Woman killed and stuffed into suitcase

MICHAEL BACHELARD
Last updated 14:17 14/08/2014

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Bali police have revealed gruesome details of the murder of an American woman who was bludgeoned to death, then had her body stuffed into a suitcase and loaded into a taxi.

They have also questioned why a Bali taxi driver waited for an hour outside the woman's hotel before checking the suitcase in the boot of his car, as blood dripped out of it and soaked the hotel bed sheet it was wrapped in.

The dead woman is Sheila Von Wiese Mack, 62, of Chicago. Her daughter, student Heather Mack, 19, and daughter's boyfriend Tommy Shaeffer, 21, are now in the Denpasar police lockup being questioned for "deliberately causing someone's death" which, in Bali, carries a 15 year sentence.

Heather Mack and Schaeffer were officially named suspects on Thursday based on the CCTV evidence from the hotel, but Denpasar police chief Djoko Hariutomo said police had still been unable to question the pair as lawyers were arranged.

"We have done several tests -- blood and urine tests, a psychological test and we will conduct physical tests too," he said.
Of the suspects' initial statement that they had been kidnapped by six gangsters, Djoko said: "That is inconsistent with the facts we found at the scene".

Djoko told Fairfax Media that Mack and her daughter had arrived in Bali and checked into the Saint Regis luxury resort on August 4. Schaeffer had joined them on August 11.

On Tuesday morning - the day of the death - police say the group had publicly argued over who would pay the hotel bill. Mack was heard saying she had paid for Schaeffer's flights to Bali, so the couple should pay for the hotel.

Hotel CCTV footage then shows that at 11.26am on Tuesday, the young couple came into the hotel's reception area carrying a large suitcase wrapped in a hotel bed sheet. They were booked to leave on Thursday, but asked to check out immediately, Djoko said. They refused to let the hotel staff handle the suitcase.

Djoko said the couple had told reception staff that they would not pay the bill because Heather's mother would pay when she checked out later. They also demanded that hotel staff open a safety deposit box at reception and give them the contents.

The staff refused both requests. Djoko said Mack had left clear instructions that only she should be able to open the safe, which staff believed contained her jewellery.

After the argument, the couple loaded the suitcase into a waiting taxi and went back into the hotel, saying they needed to get more bags.

But they did not return. Instead the couple slipped out the back entrance, then around to the side and ordered another taxi.

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They went directly to Ngurah Rai airport and the immigration counter, saying they had lost their passports and needed new ones to fly out. Djoko speculated that their passports were also locked inside the safety deposit box at the hotel. But immigration staff told them they would need to report the loss to the American consulate.

From there the couple took another taxi to the hotel Risata, near the airport. 

Meanwhile, hotel staff and the taxi driver had become suspicious at the blood-soaked suitcase, which was barely closed because of the size of the object inside, and took it to the police station at about 1.45pm.

Police opened the suitcase and found the body of Mack stuffed inside. The blood was coming from a number of wounds to her head, which Djoko says were caused by blunt force trauma. They do not yet have a murder weapon, but suspect that broken glass in Mrs Mack's room, number 616, suggests it was a heavy glass object.

Djoko says CCTV footage shows no people other than Mack, her daughter and Schaeffer, entering the room.

Djoko said hotel gardeners also found three suitcases full of the family's belongings hidden in the garden. When they opened the suitcases they found a number of blood-soaked hotel towels that had apparently been used to try to clean up the blood in the room. 

Police put out an alert to all taxis and hotels. Staff from the Risata hotel responded and, at 8.30pm on Tuesday night, police raided the room in which they found Mack and Schaeffer asleep.

CNN reported that the couple told police they had been taken captive at the resort by an armed gang whose members killed Mack, but that they had managed to escape.

The couple have so far refused further questioning without a lawyer, Djoko said. They had refused to be accompanied by the duty solicitor, but are waiting for their own lawyer in Chicago to appoint a local representative.

The Chicago Tribune reports that police from where they lived in Chicago had confirmed that they were frequently called to the home where the Mack mother and daughter lived.

"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, the newspaper reported, "maybe trying to make it work," according to a neighbour.

"Since her dad died, it was ongoing," said the neighbour. "Your typical teenage stuff would blow up into major, major stuff."

- The Age

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