US couple jailed over ‘sadistic’ Bali suitcase murder

DENPASAR, Indonesia (AFP, Reuters) -  A US couple were given long jail terms Tuesday for the “sadistic” murder of the woman’s mother, whose body was found stuffed in a suitcase outside a luxury hotel on Indonesia’s Bali island.

Tommy Schaefer, 21, was found guilty of the premeditated murder of Sheila von Wiese Mack on the resort island and jailed for 18 years.  His girlfriend and the victim’s daughter, 19-year-old Heather Mack who was pregnant at the time of the crime, was found guilty of assisting in the murder and given a 10-year prison term.

Schaefer wept in the Bali court as judges recounted harrowing details of the case, in which he beat the 62-year-old victim to death with a fruit bowl during a blazing row in the five-star resort, before he and his girlfriend dumped the body in a taxi.

“The defendant’s actions disturbed the public and can be considered sadistic,” said Judge Made Suweda as he sentenced Schaefer.

The case sent shockwaves across the tropical holiday island that welcomes millions of foreign visitors each year.

Schaefer’s jail term was the same as that recommended by prosecutors. He escaped a death sentence, the maximum term for premeditated murder in Indonesia.

Prosecutors had called for a 15-year jail term for Heather Mack, who gave birth to a baby girl last month. Mack’s legal team said they did not yet know if they would appeal.  

- Bali shocked by murder -

Von Wiese Mack’s badly beaten body was discovered in a taxi outside an upmarket resort on Bali last August. After her killing, the couple – from the Chicago area – fled to another part of Bali where police arrested them.

Schaefer confessed to the killing during his trial but claimed he was defending himself during a blazing row with von Wiese Mack, who was unhappy that her daughter was pregnant.

Prosecutors alleged that Schaefer “blindly hit” von Wiese Mack with a fruit bowl in a fit of rage after she directed a racial slur at him. Schaefer is black.

While her mother was being murdered, Mack hid in the bathroom and the couple then stuffed the body into the suitcase together, according to her indictment. She maintains her innocence.

The couple were tried separately.

Mack’s baby girl, Stella, is staying with her in Bali’s notorious Kerobokan jail, where prisoners live in cramped, unsanitary conditions and drug abuse is widespread.

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune newspaper in February, Mack said that she was “petrified” and revealed that she was sharing a cell with 10 other women.

“I loved my mom with all my heart and miss her every day,” she said.

The case involved a lengthy investigation, with assistance from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. Locals and foreigners alike were horrified at the rare murder on Bali, a pocket of Hinduism in Muslim-majority Indonesia that attracts millions of foreign tourists to its palm-fringed, pristine beaches each year.

Foreign visitors sometimes run into trouble on the tropical island, although it is normally when they fall foul of Indonesia’s tough anti-drugs laws, which include the death penalty for smuggling narcotics.