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Sunday 4 June 2023 Dublin: 18°C
# Baltimore
Netflix's The Keepers highlights harrowing sexual abuse in a 1960s US Catholic school
The documentary investigates the murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik in 1969.

Netflix / YouTube

NETFLIX’S NEW TRUE crime documentary The Keepers is sparking fresh interest in a 48-year-old murder case.  

The seven-part series opens with the story of 26-year-old Sister Cathy Cesnik, a beloved nun and teacher at the all-girls Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore, Maryland.

Sister Cathy went missing on 7 November 1969 and nearly two months later her body was found.

To this day, her murder remains unsolved.

The series looks into suggestions that Sister Cathy was murdered because she threatened to reveal cases of sexual abuse occurring at Keough.

The Keepers doesn’t solve Sister Cathy’s death and it doesn’t definitively link the main suspect, the school’s chaplain and abuser Father Joseph Maskell, to the murder.

However, it delves into the long-term effects that the sexual abuse had on the graduates of Keough, along with revealing an alleged paedophile ring involving the school’s priests and a section of the police force in Baltimore.

Director Ryan White’s series shines a light on the horrific secrets and pain that linger within the victims of the abuse nearly five decades after Sister Cathy’s death.

In 2015, the Huffington Post published a long-form investigative story looking into the mystery of Sister Cathy’s death.

Capture Youtube / Netflix trailer for The Keepers Sister Cathy Cesnik Youtube / Netflix trailer for The Keepers / Netflix trailer for The Keepers

The facts

Sister Cathy disappeared after leaving her apartment on 7 November 1969. After failing to return by 11pm, her roommate Sister Helen Russell Phillips called two priests, Father Koob and Father McKeon. They later reported Sister Cathy missing to the police.

Sister Cathy’s body remained missing until January 1970. A post-mortem found she died after being hit with a blunt object.

After months of inquiries, the local Baltimore Police Department said they had reached a dead-end in the investigation, and work on the probe ended.

The case remained cold until 1992 when a former student, Jean Wehner, reported that she had been abused by Father Joseph Maskell during her time at Keough. Wehner revealed this information to the local church who claimed they were unable to find any evidence to support her case. From there, she hired legal aid.

Wehner put a call out to alumni who suffered similar abuse and she found fellow former student Teresa Lancaster. The pair filed a lawsuit against Maskell, who at this stage was working as a priest in Baltimore.

During her recollections of the abuse, Mehner revealed that Maskell showed her Sister Cathy’s dead body, covered in maggots.

Wehner claimed that Maskell told her: “You see what happens when you say bad things about people?”

Capture1 Youtube / Netflix trailer for The Keepers Father Joseph Maskell Youtube / Netflix trailer for The Keepers / Netflix trailer for The Keepers

Little by little, dozens of other women began to reveal that they were subject to abuse at Keough. Allegations were also made against the school’s religion teacher Father Neil Magnus and local doctor Christian Richter, along with a number of uniformed police officers.

At this point, although the evidence of sexual abuse at Keough appeared overwhelming, Wehner and Lancaster’s lawsuit failed due to a law that stated that civil lawsuits relating to sexual abuse had to be filed less within three years of the abuse taking place.

Following the lawsuit, Maskell moved to Ireland and lived here for a number of years. He died in 2001.

Magnus passed away in 1988 and Richter died in 2006.


No further lawsuits were filed or questions asked in the public sphere until 2013, when two other former students, Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Schaub, began investigating the murder themselves.

The pair made the decision to dig deeper into the murder of Sister Cathy when they retired from their jobs.

They set up a Facebook page, Justice for Catherine Cesnik and Joyce Malecki, to seek out further victims of the abuse (Joyce Malecki was a young woman who went missing a week after Sister Cathy).

Many of the victims who spoke out claimed that they disclosed the tales of their abuse to Sister Cathy and that she was potentially planning to publicly call out the abusers.

While Sister Cathy’s murderer remains unknown, the story that began as ‘who killed Sister Cathy Cesnik’ grew into a harrowing and compelling tale of the abuse the young girls at Archbishop Keough High School endured.

The series is currently available to stream on Netflix.

The documentary has received widespread praise. The support Facebook group now has over 56,000 members.

Read: Mommy Dead and Dearest: The bizarre tale of a deadly mother-daughter relationship

More: Row with Netflix prompts Cannes film festival to ban streaming-only movies

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