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Police question daughter, boyfriend after woman's body found in suitcase

By Adam Sege And Meredith Rodriguez, Chicago Tribune (MCT) • Aug 13, 2014 at 4:12 PM

The badly beaten body of a Chicago woman was found stuffed inside a suitcase on a resort island in Indonesia, and authorities have arrested her 19-year-old daughter and the daughter's boyfriend, officials said.

The body of Sheila Von Wiese Mack, 62, was discovered Tuesday after the suitcase was left in the trunk of a taxi outside the Saint Regis Bali luxury resort, the Jakarta Globe reported.

Mack's daughter Heather and her 21-year-old boyfriend, Tommy Schaeffer, were taken into custody after they were found by police sleeping in a hotel room in Kuta, about six miles from the Saint Regis, according to CNN and the Associated Press. No charges have been announced.

"The couple are now being detained and interrogated," Hery Wiyanto, Bali police spokesman, told Reuters.

The couple told police they had been taken captive at the resort by an armed gang whose members killed Mack but they later managed to escape, CNN reported. But hotel workers and the taxi driver who discovered the body gave a different version of events, local media reported.

The taxi driver told police that the daughter and the boyfriend hailed him at the St. Regis, placing one bag in the trunk and two more in the back seat, according to Trans TV. They then went back into 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 that conducted an autopsy, said 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.

Neighbors in the quiet, tree-lined Oak Park, Ill., neighborhood where Mack and her daughter lived said they were each sweet, friendly and gregarious. But their relationship appeared troubled.

"Police were here all the time," said one neighbor next door. "They would call police on each other. It turned very abusive and volatile."

The neighbor said she tried to respect their privacy but called police herself several times when they were arguing loudly.

Oak Park police confirmed that police were frequently called to the home.

"Between January 2004 and today, officers had been called to that residence 86 times," said David Powers, spokesman for the Village of Oak Park.

"The last call was in June 2013, and they basically said they were a wide range of calls, mostly for domestic trouble and theft. There were several missing person calls, and a few 911 hang-ups that police responded to."

After Mack's husband, James Mack, died in 2006, the mother and daughter continued the family tradition of taking exotic family vacations. This summer it was Bali, "maybe trying to make it work," the neighbor said. "Since her dad died, it was ongoing," said the neighbor. "Your typical teenage stuff would blow up into major, major stuff."

Heather Mack is a talented dancer who attended Oak Park-River Forest High School, where her boyfriend also went to school, neighbors said.

Her mother loved music, like her late husband, and had concerts in her backyard. She was always sweet and helpful, the neighbors said.

"They were gracious people," said another neighbor, a few houses down who often talked to Sheila Mack when she walked her dog or saw her at neighborhood block parties. "She was always very friendly, eager to talk and worried about Heather.

"She was trying her very best to do anything Heather needed and she seemed devoted to her," the neighbor said.

Her daughter was "the nicest kid," said a third neighbor walking her dog Wednesday morning nearby.

Whenever Sheila Mack ran into neighbors, she would often bring up her daughter and ask for advice.

"She talked to everybody about her daughter," said the neighbor, who like the others did not want to give her name. "I think she was always looking for help to some degree."

Still, she was shocked to hear the news this morning. "You just don't know," she said. "It's just beyond shocking."

Mack's husband was a well-known conductor and composer. Sheila Mack moved to an apartment along Lake Shore Drive in Chicago last year.

According to an interview last year with the Caxton Club, a book collectors group, Mack had once worked for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, served as an editor for Studs Terkel and studied with author Saul Bellow.

Mack was born in Minneapolis and grew up in Grosse Pointe, Mich., according to the interview. After majoring in political science at Simmons College in Boston, she got a job working for Kennedy, she said.

"He had me doing research for him, and lots of miscellaneous jobs the political life requires," she said in the interview. "I even poured tea for Rose Kennedy a time or two.

"He was a very concerned employer," Mack said. "One time when I was the victim of a crime, he came to the courtroom to generate a bit of publicity to be sure it was being taken seriously."

She got an MBA from Washington University in St. Louis and worked for a time for Doubleday, the publisher. "I met many interesting people there, too," she said in the interview. "Among them was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who was working there as an editor. We cooperated on a couple of projects, and I was really impressed. She was a serious person, not just a public figure."

She later moved to Chicago where she said she worked for Terkel.

"Of course he had his radio show at WFMT, and he had an assistant there, Sydney Lewis," Mack said. "But he had me editing his published interviews, and he'd often invite me along when he was going to see someone interesting."

Terkel suggested she study with Bellow at the University of Chicago.

"It was an extraordinary time. We studied the books Bellow wanted to study, which included authors Joyce, Fitzgerald, Dickens, and Balzac," Mack said.

It was around this time she met her husband James Mack in Hyde Park.

"He had a big house in Oak Park where he'd lived with his previous wife, so it just seemed sensible to move there," she said.

At age 43, she gave birth to Heather.


Tribune reporter Matt Walberg contributed to this report.


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