Heather Mack was captured after her mother was killed in Bali. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro
Heather Mack was captured after her mother was killed in Bali. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro

Killer daughter’s desperate effort to escape

NUSA Dua, 45km south of the Balinese capital, Denpasar, prides itself on being the top hotel region in Bali. With its long beaches of white sand, it's a popular destination for those who don't mind paying a high price for their holiday on the Island of Gods.

Claiming to be the best of the best is the five-star St Regis Hotel, where rooms can run to $2000 or more for a night. But guests enjoy all that Bali, and any top hotel in the Western world, can offer. With a driveway entrance that stands beside a rather nondescript road, guests are left breathless as they enter the fabulous lobby with its ball-shaped chandeliers, plush carpets and polished floors The staff give everyone special attention, as if they are the only guests there.

After an introductory fruit drink, Sheila von Wiese-Mack and her daughter Heather were taken to room 317, which offered ultimate luxury, with a separate lounge area and a wide balcony. A choice of airconditioning or ceiling fans added to guests' comforts. Below, a picture-postcard pool area awaited guests who wanted to do nothing all day but lie around and take an occasional swim. And then there was the beach area, fringed with a line of red sun umbrellas.

Taking in their fabulous surroundings, Sheila might have thought that if she couldn't build a new and loving mother-daughter relationship in this place, then she never would.

Shiela hoped the St Regis in Bali was the perfect place to renew her relationship with her daughter.
Shiela hoped the St Regis in Bali was the perfect place to renew her relationship with her daughter.

After they had unpacked, Heather told her mother that she was going for a walk - the start of a routine which left Sheila perturbed as she would have preferred to be spending more time with her daughter. It is not thought that Tommy Schaefer's name came up at all on the occasions when mother and daughter were able to sit together at the poolside, beside the beach or in the dining room where artistically-presented dishes - lobster, imported prime steaks - were available, along with exotic cocktails. Sunrises and sunsets were breathtaking. The setting was a favourite for Westerners' weddings and for Sheila no surroundings could have been better for her bonding plans.

Sheila might have wondered what could possibly go wrong, although her daughter's frequent disappearances for many hours at a time as the days drifted by continued to be a source of concern.

Then, on August 11, 2014, less than two weeks after the American mother and daughter had arrived, Heather went off for the day and by nightfall had not returned. Sheila watched midnight come and go. Should she raise the alarm? Perhaps Heather had gone to a nightclub or had met a group of people she liked and had dinner with them. The last thing Sheila wanted, on this special trip to patch things up between them, was to give the impression that she was trying to interfere in her daughter's life She was an adult, after all. But when 3am came with still no sign of Heather, Sheila decided it was time for action. She hurried through the empty lobby and demanded at the front desk to see the duty manager.

"Have you seen my daughter anywhere?" she asked the manager.

Not in her wildest imagination could she have foreseen the answer. Heather was in the hotel after all. But she was staying in another room. Baffled, Sheila asked for an explanation. A further shock came.

"Madam, you are paying for two rooms. She is there."

And whose room was it, the stunned mother wanted to know.

"It's a Mr Schaefer."

American Heather Mack secretly booked an extra room for her boyfriend while on holiday with her mum.
American Heather Mack secretly booked an extra room for her boyfriend while on holiday with her mum.

According to a staff member, it took a moment or two for the news to sink in. Then Sheila insisted on being put through to Schaefer's room, 616.

"Get down to the lobby this minute," she ordered her daughter. She knew what had happened - just as it had happened before. Heather had taken one of her credit cards and had paid for Schaefer's room, a plan that had clearly been hatched back in Chicago while, as the days had gone by, Sheila had been working slowly and carefully at bringing her daughter closer to her.

When Heather finally stepped into the lobby, her mother pulled no punches.

"So Tommy Schaefer the thief is here?" she cried, close to hysterics.

Heather shrugged, but agreed to return to the room she was sharing with her mother.

"When we get home," she was heard to tell her daughter, "I'm going to sue that man for fraud. And who paid for his air ticket to come here? On my credit card as well?"

Heather's silence told her all she wanted to know. The pair returned to room 317, but instead of going to bed, or offering her mother an apology, or at least some kind of explanation, Heather spent the next few hours busily texting Tommy.

It was 8.30am and other guests were heading to the various breakfast locations in the hotel when the bell of Sheila's room sounded. It was Tommy. He hugged Heather, then turned his eyes towards Sheila. What ensued was a screaming match between the tall man and Sheila, who was dwarfed by his size. Still in her nightdress, she called him a thief and used a derogatory name for a black person.

"You forget, your own husband was black," he answered back.

"Yes," Sheila is known to have replied, "he was black, but unlike you he was rich!"

At first, Tommy laughed - but then he snapped. From under his T-shirt he produced a fruit bowl with a heavy metal handle that he'd brought from his room and swung it hard into Sheila's face. And as she stumbled backwards, arms flailing as she tried to scratch him and push him away, he struck her again and again in the face while she lay on her back. Again and again he smashed the handle into her face, battering so furiously that she became unrecognisable. And then she was still.

Heather Mack was arrested after her mother’s body was found in a suitcase. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro
Heather Mack was arrested after her mother’s body was found in a suitcase. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro

While this murderous, bloody scene was being played out, Heather slipped away into the bathroom, before Tommy called for her to come out. They hugged. And then he told her, "Sheila is dead."

Some days later, a senior police officer opened a thick file of photographs and told me to brace myself as he opened it to a picture of Sheila's face. It was immediately obvious to me why Sheila had died - no-one could have survived such a battering. Yet it wasn't the blows that had killed her. An autopsy had revealed she had choked to death on her own blood, which had flowed down into her lungs.

