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The grisly tale of an American mom murdered and stuffed into suitcase in Indonesia

Heather Louis Mack at a police station in Bali, Indonesia, on Aug. 14, 2014. (European Pressphoto Agency/MADE NAGI)

The house, from the outside, looks peaceful. Broad, tan and two stories high, an image shows the $650,000-home sitting behind a tall oak tree in the Chicago neighbor of Oak Park. But inside, where a mother and daughter shared a combustible and allegedly violent relationship, it wasn’t as peaceful. According to the Chicago Tribune, police had visited the home 86 times since 2004, sometimes for domestic issues presumably involving mother Sheila von Wiese Mack and daughter Heather Mack.

The fights ranged from Mack’s infrequent attendance at school to her 21-year-old boyfriend, Tommy “Exx” Schaefer. “Police were here all the time,” one neighbor told the Tribune. “They would call police on each other. It turned very abusive and volatile.” Once, the mother’s arm was broken in a fight with her daughter.

Their relationship ended Tuesday with von Wiese Mack’s body stuffed inside a bloody suitcase, the arrests of the daughter and her boyfriend, and a ballooning media storm swirling over the Indonesian island of Bali, where they had vacationed at a posh resort. Mack and her boyfriend are currently undergoing questioning by Indonesian police for “deliberately causing someone’s death,” according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Neither has been charged with a crime.

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The grisly murder left onlookers grasping for answers with little information to go on. What precipitated the mother’s death? Was her murder premeditated or sudden? And did her daughter and her boyfriend do the deed?

The suitcase in which the body of a woman was found in Bali. (Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

As investigators try to piece together what happened, several portraits of the suspects have emerged, primarily on social media.

Schaefer, a rapper, uploaded several videos of his work to YouTube. Born in 1993, he’s described on his Web site. “Standing 6’4, Tommy Exx was a baller in high school and was your prototypical ‘hip hop head’ his entire life,” the site read. He said he dropped out of college after finding it “difficult and disappointing” to concentrate on his music.

His girlfriend, Heather Mack, 19, according to reports, was difficult to discipline while in high school. According to NBC News, she would disappear for days, leaving her mother frantic. “At least four or five of us would say kick her out,” one acquaintance recalls telling the mother. “She was hanging out with a bad crowd. But Sheila always took her back. [Heather] could be charming and self-effacingly sweet one minute, and then a vicious little monster the next.”

In December of last year, the mother wrote to a friend, according to an e-mail obtained by the Chicago Tribune. “Another crisis with Heather,” the mother wrote. “She has not been in school for over a month and yesterday was consumed with trying to keep her safe. I am trying to get her homebound tutoring once again.”

Mother and daughter, despite their volatile relationship, loved to travel together. It was a family tradition — one they maintained after Mack’s husband, a jazz composer named James Mack, died in 2006 while on vacation in Greece, reported the Tribune. They made for Indonesia on Aug. 4, checking into the St. Regis Hotel in Bali. It’s unclear under what circumstances Schaefer came along, but on July 21, he posted on Facebook: “Leaving Aug 4th for Indonesia might not come backkk.” He had trouble obtaining his passport, according to his Facebook account, and he arrived days later on Aug. 11.

By then, drama was already brewing. “I refuse to let someone say what I can do,” daughter Heather Mack wrote in an an Instagram post reported by the Daily Mail. “Gettin money my attitude you know what it do #bali.”

An Indonesian police officer, right, escorts Tommy Schaefer, left, to a police station in Bali on Wednesday, 2014. (Firdia Lisnawati/Associated Press)

The morning after Schaefer showed up at the hotel, police said the group argued publicly. The Sydney Morning Herald reported the mother said she had paid for Schaefer to come to Bali and thought the couple should pick up the hotel bill.

Hours later, at 11:26 a.m., hotel footage showed the young couple lugging a large, gray suitcase draped in a hotel bedsheet. They wanted to check out right away — without paying their bill, which they said Heather’s mother would pay — and wouldn’t let anyone handle the suitcase but them. They also wanted access to the security box, where police suspect their passports were kept, but the request was denied, the Herald reported.

Afterward, they plopped the suitcase into a taxi and allegedly slipped out the back of the hotel, hailing another taxi for the airport, where they asked immigration for new passports.

Meanwhile, the taxi driver began to suspect the pair and the suitcase wasn’t what it seemed. Blood had soaked through the sheet — and the police were called.

Around 9 p.m., the cops caught up to the young couple, who were sleeping at a hotel near where they had stayed with Mack’s mother. They originally told police an armed gang had killed the woman, but they had managed to escape. But “that is inconsistent with the facts we found at the scene,” Denpasar police chief Djoko Hariutomo told reporters.

On the way to the police station, the Chicago Tribune said Schaefer posted a video to the Internet shot while inside the cop car. He called his arrest a “pig stop.”

Terrence McCoy covers poverty, inequality and social justice. He also writes about solutions to social problems.

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