Bali murder suspect Tommy Schaefer was remembered in Oak Park this week as a complex and troubled young man with charm and wit, who sometimes stretched the truth to make and hold onto friends, especially girls. Mainly though he was seen as a young teen with fragile connections in his home life who gravitated toward the more stable homes of friends and acquaintances.
The mother of a young woman who was a friend of Schaefer through middle school and high school said he was a bad influence.
“He was always into the drama,” said the mother. “I caught him lying to my face a number of times.”
Her daughter said Schaefer was “a troublemaker at age 14 – but then so was I.”
Schaefer and Heather Mack, another OPRF graduate, are now in police custody in Bali facing charges of murder in the death of Mack’s mother, Sheila von Wiese Mack.
Wednesday Journal spoke this week with multiple families, none of whom wanted their names used, but who had complicated stories about their children’s friendships with Schaefer from middle school through recent months. They described Schaefer, now 21, as being attached to a fairly steady group of friends who formed in middle school and hung together, more or less, through their years at Oak Park and River Forest High School. One parent said Schaefer was increasingly on the outskirts of that group as the high school years passed.
The young woman said Schaefer never allowed her to meet his mother, who lived in the 200 block of South Kenilworth Avenue at the time, and even though they dated for almost two years, she only visited his home once.
Kia Walker, Schaefer’s mother, now lives in Forest Park.
Another parent said he had met Schaefer’s mother only once and found her to be “kind” but had been told by his child that Schaefer’s father had left the family when Schaefer was young and that financial problems had mounted over the years.
The mother of the young woman who dated Schaefer for two years said he told tall tales, including that he had a heart condition and was perhaps going to die. The daughter remembered that incident.
“He could definitely be emotionally manipulative,” she said.
Schaefer visited the young woman in a nearby state in May, when he called and told her he was in town and asked if they could meet up.
She said a normally happy and upbeat Schaefer was distraught over the death of Rachel Smylie, a high school classmate and for about a year his girlfriend. Smylie died in April in an automobile accident in South Africa where she was a student. She said that Schaefer shed tears remembering Smylie.
“He came to visit and seemed almost desperate to feel loved. He might have been in a more vulnerable state to become involved with this new girl [Mack] who may or may not have been good news,” she said.
“He told me part of his heart had died,” she said. “He told me he didn’t think he would ever find a love like [the relationship with Smylie]. It was hard for me to see him like that.”
Schaefer had written a song for Smylie and was selling it on iTunes and giving the money to charity, the ex-girlfriend said. Smylie’s photos are posted all over Schaefer’s Facebook site, which is under the aspiring rap musician’s stage name, Tommy Exx. Schaefer also wrote a song remembering Fenwick student and basketball player John Malone, who died in an auto accident in May 2013.
The ex said Schaefer reached out to her again the weekend of Aug. 2-3, days before he was to fly to Indonesia.
“He asked if he could take the bus to see me, but I told him I had plans that weekend.” She found it strange that he had made contact after so many years.
Schaefer never mentioned his current girlfriend, Heather Mack, who is also charged with murder in the death of her mother Sheila von Wiese Mack. “I never saw any photos on his Facebook or anything about her until now,” said the ex.
When she found out Schaefer was arrested for the murder, she was shocked. “I was at work, and I pretty much started having a panic attack for two hours.” She had to leave her office for the day.
She said Schaefer was not having money problems to her knowledge and she never saw any violent tendencies in him.
“I honestly can’t work through my brain how he could have [killed von Wiese Mack]. I can’t wrap my head around it.”
“He was just in Chicago working on his music; he said he worked all the time,” she said. “He actually told me that he wanted to change the world.”
“No matter what he did, there are still people that believe in him and support him and care about him. He really has touched the lives of many people,” she added.