Heather and Tommy stared down at the blood-soaked body. They needed to do something. They were to claim later that they considered telling the hotel management that there had been a terrible accident but realised such a story would only result in the police being called. So why not, they had discussed, take the body directly to the police themselves? And what would they tell them? There was only one excuse that they could think of - there had been a terrible row and Sheila had attacked Tommy and he had acted in self-defence. Fearing for his life, he had grabbed the fruit bowl and just struck at Sheila, who, they could perhaps tell the police, was like a woman possessed, who refused to listen to his pleas to back off. But they couldn't see that excuse being accepted, for Tommy was much stronger than his victim.

They couldn't leave the body in the room. They had to get it out of there and they also needed enough time to flee Bali before the body was discovered. Tommy went back to his room, then returned to Sheila's carrying a silver-coloured hard-sided suitcase. What followed next was unimaginable

The two lovers lifted Sheila partially into the opened suitcase, but she was far too big. That wasn't going to stop them. Again, I was later shown a photo of how they had stuffed Sheila into the suitcase. With blood seeping from her ears, nose and mouth and into her blond hair, they first wrapped her in a sheet before, using brute strength, her bones cracking, they folded her in, bending her forwards so her head was between her legs, which had been folded back towards her ears. It wasn't a perfect fit; they couldn't close the case completely so they retrieved another sheet and used it to tie the lid down as best they could.

Tommy Schaefer was convicted of killing Sheila Von Weise at the St Regis Hotel in Bali. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro
Tommy Schaefer was convicted of killing Sheila Von Weise at the St Regis Hotel in Bali. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro

It was noon when they took two other bags down to a taxi, but asked a bellboy to push a trolley with the very heavy suitcase down to the lobby. A receptionist who saw red stains on the outside of the suitcase made a remark about it, but Heather said it was 'just make-up stains.' Then, following the bellboy to the taxi, Tommy helped lift the suitcase into the trunk, making an excuse for its weight. They told the driver to wait a moment and they'd be right back after paying their bill. But at the reception desk there was a snag. Heather could not check out because the accommodation was on her mother's card - and Tommy couldn't leave, either, because Sheila had cancelled the card that Heather had used to book him in with. Even worse, Heather couldn't retrieve her passport because it was in a hotel safe box, along with her mother's and only Sheila had permission to open it.

'Are you telling me we can't go?' Heather asked a staff member.

'Not until we speak to madam,' came the reply in reference to Sheila.

There were three ways out of the hotel - through the front entrance, taking a route past the swimming pool and onto the beach or, more dramatically, by scaling a wall. Later, staff were to say that security cameras recorded Heather and Tommy climbing over the wall. At the busy roadside, beyond the oasis that was the St Regis, they waved down another taxi and asked to be taken to the airport. They had return tickets to the US. It was just a matter, they naively believed, of talking their way through immigration without passports. Their wild expectations failed, so they jumped into another taxi and asked to be taken to a cheap hotel. While they didn't have passports - a requirement of all foreign guests checking in - they made up the excuse on registering that they would have them the following day.

Back at the St Regis, the taxi driver was wondering where the guests who had asked him to wait had got to. Idly he looked at the silver suitcase and now it seemed that blood was seeping out through the partially-closed lid. He reported his suspicions to the hotel staff and, confirming it belonged to the American couple who had tried to book out an hour earlier, the management told the taxi driver to take the case immediately to the police. At a local police station, officers reeled when they opened the case and saw the squashed up, bloodied body of a blond woman.

Heather Mack was also convicted, but was pregnant during her trial, and gave birth while incarcerated. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro
Heather Mack was also convicted, but was pregnant during her trial, and gave birth while incarcerated. Picture: Lukman S Bintoro

Soon an island-wide alert was put out for the young couple. The airport and ports were alerted and it wasn't long before word came back that they had already tried in vain to fly out of the country. Police were confident it was just a matter of time before they had the pair in custody. They had no convincing ID, no credit card they could use and a questionable amount of money. The following day officers received the news that the pair were at a budget hotel, some 10km from the St Regis, having checked in under their own names.

Police raided the room and found the pair still in bed. They had apparently had sex during the night, in between working out what their next move was to be.

As police ordered them to get dressed before leading them out to a waiting car they appeared to show little concern about what had happened.

It seemed they were confident that the story they were going to tell - about Tommy striking Sheila in self defence, that they had tried to call the US consulate but had heard only an answering machine, that they had panicked at the time but were going to make a full report to the police, that there had never been any intention of killing Sheila - was going to be accepted and they'd soon be on their way back to the United States.

What happens in Bali details the murder plus other notorious stories from the Indonesian island.
What happens in Bali details the murder plus other notorious stories from the Indonesian island.

 

What Happens In Bali by Richard Shears, New Holland Publishers, $32.99, out now.

Tommy Schaefer was captured along with his girlfriend Heather after the murder of Heather’s mother Sheila Von Weise at the St Regis hotel.
Tommy Schaefer was captured along with his girlfriend Heather after the murder of Heather’s mother Sheila Von Weise at the St Regis hotel.
News Corp Australia


Must-see giants of the ocean

Must-see giants of the ocean

Chance to watch whale migration.

Residents given more time to have say on Jetty development

Residents given more time to have say on Jetty development

MP Andrew Fraser announces consultation period has been extended.

Controversial new logging laws passed

premium_icon Controversial new logging laws passed

Controversial changes passed by the NSW Upper House this morning.

Local Partners