CHICAGO– A Cook County judge ordered Heather Mack’s 7-year-old daughter to temporarily care for a maternal cousin of Mack’s from Colorado at the end of a contentious hours-long hearing on Thursday – although Mack asked the prison judge to choose the girl’s grandmother instead.
Lisa Hellmann will become the third person to care for Estelle Schaefer, known as Stella, since the child’s arrival in November 2021 in the United States with her mother from Indonesia. Mack was immediately arrested at O’Hare Airport and has since been detained in the United States on charges of conspiring to kill her own mother, Sheila von Wiese-Mack, in 2014.
Stella’s father, Tommy Schaefer, is also behind bars overseas serving an Indonesian prison sentence for the gruesome murder of von Wiese-Mack in Bali. This left Stella’s future uncertain. And in the past year, she has become the subject of a bitter custody battle before Cook County Judge Stephanie Miller.
Miller said Stella’s placement with Hellmann was “not the most ideal situation.” The couple have only had a handful of virtual visits in the ongoing custody dispute. However, the judge also complained that Stella’s first US guardian, attorney Vanessa Favia, relinquished custody of Stella after seven months. The woman who previously cared for Stella in Indonesia, Oshar Suartama, came to Illinois in June to take custody of the girl.
Now Suartama’s lawyer says his client must leave the United States by Friday.
“The fact that Stella is doing as well as she does is a credit to her,” Miller said. “Dare I say, not to adults.”
Hellmann’s mother is von Wiese-Mack’s sister, and the animosity within the family came to light during Thursday’s hearing, held by Zoom. Speaking from the Metropolitan Correctional Center, Mack said she would rather Stella go to Schaefer’s mother, Kia Walker, than Hellmann.
Mack told the judge that Hellmann “hasn’t said a word to any of us in years.” Later, after the judge ordered Stella in Hellmann’s care effective Friday, Mack sought an additional order allowing him to virtually visit his daughter.
“I’m sure Ms. Hellmann would deny me access,” Mack said.
Hellmann’s attorney, Clarke Mac Gillespie, said his client would “absolutely” facilitate these visits if approved by Stella’s therapist. The therapist didn’t object, so Miller also ordered weekly visits between Mack and Stella.
Hellmann, Walker and Suartama seek custody of Stella in an ongoing lawsuit before Miller. The same goes for Diana Roque Ellis, a Californian and former friend of von Wiese-Mack.
While a final custody decision has yet to be made, Miller’s decision on Thursday seemed particularly significant. Concerns have been repeatedly raised in the case about Stella moving from house to house. The judge said Thursday that calling Stella’s upcoming transition “difficult” is “about as important as an understatement that was done in this court.”
Swirling around the custody case are allegations of book and television deals given the sensational and high-profile nature of von Wiese-Mack’s death. His body was discovered in a suitcase outside the St. Regis Bali Resort on August 12, 2014, and some news outlets called his death a “Bali Suitcase Murder”.
Stella was born during Mack and Schaefer’s subsequent Indonesian trial in 2015. She lived with Mack in prison until she was 2 years old. Suartama then cared for her until November 2021. Mack spent seven years in Indonesia for assisting in the murder of his mother before being deported back to the United States.
She is now due to stand trial in federal court in Chicago on July 31.
Earlier this week, Miller rejected offers to hand Stella over to either Favia or Ellis, noting that Favia had backed out of the custody case and that Ellis had not established a relationship with Stella.
That left Hellmann and Walker. Although Walker has fought passionately for custody of Stella since the girl’s arrival in the United States, she has also often argued with the judge. And when Miller ruled on Thursday, she pointed to several accusations made without evidence by Walker — as well as his vendetta allegations against her.
“The reality is that it has nothing to do with Ms. Walker,” Miller said. “It has everything to do with Stella.”
The video in the player above is from a previous report.
Source: ( Sun-Times Media Wire – Copyright Chicago Sun-Times 2021.)