Netflix's 'The Keepers' investigates nun's unsolved murder, a case tied to sex abuse, cover-up

Still from "The Keepers" (Courtesy of Netflix)

Just when you think the clergy abuse phenomenon is over, another story rears its ugly head. This one is brought to us via a seven-part Netflix series called "The Keepers" that will begin streaming on Friday, May 19. It is a tale of the murder of two young women nearly 50 years ago (one a Catholic nun), sex abuse of minors on a devastating scale, and possible cover-ups that could include local law enforcement, the FBI and the Catholic Church.

On the evening of Friday, Nov. 7, 1969, Sr. Catherine Ann "Cathy" Cesnik went out to cash her paycheck, pick up some rolls and buy an engagement gift for her sister. She disappeared. The next day, her car was found parked askew across the street from her apartment, the tires muddy and a twig hanging from the key fob.

The impact of the series is already being felt. There was breaking news the afternoon I was writing this review on May 17. Test results show that the DNA profile of a dead Catholic priest who was a suspect did not match DNA found at the scene where Sister Cathy's body was found, but Baltimore County police authorities say this does not exonerate the seven suspects in the crime.

Sister Cathy was a School Sister of Notre Dame, born in Pittsburgh in 1942 to a devout Catholic family. By 1965, she was a professed sister and teaching English at Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore (it later merged with Seton High School* and became Seton Keough; it is scheduled to close in a few weeks.)

As part of a post-Vatican II experiment, Sister Cathy and another nun, Sr. Helen "Russell" Phillips, applied for exclaustration, wore secular dress, moved into an apartment and began teaching in a public high school. When the religious congregation reviewed their experiment, the two sisters were told that permission was withdrawn and they had to decide whether to return to the community or leave by the end of the year. Sister Cathy never got to make that decision.

Her body was not found until Jan. 3, 1970, near a dump in Lansdowne, Baltimore. Her head had been bashed in.

Four days after Sister Cathy disappeared, 20-year-old office worker Joyce Helen Malecki went missing. Her body was found Nov. 13, 1969, on the grounds of Fort Meade. She had been strangled and stabbed. The FBI had jurisdiction of the case because the body was found on federal property. Fr. A. Joseph Maskell's name was on a card the clerical staff at the parish sent to her family.

Five decades later, these murders are still cold cases, though things are heating up thanks to the sleuthing talents of two intrepid former students of Sister Cathy, Abbie Schaub and Gemma Hoskins, and a persevering freelance journalist, Tom Nugent. It is still not known — but highly suspected by Schaub and Hoskins — that the murders are linked.

Read the full story at Global Sisters Report

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