Feds: Heather Mack feared mother would press felony fraud charges

By Bill Dwyer For Chronicle Media

Heather Mack (right) with her mother Sheila Von Wiese on a flight to Spain in 2013. (Provided)

Federal prosecutors in the Heather Mack murder conspiracy case say hatred for her mother and a lust for her mother’s money were the primary motives for the brutal murder of Sheila Von Wiese in August 2014, in Bali.

But Mack’s murderous motives, they added, intensified after she realized that her mother’s patience with her near-daily thieving had worn thin, and that she might face arrest on felony charges for credit card fraud.

The new details appear in two motions totaling more than 60 pages that were filed on April 17. Prosecutors are asking the judge to allow prior acts of both fraud and violence by Heather against her mother to be admitted under established exceptions to federal hearsay rules. The motions, they said, were filed for the “… purposes of establishing defendant’s motive and intent to commit the (murder of Von Wiese).”

“Mack had a long history of physically and financially abusing her mother,” prosecutors said.

Von Wiese’s wealth was apparently central in Mack’s thoughts. When the FBI searched Mack’s bedroom on Aug. 28, 2014 they found one of Von Wiese’s bank statements, “reflecting a balance of over one million dollars.”

Mack saw her mother as a convenient and effortless source of money. Prosecutors say she “kept several of her mother’s credit card numbers, expiration dates and security codes in her phone for easy reference,” and shared it with her then boyfriend, Tommy Schaefer when he wanted to buy something.

The court filings show ever escalating violence and fraud by Mack against Von Wiese in the weeks prior to her departure for Bali. Prosecutors say Von Wiese had to cancel and replace credit cards dozens of times within a few months before her death due to almost daily fraud totaling more than $50,000. That included Mack charging a total of 16 nights in Chicago hotels, including the Swissotel and Waldorf Astoria.

A June 16, 2014 incident paints a picture of both Mack’s criminal actions and the fear her mother felt over her violent behavior. Von Wiese emailed a friend that “Heather just ran out of my apartment, shoving me to the floor at the elevator. I discovered when I returned into my room that both my portable home phone and my cell phone were gone …”

“She was like a psycho when she left,” Von Wiese wrote, “her eyes were scary and she had a smirk on her face that would stop a ghost in his tracks … It so frightens me to see her in this type of state — yet, I am very concerned about having no phone line at this late hour. … if something were to happen, I have no means of help … .”

The next day, prosecutors said, “Mack stole Von Wiese’ car and disappeared for several days before returning the car.”

In another email, on July 3, Von Wiese wrote, “today was worse than usual … [Mack] shoved me hard and hit me twice before leaving — she was like a monster.” Von Wiese also noted that she was “so scared of her [Mack] that I [Von Wiese] may have to obtain an order of protection from the police because … just to protect me … . She told me today that she would kill me and then others that she hates before killing herself if I try to get her admitted to a psych ward.”

Prosecutors say that despite her fear, Von Wiese was growing increasingly intolerant of her daughter’s thievery, and that caused Mack to feel a sense of urgency about her plan to kill her mother.

In late July Mack and Schaefer were arrested for unauthorized use of Von Wiese’ credit card to party at a downtown Chicago hotel. They spent the night in jail, but were released the next morning after Mack talked her mother out of pressing charges.

Prosecutors argue that “Mack’s concern about the credit card fraud culminated in the early morning hours of Aug. 12, 2014.” When hotel staff told Von Wiese that her credit card was used to book Schaefer’s room, she became “obviously angry.”

St. Regis staff told investigators that they also overheard Von Wiese say that Mack and Schaefer “were going to jail for credit card fraud when they returned to Chicago.”

“Mack knew her mother was serious,” prosecutors said. “After all, Mack and Schaefer were arrested mere weeks before at the Conrad Hotel for essentially the same.”

But while Mack had been arrested on other occasions after her mother called police, she was a juvenile then, and “faced minimal consequences. However, by the summer of 2014, Mack was an adult and understood that she faced adult consequences for her criminal behavior.”

Just hours after Von Wiese angrily vowed to have Mack and Schaefer arrested, Mack texted Schaefer that it was “dangerous to not do it” and that Von Wiese “could daw soo (sic) much attention to us.”

“This is direct evidence that one of Mack’s several motives for killing her mother was the concern about getting caught,” prosecutors concluded.

Heather Mack’s criminal trial is scheduled to start on July 31.