5 Things to Know About Heather Mack's Bali 'Suitcase Murder' After Young Daughter Left Her Custody in Prison
In an emotional scene this week, Heather Mack, who was convicted of murdering her mother in 2014 and stuffing her body in a suitcase, handed over her 2-year-old daughter to a temporary caretaker until she serves the remainder of her sentence at Indonesia’s Kerobokan Prison.
Mack has been behind bars for the grisly killing since 2014 but was allowed to take care of her daughter, Stella, until she turned 2 years old on Friday.
The caretaker — an Australian-Balinese woman named Oshar Putu Melody Suartama, who befriended Mack shortly after she was arrested — has agreed to care for Stella until 2025, when Mack is scheduled for release.
“For nine months and two years, I have loved and cared for my baby in the strangest of situations,” Mack told PEOPLE shortly after handing over her daughter.
“Stella never dreamed of being born into a life here with me at Kerobokan Prison,” Mack said. “But for us, it has been a beautiful two years. We wake up together, and we hold each other when we fall asleep. She is everything to me.”
Here are five things to know about her case:
1. Mack Helped Kill Socialite Mom — and Then Stuffed Her Body in Suitcase
Mack and her then-boyfriend, Tommy Schaefer, 23, were convicted of murder in the 2014 bludgeoning death of Mack’s mother, 62-year-old Chicago socialite Sheila von Wiese-Mack, at an upscale hotel in Bali, Indonesia.
Mack, 21, had a tempestuous relationship with her mother, and the killing took place during a vicious early morning argument.
At the couple’s trial, Schaefer confessed to the killing and admitted to hitting von Wiese-Mack repeatedly with a metal fruit bowl.
He claimed that when von Wiese-Mack found out Mack was pregnant, she became very angry and threatened to kill the couple’s unborn baby — and tried to strangle him for nearly 30 seconds.
Mack has maintained she is innocent of the premeditated murder charge for which she was convicted. Her defense attorney argued at trial that when the fight turned violent, Mack hid in the hotel suite’s bathroom.
After the slaying, the couple stuffed von Wiese-Mack’s body in a suitcase and, hours later, they placed the suitcase in the trunk of a taxi before fleeing the hotel. The driver notified police after he spotted blood leaking from the luggage.
The Chicago couple faced possible execution by firing squad, but Mack was sentenced to 10 years in prison and Schaefer was sentenced to 18 years.
2. Mack Described Relationship with Mom as ‘Complicated’
According to exclusive interviews with Mack and a family friend, she and her mother were entangled in a dysfunctional, co-dependent relationship from which neither could break free.
“She never wanted to be separated from me, and yet she also hated everything about me,” Mack told PEOPLE in a 2015 jailhouse interview. “It was complicated.”
A family friend added, “It was like they were locked in an inescapable pattern, a gridlock. It’s such a sad story. It was like a disaster waiting to happen.”
Mack said her relationship with her mother rapidly deteriorated after the 2006 death of her father, the renowned musician and composer James Mack, who left behind a $1.5 million trust for his daughter.
Still, Mack said, “There was a lot of good in our relationship. I don’t know if I would describe us as friends, but we were close.”
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According to Mack and the family friend, mother and daughter also bonded over shoplifting expensive French cosmetics that von Wiese-Mack liked but never wanted to pay for — despite having plenty of money.
“We’d take thousands and thousands of dollars worth of makeup,” Mack said. “She’d tell me that nobody would expect a kid to do that and have me steal it while she distracted the clerk. … I wanted to make her happy, so I’d just do it.”
3. Mack’s Daughter Lived With Her in Prison for 2 Years
Under Indonesia law, Stella was allowed to live with Mack behind bars until she turned 2 years old on Friday, at which point she had to leave the prison.
In her 2015 jailhouse interview with PEOPLE, Mack said caring for her daughter had profoundly changed her.
“She is everything. She has taught me what love is,” she said.
“She has given me a reason to want to live,” Mack said of Stella. “She’s given me a purpose each morning when I wake up. When Stella is awake, the days are good — I can’t have a breakdown. But at night when she’s asleep, it gets tough.”
Even though Mack has arranged for Suartama to care for her daughter, Schaefer’s mother, Kia Walker, had petitioned an Illinois court to be Stella’s legal guardian.
Walker told PEOPLE, “My granddaughter deserves to be in a loving environment where she can know her grandmother and have a relationship with other family members.”
But on Tuesday, a judge denied Walker’s request, ruling that even though Stella is an American citizen, the court had no jurisdiction over a child born in Indonesia.
4. Suartama Befriended Mack at Police Station While Translating for Visitors
Suartama is married to a Balinese man and has two young sons. She met Mack shortly after Mack’s arrest, when she was at a Bali police station translating for visitors who didn’t speak Indonesian.
She spotted the pregnant Mack sleeping on the floor and soon began bringing her food and prenatal vitamins and paying for her medical care.
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“More than two years ago, I opened up my heart to Heather and Stella — and today we open up our home to Stella, who I will love as my own,” Suartama told PEOPLE this week, not long after she completed the hour-long drive from the prison to her family’s home.
“This isn’t goodbye,” she said. “Stella and her mom will continue their precious bond for the years to come.”
Mack and Stella will have regular weekly visits at Kerobokan Prison.
5. Handoff Was ‘a Very Emotional Situation’
Stella was given over to Suartama at Kerobokan, surrounded by journalists and photographers. Since it was her 2nd birthday, she received cake and gifts.
Mack was in tears for much of the gathering, clutching Stella until the last possible moment before handing her off.
“It was a very emotional situation,” Mack’s Bali-based attorney Benjamin Seran told PEOPLE. “There were lots of tears. But Stella looked happy. She was starting to see a life she’d never seen before from inside the prison. ”
Mack’s United States-based attorney, Brian Claypool, told PEOPLE that “Heather is heartbroken” after the handoff.
“But she’s thankful for Oshar, who has been involved in every phase of Stella’s life.”