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.
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