At the end of a contentious, hour-long hearing Thursday, a Cook County judge ordered Heather Mack’s 7-year-old daughter into the temporary care of Mack’s maternal cousin from Colorado, despite Mack’s request from jail to choose the girl’s grandmother instead.
Lisa Hellmann will be the third person to care for Estelle Schaefer, also known as Stella, since the child’s arrival in the United States with her mother from Indonesia in November 2021. Mack was arrested at O’Hare Airport and has been in US custody since, charged with conspiring to murder her own mother, Sheila von Wiese-Mack, in 2014.
Tommy Schaefer, Stella’s father, is also serving an Indonesian prison sentence for von Wiese-heinous Mack’s murder in Bali. Stella’s future was thus uncertain. In the past year, she’s been the subject of a contentious custody battle before Cook County Judge Stephanie Miller.
Stella’s placement with Hellmann, according to Miller, was “not the most ideal situation.” As part of the ongoing custody battle, the couple has only had a few virtual visits. The judge did, however, express concern that Stella’s first caretaker in the United States, attorney Vanessa Favia, relinquished custody of Stella after only seven months. Oshar Suartama, Stella’s previous caregiver in Indonesia, came to Illinois in June to take custody of the girl.
Suartama’s lawyer now says her client must leave the country by Friday.
“The fact that Stella is doing as well as she is is a credit to her,” Miller said. “Dare I say, not to the adults.”
Hellmann’s mother is von Wiese-sister, Mack’s and animosity within the family surfaced during Zoom’s hearing on Thursday. Mack, speaking from the Metropolitan Correctional Center, said Stella should go to Schaefer’s mother, Kia Walker, rather than Hellmann.
Hellmann, Mack told the judge, “hasn’t said one word to any of us for years.” Later, after the judge ordered Stella into Hellmann’s care, Mack requested an additional order allowing her to virtually visit her daughter.
“I’m sure that I would be denied access from Ms. Hellmann,” Mack said.
Clarke Mac Gillespie, Hellmann’s attorney, said his client would “absolutely” facilitate those visits if Stella’s therapist approved. Miller also ordered weekly visits between Mack and Stella, which the therapist did not object to.
In an ongoing bench trial before Miller, Hellmann, Walker, and Suartama are seeking Stella’s custody. Diana Roque Ellis, a former friend of von Wiese- Mack’s, is also there.
Despite the fact that a final custody decision has yet to be made, Miller’s decision on Thursday seemed particularly significant. Concerns about Stella’s move from home to home have been raised repeatedly in the case. According to the judge, calling Stella’s next transition “difficult” is “about as big of an understatement that has been made in this court.”
Due to the high-profile and sensational nature of von Wiese-death, Mack’s allegations of book and TV deals are swirling around the custody case. Her body was discovered inside a suitcase outside the St. Regis Bali Resort on August 12, 2014, and her death has been dubbed the “Bali Suitcase Murder.” by some news outlets.
Stella was born in 2015, during the Indonesian trial of Mack and Schaefer. She was in prison with Mack until she was two years old. Suartama then took care of her until November 20, 2021. Mack was sentenced to seven years in prison in Indonesia for her role in her mother’s murder before being deported to the United States.
She will now stand trial in federal court in Chicago on July 31.
Miller earlier this week denied bids to return Stella to Favia or Ellis, citing Favia’s withdrawal from the custody case and Ellis’s failure to establish a relationship with Stella.
Hellmann and Walker were the only survivors. Walker has fought passionately for Stella’s custody since the girl’s arrival in the United States, but she has also frequently sparred with the judge. And, in her decision on Thursday, Miller cited several accusations made by Walker without evidence, as well as her claims of a vendetta against her.
“The reality is, this has nothing to do with Ms. Walker,” Miller explained. “It has everything to do with Stella.”