US couple in Indonesia charged with murder

2014-08-16 07:15
Heather Mack, stands at the police district headquarters after she was brought in for questioning in relation to the death of her mother, in Bali, Indonesia. (Firdia Lisnawati, AP)

Heather Mack, stands at the police district headquarters after she was brought in for questioning in relation to the death of her mother, in Bali, Indonesia. (Firdia Lisnawati, AP)

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Bali - Indonesian police charged an American couple with murder on Friday after the body of the woman's 62-year-old mother was found stuffed in a suitcase on the resort island of Bali.

Heather Mack, aged 19, and her boyfriend Tommy Schaefer, aged 21, both from Chicago, were arrested Wednesday in Bali's Kuta area, a day after the body of Sheila von Wiese-Mack was found inside the trunk of a taxi parked in front of the St. Regis Bali Resort.

The charges are based on witnesses and crime scene evidence, said Bali deputy police chief Gusti Ngurah Raharja Subyakta.

Police said the couple hired the taxi and then placed the suitcase inside the trunk. They told the taxi driver that they were going to check out of the hotel and would return.

After they didn't show up, hotel security guards who found blood spots on the suitcase suggested the driver take the taxi to the police station, where officers opened the suitcase and discovered the body.

The couple told investigators that von Wiese-Mack was killed by robbers while they managed to escape, according to the police chief for Bali's provincial capital of Denpasar, Colonel Djoko Hari Utomo.

Utomo said that contradicted testimonies by the taxi driver and hotel employees.

Von Wiese-Mack, also from Chicago, and her daughter arrived at the St Regis on Saturday, while Schaefer checked in on Monday, police said.

CCTV footage shows that the victim had an argument with Schaefer on Monday in the hotel's lobby.

Masked men

Von Wiese-Mack's body was being autopsied at a hospital in Denpasar, Bali. Head of Forensics Ida Bagus Putu Alit said there were signs of violence on the body indicating the victim fought before she died.

"We found scars on both forearms and the broken left-hand fingernail", Alit said following an external examination. "That indicated a resistance in a fight."

During initial questioning on Wednesday, Mack acknowledged her mother died, but refused to disclose how, according to Haposan Sihombing, an Indonesian lawyer assigned by police to accompany the couple.

Sihombing said that Mack and her mother arrived in Bali on 4 August, and stayed first at Simanyak Hotel before moving to St Regis on 9 August.

"When asked why they left the hotel and moved to Kuta, she did not respond", Sihombing said. "She even told police that three masked men entered their room, making her mother angry and that she asked them out, otherwise she would call the police."

Mack signed investigating documents and a letter of lawyer's assignment after Wednesday's questioning while Schaefer refused, saying he wants to wait for his lawyer to arrive from America, Sihombing said.

"In principle, they did not respond to many questions", Sihombing said. "They were not cooperative."

Authorities in an upscale Chicago suburb, meanwhile, examined records of 86 incidents in which police were called to the family's house in Oak Park where von Wiese-Mack lived with her daughter. Friends have also started talking to local reporters, alleging that the mother-daughter relationship was sometimes contentious.

The calls started in 2004 and lasted through June 2013, according to village of Oak Park spokesman David Powers, who also said the family moved out about a year ago.

The bulk of the calls were missing-person reports, and others included domestic problems and theft.

Powers didn't have details about the calls, but said none resulted in arrests. He added there were a number of emergency 911 calls made from the residence in which the caller hung up, and, as is standard procedure, the police department sent a squad car to investigate.

Von Wiese-Mack was the widow of highly regarded jazz and classical composer James L Mack of Oak Park, Illinois, who died in 2006 at age 76.

In 2012, von Wiese-Mack joined a century-old Chicago book club called the Caxton Club. She had varied interests including Asian literature and Wagnerian opera, according to a May 2013 profile of her in the club's publication Caxtonian.

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