Woman found dead in Bali got $840,000 in a cruise line settlement
BY JON SEIDEL Staff Reporter August 19, 2014 6:28PM
Composer James L. Mack died in 2006. | Sun-Times File Photo
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Updated: September 21, 2014 6:19AM
The estate left behind eight years ago by James L. Mack, whose wife was found stuffed in a suitcase in Bali last week, didn’t amount to much — at first.
Mack left behind a $150,000 Chicago condo and a bank account worth about $1,800 when he died in 2006, according to court records filed by his now-deceased widow, Sheila von Wiese-Mack.
The windfall came about five years later, when a Cook County judge in February 2011 approved a $1.5 million settlement in a decade-old lawsuit between the couple and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.
They sued the cruise line before Mack, a highly regarded jazz and classical composer, died at age 76.
Sheila von Wiese-Mack immediately netted $340,667 after legal fees for her share of the settlement, according to court records.
But another $500,000 went to James Mack’s estate.
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.” At the time, Mack was age 10.
But in June 2011, a judge authorized von Wiese-Mack, the executor of her husband’s estate, to pay herself the remaining $500,000 as the estate’s “sole beneficiary.”
Now, three years later, 18-year-old Heather Mack and her 21-year-old boyfriend Tommy Schaefer are in the custody of Indonesian authorities after von Wiese-Mack’s body was found last week on the resort island of Bali.
She was stuffed in a suitcase in the trunk of a taxi parked outside the upscale St. Regis Bali Resort, where von Wiese-Mack, her daughter and Schaefer had been staying.
Schaefer and Heather Mack could be charged with premeditated murder, which could carry the death penalty.
An autopsy found von Wiese-Mack, 62, died of asphyxiation from a broken nose bone resulting from a blunt blow, authorities said. She also had a broken neck. Her body is expected to be returned to the United States.
It’s not clear how — or if — the settlement with Royal Caribbean Cruises affected the undisputedly contentious relationship between von Wiese-Mack and her daughter, Heather Mack.
The two allegedly quarreled often at their Oak Park home over homework, chores — and the mother’s accusations that her daughter stole cash and credit cards, according to police reports.
Records indicate the Royal Caribbean lawsuit, filed in 2001, revolved around a swimming pool injury to James Mack’s foot as well as alleged negligent medical treatment by a physician on a cruise ship.
Heather Mack’s attorney, Michael Elkin, declined to comment on the settlement. The attorneys who handled the lawsuit and James Mack’s estate didn’t return calls.
A second executor named in James Mack’s will — von Wiese-Mack’s brother, William Wiese — issued a written statement that said his family is “saddened and heartbroken.”
“We would also like to thank the Indonesian police, the FBI, the U.S. State Department and all the other people who are assisting in the quest for justice for our sister, Sheila,” Wiese wrote.
In a later interview with the Sun-Times, Wiese said he was unfamiliar with the details of James Mack’s will or with the terms of the family’s settlement with Royal Carribean Cruises Ltd.
Two years after the settlement, a pair of banks released outstanding mortgages totaling $384,000 on the upscale Oak Park home von Wiese-Mack shared with her daughter. The mortgages were taken out in 2005 and 2006, before James Mack died.
Oak Park police said they made 86 visits to that home since January 2004, often to deal with what neighbors described as constant screaming matches between von Wiese-Mack and Heather Mack.
Von Wiese-Mack repeatedly accused her daughter of abusing her, according to police reports obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times. She said Heather Mack bit her and punched her in a previously broken ankle. And Heather Mack was arrested after allegedly breaking her mother’s arm in January 2011.
Von Wiese-Mack eventually sold the Oak Park home last year for $650,000, Cook County records show, and moved to a Chicago high-rise.
But just last month, police found Heather Mack and Schaefer partying with seven other people in an eighth-floor room at the Conrad Chicago Hotel on Rush Street, a law enforcement source said.
Von Wiese-Mack’s credit card company told her the card was being used to pay for the room.
Heather Mack told police she had permission to use her mother’s credit card.
Von Wiese-Mack denied it.