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Police: Room disagreement preceded Bali "suitcase murder"

Sheila von Wiese-Mack CBS Chicago

BALI, Indonesia - Police investigating an American couple suspected of killing the woman's mother at a resort hotel on Indonesia's Bali island said Thursday the three had a disagreement over who was paying for the rooms, but that a motive for the crime has not been established.

Heather Mack and her boyfriend, Tommy Schaefer, have been declared suspects in the killing of Mack's 62-year-old mother, Sheila von Wiese-Mack, whose body was stuffed into a suitcase.

Naming someone a suspect is a formal step under Indonesian criminal law meaning police are preparing to bring charges. Officials said the charges could include premeditated murder, which carries a maximum sentence of death.

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The suitcase found containing the body of an American woman, displayed at a police station in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.

SONNY TUMBELAKA/AFP/Getty Images
Bali police chief Maj. Gen. Benny Mokalu said officers had interviewed 19 witnesses, some of whom cited a disagreement between the three over who should pay for the rooms.

Mokalu said a motive for the killing has not been established.

An Indonesian lawyer appointed to the couple, Haposan Sihombing, said Wednesday the suspects were being held under a suicide watch and were still refusing to talk to investigators. Their American attorney, Michael Elkin, said that Mack, 19, is two months pregnant and complained about her treatment in custody.

Von Wiese-Mack's body was found last week inside a suitcase in the trunk of a taxi in front of an upscale Bali hotel. The couple was arrested the next day at a hotel about six miles away.

The couple told police that von Wiese-Mack was killed by robbers, while they managed to escape. Security camera video showed that the victim earlier had an argument with Schaefer in the first hotel's lobby.

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A police officer escorts Heather Mack, 19, (center) during an investigation at a police office in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on August 13, 2014.

SONNY TUMBELAKA/AFP/Getty Images
According to police records in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, officers were called 86 times in 10 years to the house where von Wiese-Mack and her daughter once lived. The records, obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, indicated that von Wiese-Mack was repeatedly and violently abused by the daughter.

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

On Wednesday, the Sun-Times reported that von Wiese-Mack collected more than $800,000 through a 2011 legal settlement, part of which was originally designated for Mack.

Court records showed that von Wiese-Mack and her late husband received the settlement in a lawsuit between the couple and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. A half million dollars of the money went to her husband's estate and was designated for their daughter through an earlier will. But in 2011, a judge allowed von Weise-Mack to pay herself the $500,000 as the estate's "sole beneficiary."

  • Crimesider Staff

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