On May 19, Netflix’s releases its new true-crime documentary series “The Keepers;” for many girls and women who attended the school, the story of Sister Cathy’s murder is a shocking truth that was kept hidden for many years.
After the success of Netflix’s true-crime documentary “Making a Murderer,” the media giant continued its exploration into this gritty and disturbing genre of film. Its most recent venture,
"The Keepers", is a documentary about the murder of a young Baltimore nun named Catherine Cesnik.
Cathy Cesnik was a nun and an English and Drama teacher at Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore City, Maryland.
Archbishop Keough was an all-girls Catholic high school founded in 1965. The school, along with the Archdiocese of Baltimore, has a notable history of education and service in the city; yet, the disappearance and murder of young Cathy Cesnik has long been a stain on not only the reputation of the school, but also on the diocese itself.
The details of Sister Cathy’s mysterious murder are well known. Cesnik, of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, disappeared from a shopping center in November 1969. Her body was found at a dump in Lansdowne in early January 1970. She was 26 years old. She had been choked and there was a distinct, quarter sized hole left in her skull. The autopsy report claimed it was a death by blunt force trauma.
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In Memoriam Catherine Cesnik[/caption]
To this day no murderer has been identified, and the case quickly went cold; however, in 1992 a courageous Keough Alumni revealed traumatic details that would lead many to suspect that Sister Cathy’s murder was a coverup.
An Abuser Identified and an Investigation Stopped Cold
In 1992, two Archbishop alumni reported to police that they were victims of and witnesses to sexual abuse at the school. The women specifically identified Joseph Maskell, who served as chaplain at Archbishop Keough during the late 60s and 70s. The two victims remained anonymous, referred to only as as Jane Doe and Jane Roe. The women claimed that they were too afraid of Maskell and his ties to police to identify themselves, but they proceeded to file a civil suit against him.
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Joseph Maskell fled the country two years after Wehner and other victims came forward[/caption]
In the 1994 testimony, Jane Doe claimed that during December of 1969, Maskell offered her a ride home from school. He then drove her to a dump and showed her the body of her former English instructor, Catherine Cesnik. Maskell apparently threatened her, saying "this is what happens when you say bad things about other people."
Police interviewed Maskell in 1970, and again in 1994. He claimed no knowledge of or involvement in the crimes. In 1970, the investigating officer named Nick Giangrasso said that getting to Maskell for interviews was nearly impossible. Maskell had close ties to the Baltimore police department and himself carried a handgun. Giangrasso said
he remembers feeling pressured by his superiors to wrap up the case and move on. Other investigators said
a massive impediment was interference or lack of cooperation by the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
In 1996, after more than one victim came forward, Maskell fled the country without notifying the Archdiocese. In 2001, Maskell died, and the two anonymous victims felt it was safe for them to come forward and seek justice for Sister Cathy.
Justice for Sister Cathy
The two women who accused Maskell in 1994 have now identified themselves as Jean Wehner and Teresa Lancaster. Court records and interviews
with eight other Keough students support Lancaster and Wehner’s accounts. Four of these victims said Maskell abused them, and another four said they escaped his advances. Three of the victims said they remember uniformed police officers participating in the abuse.
The church said they found no evidence of Maskell's guilt after hearing Wehner and Lancaster's testimonies. Yet, lawyers representing the women sent out an anonymous ad to alumni and local papers asking for stories of abuses at the school. Over 30 women responded.
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A blurry photography of the high school in South West Baltimore[/caption]
Many of the victims say that Sister Catherine Cesnik was one of the few people who knew about the abuse. Wehner said that in spring of 1969, Cesnik asked her directly about the abuse. Cesnik reassured her that she would address the issue. Another victim said that Cesnik would protect her by making excuses when Maskell called her to his office.
In 1969, Cesnik left Keough for a job at a public school, but still kept in touch with many of her students. Wehner said that after Cesnik swore to do something, Maskell's abuses became increasingly violent and included threats against her and her family.
For these victims, the Netflix series has brought some catharsis and has re-sparked interest in the cold case. In 2016, a dozen victims abused at Keough received settlements from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Less than a month before the May 19th release of the documentary series, Baltimore police exhumed Joseph Maskell's body
. The exhumation is a final attempt to match his DNA to remaining evidence from the initial investigation into Cathy's murder.
Today, some believe Cathy died because she knew the true extent of the abuse that occurred at Keough. In some sense she died to protect them. The Netflix documentary, featuring testimonies of dozens of victims, will focus on this theory. Recent alumni say the story is a shock, something they thought was an urban legend. The Archdiocese did nothing to remember Sister Cathy's legacy, allowing her story to become a scary tale told to freshmen.
Keough, now known as Seton Keough High School, will close its doors on June 19. Its final closure coming exactly a month after the premiere of the "The Keepers."
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