CHICAGO — An Illinois man who typed out emoji and other text messages to advise his cousin thousands of miles away on how to kill a wealthy Chicago woman vacationing in Indonesia was sentenced on Friday to nine years in prison.
At Robert Bibbs’ sentencing in Chicago federal court, a prosecutor placed the fruit-stand handle used to bludgeon Sheila von Wiese-Mack at a Bali beach resort by the judge’s bench. Relatives cried later as prosecutors displayed a photograph of the 62-year-old’s body in a suitcase, where her killers stuffed the body.
Bibbs, 26, of Chicago, told Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer he’d been depressed in 2014 when his cousin Tommy Schaefer sought guidance on how he and his girlfriend, Heather Mack – Wiese-Mack’s daughter – should commit the murder. For his help, Bibbs hoped for a cut of the mom’s inheritance.
“To this day, I don’t recognize the person in those messages,” he said about his texts, standing in court shackled at the ankles. And he added: “I never expected them to do something so horrific.”
Judge Pallmeyer scolded Bibbs for describing his advisory role as “a mistake.”
“A mistake is leaving your keys in the car,” she told him. “A mistake is not standing by and encouraging an unjustified murder.”
Autopsy photos showed to the judge showed Wiese-Mack’s body with deep gashes across her face and wounds on her arms that prosecutors say resulted from her desperate bid to fend off the blows.
Within minutes of his cousin texting on Aug. 12, 2014, that the murder was done, Pallmeyer also noted that the men traded casual messages about NBA basketball news.
One of Bibbs’ texts incorporated a “high-five” emoji to indicate he approved of their bid to kill Wiese-Mack, who was a widow of highly regarded jazz and classical composer James L. Mack, who died in 2006. Another time, Bibbs said Schaefer could smother Wiese-Mack, texting: “Go sit on her face wit a pillow.”
Bibbs pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy to commit foreign murder of a U.S. citizen, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years. But Bibbs lack of a previous criminal record and other factors meant he wouldn’t face the maximum penalty. Prosecutors had asked for up to 11 years.
Indonesian authorities arrested Schaefer, now 24, and Mack, 21, after the bloodied suitcase was found in a taxi. In 2015, a court in Indonesia sentenced Schaefer to 18 years in prison for the murder; Mack received a 10-year term for helping.
Wiese-Mack’s youngster sister, Debbi Curran, also spoke at Bibbs’ sentencing. She described how she had searched the internet the day she learned of her sister’s death in Bali – only to see a crime photo online of the suitcase that still contained her sister’s body.
“I can’t look at a suitcase (now) without thinking of my sister’s half-naked body … in a suitcase,” she said. “This will haunt me for the rest of my life.”
Bill Wiese told the court about his sister’s love of classical music and opera, and how she supported the arts, including by opening her home to aspiring musicians.
“I only wish I could have protected her from this brutal murder,” he said.
Story: Michael Tarm