Who killed Sister Cathy Cesnik? That’s a question police officers, journalists, and Balitmore locals have been asking themselves since 1970, when the body of a well-liked teacher from the all-girls’ Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore was found dead months after going missing. It’s also the question at the heart of The Keepers, a new documentary series coming to Netflix on May 12. Now that this heinous crime, and the circumstances that lead to it, finally have the attention of the nation, viewers will want to know if Sister Cathy Cesnik's murder is still unsolved.
No one was ever convicted of killing Cesnik, but those with knowledge of the case — such as journalist Tom Nugent, who reported on Cesnik’s murder for the Baltimore City Paper in 2005 and who features prominently in The Keepers — theorize that she might have been killed because she was planning blow the whistle on an alleged ring of sexual predators who allegedly targeted students at the school. According to The Baltimore Sun, the Archdiocese of Baltimore has settled claims with at least a dozen women who’ve come forward with allegations of sexual assault against Father Joseph Maskell, who worked as a guidance counselor at the school. (Maskell denied the sexual assault accusations until his death in 2001. He was never charged in connection with Cesnik's case)
A spokesperson for The Archdiocese of Baltimore, the division of the Catholic Church which employed Maskell and oversaw Keough high school, released the following statement to Bustle acknowledging the multiple sexual abuse allegations against Maskell:
Since the 1990s, when the Archdiocese of Baltimore first learned of an allegation of child sexual abuse against Maskell, and on numerous occasions since, the Archdiocese has publicly acknowledged and apologized for the horrific abuse committed by him. The Archdiocese reported the allegations to civil authorities in the 1990s and cooperated fully in any investigation, removed Father Maskell’s faculties to function as a priest, apologized to victims and offered them counseling assistance, sought additional victims, and provided direct financial assistance to 16 individuals abused by Maskell.
Though it was unaware of the abuse at the time it occurred approximately 50 years ago, the Archdiocese deeply regrets the damage that was caused to those who were so badly harmed and has worked diligently since becoming aware of their abuse to bring some measure of healing to them. The Archdiocese is wholly committed to protecting children, holding abusers accountable — clergy and laity alike, and promoting healing for victims. These are hallmarks of the Archdiocese’s child protection efforts, which we strive to constantly strengthen.
There is no room in the Archdiocese for anyone who would harm a child and every effort must be made to ensure what happened before never happens again. It is our hope that The Keepers advances this pursuit, just as we hope the series helps those who have kept alive the memory of Sr. Cathy and our collective hope that justice will be won for her.
Although Cesnik died over five decades ago, her story has remained prevalent in the hearts of her former students, who in 2013 began to share their stories with one another online on a memorial Facebook group for Sister Cathy and Joyce Malecki (another Baltimore-area murder victim from the same time frame). Director Ryan White’s mother lived near Archbishop Keough during that time, and he told The Baltimore Sun that his aunt, who was not an abuse victim herself, still tears up at the thought of what happened to Cesnik. "I think there's a real power in the story of women of that age, retired grandmothers, coming together and saying it's not too late to ever get answers," he said. "And that's a lot of what the documentary is about."
However, while The Keepers spends more time reflecting on the women who mourn Cesnik than it does trying to explicitly solve her murder, public interest has its upsides. Earlier this May, The Baltimore Sun reported that local police had exhumed Maskell’s body so his DNA could be compared to samples collected as crime scene evidence. But, another Baltimore Sun piece has since reported that Maskell's sample was not a match. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging to see law enforcement is still on the case after so many years. In a statement to Bustle, the Baltimore County Police Department said, "This has been one of our most active cold cases for many years; our current team of detectives continues to work diligently to solve this case."
So, hopefully once the world learns of the story when The Keepers drops on Netflix, motivation to solve Cesnik's murder will only increase.