Court records shed new light on teen linked to mother’s death in Bali
BY JON SEIDEL AND BRIAN SLODYSKO Staff Reporters August 20, 2014 3:12PM
Sheila von Wiese-Mack's daughter Heather Mack and boyfriend Tommy Schaefer in this undated photo from Instagram.
Updated: August 21, 2014 9:29AM
Sheila von Wiese-Mack said her family “persevered.”
Years before her gruesome demise — found stuffed into a suitcase outside a Bali resort — court records show she wrote in a scrapbook about a life-altering injury her husband suffered during a cruise the couple took in 2001 with their daughter, Heather.
Trying to heal James L. Mack’s wounds “provided me the richest experience of my life,” von Wiese-Mack wrote.
“Despite all the obstacles, we have persevered and remained a family bound together by our love of each other,” she continued.
Now their daughter, 18-year-old Heather Mack, is being held along with her 21-year-old boyfriend by Indonesian authorities in connection with von Wiese-Mack’s grisly death. Heather Mack and Tommy Schaefer could be charged with premeditated murder and face the death penalty.
But the lawsuit von Wiese-Mack and her husband filed in 2001 against Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. has opened the widest window yet into what might have been a happy family that was fractured by James Mack’s injury.
He died of a pulmonary embolism in August 2006 in Greece, and the lawsuit against the cruise line was altered to allege wrongful death.
The lawsuit revolved around a cut that James Mack suffered in his foot in a pool aboard the cruise ship, as well as alleged negligence by the on-board physician.
Meanwhile, police have said they were called to the Mack family home in Oak Park 86 times since January 2004, often to deal with Heather Mack’s violence toward her mother.
Von Wiese-Mack blamed Heather Mack’s behavior in 2010 on the girl’s role as a “key witness” in a wrongful death suit involving her father’s death.
The Royal Caribbean lawsuit led to a $1.5 million settlement in 2011. Von Wiese-Mack immediately netted $340,667 after legal fees for her share of the 2011 settlement, according to court records.
An additional $500,000 went to James Mack’s estate, but a Cook County judge eventually let von Wiese-Mack, as the executor, transfer the money to herself, as the “sole beneficiary.”
James Mack signed his will five days before his death, records show. And in it, he said it was intended “only to provide for Heather Mack, my child, and for no other children.”
Heather Mack was a handful, records show.
Her father put it politely in one deposition, testifying “my daughter is very active.”
But the family’s travel agent, who booked the 2001 cruise, was more candid.
“The obnoxious kid was bouncing a beach ball off everybody while I was trying to go over documents with her mother, who wasn’t paying any attention to her until the beach ball bounced off my desk,” Nancy Calvo Varela said in her 2002 deposition about the Mack family trip.
“Then she decided to discipline her by telling her to sit down, which took about two seconds, and then she was off again.”
The family’s 2001 Mediterranean cruise changed everything.
James Mack had been a doting father who climbed trees with his daughter, taught her to play soccer and frequently took her to the movies, book stores and candy stores, Heather Mack, then 12, said in a 2008 deposition. But after he cut his foot in the cruise ship pool, Mack developed a staph infection that later infected his bones, attorneys for von Wiese-Mack wrote in a court filing.
That left James Mack partially paralyzed and reliant on a wheel chair. At home he used a walker to get around.
“We never, like, went to the park together anymore,” Heather Mack said in testimony for her family’s wrongful death lawsuit. The family still went to the movies, but “it was really hard. We’d have to drop him off, then park, then come back and wheel him in,” she said.
In the years that followed, the highly regarded composer became sullen, lost interest in his music and turned down composition offers, both von Wiese-Mack and Heather Mack testified. Von Wiese-Mack said her husband was angered by his limited mobility.
And while the family still took exotic vacations, James Mack would brood in his hotel room, while his wife and daughter went sightseeing.
“All he would do is sit. He couldn’t go anywhere. He would sit in the room all day,” Heather Mack testified.
Calvo Varela, the travel agent, described the Macks as fussy clients. On a previous cruise trip, the family agreed to take the last available cabin, but later complained because the cabin was close to the ship’s anchor, which made noise when it was lowered.
“It was like: take this or don’t go. So they took the cabin,” said Calvo Varela, who had similar accommodations on a different cruise and questioned the validity of their complaint.
“They only docked three times . . . I had been on a cruise in the same location cabin. And it was like, oh, anchor is going down, go back to sleep. You know, it was not a big deal,” Calvo Varela said during the deposition.
The Macks thought different, though. When they returned dissatisfied, they complained to the travel agency and were awarded a voucher for about $500.