed von Wiese-Mack, 62, but they managed to escape, according to media reports. Authorities said the hotel workers and the taxi driver who discovered the body gave a different version of events, however.
The taxi driver told police that Mack and Schaefer hailed him at the St. Regis, placing one bag in the trunk and two more in the back seat, according to Trans TV, an Indonesian station. They then went back inside the hotel and did not return. After two hours, the taxi driver said he entered the hotel and spoke to employees, who went to the family's rooms and found them empty, the station reported.
When the taxi driver and a manager opened the trunk, they saw blood on the luggage and drove the car to a police station, where Mack's body was found inside a hard-sided gray suitcase, Trans TV reported.
Ida Bagus Putu Alit, a forensic expert at the hospital who conducted an autopsy, said on Indonesian TV that Mack had been “hit by a blunt object and the blows were concentrated on the face and head.”
“There were signs of a struggle by the victim, as there were bruises on her arms and some fingers were broken,” Alit added.
Both Mack and Schaefer appeared on Indonesian television after being detained and questioned by police. Schaefer wore a Chicago Fire Department T-shirt as he tried to shield his face from the cameras, while Mack could be seen smiling and smoking a cigarette at the police station.
Mack attended Oak Park & River Forest High School, where classmates say she was known for her dancing and was considered one of the school's more cultured students because of her international travel experience. She spoke openly about her fractured relationship with her mother and occasionally even got into heated telephone conversations with von Wiese-Mack while at school, friends said.
In an interview last year with the Caxton Club, a book collectors group, von Wiese-Mack described a deeply cultured resume that included a number of famous names. She said she received an MBA from Washington University in St. Louis and worked with Studs Terkel. But a university spokeswoman said the campus registrar was unable to find any record of her attendance. Sydney Lewis, Terkel's longtime assistant, said Mack only worked briefly as a transcriptionist for Terkel.
“She knew him socially,” Lewis said. “And she did a little transcribing, but she was never an editor.”
Von Wiese-Mack told friends that she could not control her teenage daughter and was always seeking ways to help her. She sold the family's Oak Park home for $650,000 and moved to an apartment on Lake Shore Drive, in an attempt to give herself and her daughter a new start.
“Another crisis with Heather,” von Wiese-Mack wrote in a December 2013 email to a friend who provided it to the Tribune. “She has not been in school for over a month and yesterday was consumed with trying to keep her safe. I am trying to get her homebound tutoring once again.”
Neighbors said von Wiese-Mack often quarreled with her daughter about her boyfriend, though it's unclear whether she meant Schaefer. Mack and Schaefer had dated on-and-off for some time, friends said.
According to a biography posted on his music website, Schaefer was raised by a single mother in Oak Park. He briefly attended Columbia College after graduating from OPRF in 2011. Court records show he pleaded guilty in 2012 to misdemeanor simple assault following an argument with a Chicago man on the sidewalk outside the victim's Lincoln Park workplace.
Tribune reporters Christy Gutowski, Rosemary Regina Sobol, Meredith Rodriguez, Bonnie Miller Rubin and Stacy St. Clair contributed.
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