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Sister Catherine Cesnik: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Netflix’s new series, The Keepers, focuses on the unsolved murder of Baltimore nun Sister Catherine Cesnik.

Cesnik was 26 at the time of her disappearance, and taught 11th and 12th grade English at Archbishop Keough High School. In Netflix’s seven-part documentary, which some are calling the new Making a Murderer, the nun’s former students relay fond memories of her, saying she was like a “big sister” to them. One student, Deb Silcox, says Cesnik “exemplified this spirit of compassion and kindness. You felt like you were an individual with her. She was encouraging you to bloom as a person.”

The murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik remains unsolved to this day. Read on to learn about the victim.


1. She Was Found Fatally Beaten Two Months After Disappearing in 1969

Around 7:30pm on Friday, November 7, 1969, Sister Cesnik left her apartment in Baltimore for a village shopping center in Edmondson, Baltimore. She did not return that evening. Her roommate, Sister Helen Russell Phillips, and two other friends, Rev. Peter McKeow and Rev. Gerard J. Koob, called the police and reported Sister Cesnik missing.

According to the Baltimore Sun, Sister Cesnik’s car was found at approximately 8:30 pm on Friday evening, not far from her apartment. It was unlocked, and police had reportedly received calls about an “oddly placed vehicle.” Bakery buns sat on the front scene, and the state of the car suggested no signs of trouble. By Monday, Police Captain John C. Barnhold Jr. said they could find “no evidence of foul play,” but Sister Cesnik was still nowhere to be found.

On January 3, 1970, nearly two months after her vanishment, the brutally beaten and mutilated body of Sister Cesnik was located in a field in Lansdowne, Maryland, by a man and his son who were hunting in the area. An autopsy determined she died from blunt force trauma to her head. In 1970, archives obtained by the Baltimore Sun explained that it was “impossible” to determine whether or not Cesnik had been sexually attacked, however “the body’s position and arrangement of clothing pointed to that conclusion.” Police also determined that Cesnik would have had to walk to or been carried to the specific place where her body was found– a car could not make its way from Monumental Ave to the area.


2. Multiple Women Have Since Come Forward With Allegations of Sexual Abuse at the School Where Sister Cathy Worked

No suspect was named in the original murder investigation of Sister Cathy Cesnik. Then, in the 1990s, multiple women came forward with allegations of sexual abuse against Archbishop Keough High School chaplain Anthony Joseph Maskell. As explained in the docuseries, many former students believe Sister Cesnik knew about the scandal, and threatened Maskell she was going to tell authorities.

The first allegation of sexual abuse came in 1992, by an unnamed victim who says she was raped multiple times by Maskell in his office. He reportedly told the student he was “cleansing her of her sins.” The woman says she told Sister Cesnik about the incidents, and Cesnik said she would “take care of it.” According to News Week, the woman became part of a $40 million lawsuit in 1994 against Maskell.

The lawsuit led to more women coming forward with sexual abuse claims. Teresa Lancaster tells CBS Baltimore, “Sister Cathy went to Father Maskell on behalf of the girls who were being abused. I think it’s obscene that not more was done about this murder.” Another former student, Jean Wehner, tells People, “I think Cathy was planning to go to the police about what was happening to us girls at Keough.”

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3. The Case Remains Unsolved Today

Sister Cathy Cesnik’s murder remains unsolved today, though Baltimore County Police say it is “one of the most active cold cases.”

In February, Baltimore County Police said they were conducting interviews once again in relation to the case.

Speaking to the Baltimore Sun earlier this week,Police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said, “For now, we’ve pretty well reached the end of the road when it comes to forensic evidence. Our best hope for solving this case at this point lies with the people who are still alive. And we hope that someone will be able to come forward with conclusive information about the murder.”


4. Baltimore County Police Recently Revealed That Maskell’s DNA Does Not Match Evidence From the Crime Scene

In February, Maskell’s remains were exhumed so his DNA could be tested and compared to the evidence in Sister Cathy’s case. On May 17,  Baltimore County Police revealed that his DNA does not match evidence from the crime scene.

