Custody of Heather Mack’s daughter again up within the air: Might she spend the summer season in Bali?
The fate of Heather Mack’s 7-year-old daughter is once again up in the air after a Cook County judge said she will rule Friday on new temporary living arrangements for the child — including whether the girl should return to Indonesia for the summer.
Estelle Schaefer, known as Stella, arrived with her mother in the United States back in November. Mack had been deported from Indonesia and was then arrested at O’Hare Airport for allegedly plotting the overseas killing of her mother, Sheila von Wiese-Mack.
Stella has since been in the custody of Vanessa Favia, a former attorney of Mack’s. But Favia’s attorney told Cook County Judge Stephanie Miller on Monday that Favia no longer wanted to serve as Stella’s custodian. And later in the same hearing, Stella’s court-appointed advocate recommended she spend the summer in Bali with the woman who raised her while Mack was behind bars there.
The idea prompted immediate questions from the judge about her own jurisdiction, as well as heated objections from others petitioning for custody of Stella. An attorney for one petitioner noted that, “we don’t know if that child’s ever coming back.”
It all amounts to a potentially key moment in the custody battle that has been brewing around Stella for the last seven months.
Jeffrey Steinback, Mack’s criminal defense attorney, declined to comment.
Mack, who is being held at Chicago’s downtown Metropolitan Correctional Center, has been at the center of an international legal saga ever since the gruesome discovery of her mother’s body inside a suitcase outside the St. Regis Bali Resort on Aug. 12, 2014.
Mack and her then-boyfriend, Tommy Schaefer, were arrested the next day, and they were prosecuted in Indonesia. Schaefer was sentenced to 18 years in prison for beating von Wiese-Mack to death, and Mack was sentenced to 10 years for helping. Mack gave birth to Stella during the couple’s 2015 trial.
Mack was then released from prison in October and deported back to the United States along with Stella. Mack purportedly asked at the time that Stella remain with her foster family, but Indonesian officials refused, saying “minors must be accompanied by their mothers when their mothers are deported.”
Schaefer remains behind bars overseas.
The woman who raised Stella in Indonesia, Oshar Putu Melody Suartama, appeared during Monday’s court hearing, which was held by Zoom. During that hearing, Guardian Ad Litem Theresa Ceko recommended to the judge that Stella spend the summer with Suartama while ultimate custody of Stella is sorted out. She said Suartama “is in the process of trying to determine whether or not she can achieve legal status to file her own petition for guardianship.”
Meanwhile, three other individuals are already seeking custody of Stella. They are Kia Walker, Tommy Schaefer’s mother; Diana Roque Ellis of Beverly Hills, who claims to have been friends with von Wiese-Mack; and Lisa Hellmann of Colorado, a cousin of Mack’s.
But with Favia exiting the picture, Ceko said she saw no option for custody of Stella other than Suartama or the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. She said Stella “does not know” Ellis or Hellman. And as for Walker, Ceko pointed to commentary from Stella’s therapist, who said Stella is “not experiencing any desire for a closer relationship” with Walker.
Ceko said during the hearing that she had spoken with Mack, and that “it was very clear to me that she wanted Stella to be with [Suartama].” However, Ellis previously filed an affidavit from Steinback, in which he wrote that Mack wanted Ellis’ petition for guardianship of Stella approved.
After the judge pointed out that Suartama would have to go through a background check, and that the judge “doesn’t have any ability to enforce an order against [Suartama]” Because she’s not a party to the case, Ceko said a round-trip ticket could be purchased for Stella and Suartama could post a bond to help ensure Stella’s return.
Stella’s therapist, Gail Grossman, told the judge that “there’s no question that Stella perceives [Suartama] as her mother and the primary caretaker in her life,” followed by Mack and Favia.
But Hellmann asked whether there is danger of re-traumatizing Stella by sending her back to Suartama only to have the two eventually separated again. Ellis’ attorney, Enrico Mirabelli, objected to the whole conversation.
“How does the child ever get returned if the child goes there?” Mirabelli said.