Top officials in the Oak Park police department were made aware sometime in early 2013 that Sheila Von Wiese-Mack feared for her life at the hands of her violently unstable daughter, Heather Mack. At that time, the two lived in their Oak Park home on Linden Avenue.
In a June 2 deposition for a civil suit he brought against the Oak Park police department and Sgt. Dina Vardal, Oak Park Police Officer Rasul Freelain testified under oath that he sent a memo to Anthony Ambrose, deputy chief of police, “reference the situation involving Sheila Mack and Heather Mack (and) Sheila Mack’s belief that her daughter was going to murder her…”
Wednesday Journal filed a Freedom of Information Act request with Oak Park police Wednesday morning, seeking a copy of that memo and other documents.
The formal notification to Ambrose of Von Wiese-Mack’s fear for her life came at the end of a three-year period during which dozens of Oak Park police officers had formal contact with Heather Mack and her mother on 35 separate occasions.
Freelain was the arresting officer in Heather Mack’s first arrest for battery to her mother, in February 2011.
During that three year period Heather Mack battered her mother repeatedly, threatened her, broke numerous household items and stole cash, credit cards and jewelry. Heather Mack was arrested twice for battery and sought for arrest in a third incident. She was on probation and under psychiatric care at the time Oak Park police command staff learned of her mother’s fears.
Von Wiese-Mack’s brutally beaten body was found stuffed into a suitcase outside a Bali hotel in August 2014. Heather Mack and her boyfriend, Oak Park resident Tommy Schaefer, were arrested the next day.
In April a panel of Indonesian judges found both of them guilty of the premeditated murder of Von Weiss-Mack. Heather Mack was sentenced to 10 years in prison; Schaefer received an 18-year sentence.
The existence of documentation of Von-Weiss-Mack’s fears had been an unsubstantiated rumor floating around the police department. That is, until Freelain’s 460-page deposition, filed in federal court on June 16, was discovered in a routine check of the lawsuit’s progress through the federal courts website.
The six-hour Freelain deposition covered many issues related to his allegations of harassment, retaliation and favoritism in the police department.
One exchange in particular with attorney Stephen Miller suggested Freelain’s lawsuit had affected his relationship with Police Chief Rick Tanksley.
“I show it to [Watch Commander Keenan Williams] and he says no, don’t send it to the chief of police, go back and change it now and send it to the deputy chief of police because the chief of police is tired of you,” Freelain testified Williams told him. “He thinks you’re harassing him, and I don’t want you to communicate with him. He doesn’t want to hear from you. So go back and now send this to Deputy Chief Ambrose.”
Wednesday Journal filed a Freedom of Information request with the Oak Park police department last January, seeking to obtain the documents confirming Sheila Mack’s alleged heightened concerns for her safety. On Jan. 29 that FOIA was denied by Oak Park police, citing privacy rights under the Illinois Juvenile Court Act.
A subsequent phone call to Ambrose at that time and an appeal letter to Village Manager Cara Pavlicek were unsuccessful in getting the reports released.
“The police reports we have previously seen are clear in depicting Mrs. Mack’s fears of further physical injury at the hands of her daughter,” Publisher Dan Haley wrote to Pavlicek in early February. “However, in our additional reporting of this story among multiple sources we also have reason to believe that Mrs. Mack expressed to Oak Park officers direct concerns that her life was in danger at her daughter’s hands.”
Indeed, among the more than 80 pages of Oak Park police incident reports that were released to the media last year, there are numerous specific instances of Heather Mack’s increasing violence and erratic behavior between early 2010 and early 2013. Those personal details were disclosed despite her juvenile status, including references to her being arrested, psychiatrically hospitalized and convicted of battery.
According to those incident reports, Heather Mack’s actions escalated into violence around January 2010, when she was just 14 years old.
A January 2010 report stated Heather Mack “punched her [mother] in her broken ankle after getting upset her mom yelled at her.” It went on to say that Heather Mack was evaluated by a local mental health professional, who “recommended hospitalization due to a history of violence by Heather to the victim, but the victim refused to allow Heather to be hospitalized and will continue outpatient [redacted].”
In April 2011, following her second arrest for battering her mother, police say Heather Mack stated that she would “stop leaving bruises and just hit her [mother] in the head.”
An Oct. 27, 2011 report, when Heather Mack was 16, states that she “grabb[ed] Sheila’s arms and [bit] her left bicep.”
In another violent incident on June 12, 2012, an officer wrote that, “Von Wiese stated that Heather is currently on probation and does suffer from depression.”
Police added that “upon return [Heather Mack] stated that she was upset with her mother … for talking to her probation officer.”
On Nov. 7, 2012 Von Wiese-Mack told responding police, “Heather was in a rage and bit me [on the wrist]…”
Details of the girl’s juvenile record were also published in an August 2014 Chicago Tribune article. The Tribune noted that Heather Mack was ordered to “undergo mandatory counseling, including for anger management, as part of a violence prevention program.”