Maskell’s DNA sample was tested at a forensics lab in Virginia. Armacost tells the Baltimore Sun that though the DNA doesn’t match, this doesn’t necessarily clear the former high school chaplain as a suspect– it just means that “current forensic technology doesn’t provide a physical link between him and the crime scene.” The DNA was also submitted to the FBI’s national database, but no matches were found.

Up until his death in 2001, Maskell denied the claims of abuse.


5. Three Other Unsolved Murders Happened in the Same Area Around the Same Time

 

Four days after Cesnik’s disappearance, a 20-year-old woman named Joyce Helen Malecki went missing. According to the Baltimore Sun, Malecki had left for a date with a friend on the evening of November 11, and on the 12th, her abandoned car was found at an empty gas station in Odenton. On November 13, Malecki’s body was found in a nearby river by two deer hunters. The autopsy revealed she was stabbed and choked and her hands were bound behind her with a chord. At the time, police were unable to link the two cases.

On October 16, 1970, 16-year-old Pamela Lynn Conyers disappeared after driving to the Hurundale Mall in Glen Burie in her family’s Dodge Monaco. Four days later, her body was found in a wooded area of Maryland.

In September 1971, high school junior Grace Elizabeth “Gay” Montayne was found beaten to death over 30 miles from her home.

On May 4, 2017, Baltimore County police reportedly said they were “exploring the possible connections between Cesnik’s death” and those of Malecki, Conyers, and Montayne. All four young women went missing in roughly the same time period.

Sister Catherine Cesnik: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Netflix's new true-crime series, The Keepers focuses on the decades-old murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik. Learn about the victim here.

Click here to read more

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2 comments

  1. This is the second most disturbing report I have ever seen. So far I’ve seen four of the seven episodes. I would prefer not to continue to subject myself to the horrors depicted in what I have seen in “The Keepers” on Netflix. Now that I have seen the latest on this deplorable situation as reported online, I don’t know that I will continue to watch the Netflix production, especially since it appears that no one will ever be brought to justice. I feel extremely sorry for the women who, in their teenage years, were degraded repeatedly in what should have been a safe environment run by the Roman Catholic Church. Fear based on the terroristic threats of their depraved chaplain, made them endure their severe ordeals in silence. When Jane Doe revealed what repeatedly happened to her in the chaplain’s office to Catherine Chesnik, her beloved English teacher, the teacher was murdered shortly afterward.

    Somehow the women interviewed for this documentary we’re able to live what appears to be normal family lives. They had absolutely nothing to gain by further subjecting themselves to humiliation in the legal system. I am sorry that they went for monetary recompense, because that tainted their motives. I am also very sorry that their lawyers did not advise them that though the statute of limitation was out on their sexual exploitation, there is no such statute of limitation on murder in which that fiend Maskell was obviously involved. I have the greatest admiration for their husbands, who gave them loving support throughout the continuing ordeal.

    As a result of having viewed “The Keepers”, which also revealed the horrible corruption in the Baltimore City Police Department, some of whose members even participated in the rapes of these young students, I have decided that never again will I visit that city and I will advise others of my acquaintance to spend their money elsewhere. This report makes me even much more grateful that I severed my devotion to the Roman Catholic Church over 35 years ago. My decision then was based strictly on their lack of compliance with the New Testament teachings. That was long before any of the scandalous behavior of their priests was revealed in various places around the world. “The Keepers” by delving into the lives of the abused students and the murder of one of their own religious women, has introduced me in a way to the victims. The hierarchy shuffled the deranged priest around rather than making him face criminal charges! None of this abominable behavior shows any resemblance to life in Christ, which is what Christianity is supposed to produce. I pray that other Catholics will wake up and find the right place for their religious fervor in religious fellowships that emphasize the need to live a holy life in this sin-soaked world. If they will familiarize themselves with the New Testament, this will be more readily accomplished by them and rewarded by God. Those who tolerate what should be intolerable are certainly part of the problem.