How Did Father Maskell Die? 'The Keepers' Priest Was A Controversial Figure

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Netflix's new true crime show, The Keepers, focuses on the unsolved murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik and the clergy sexual abuse scandal potentially tied to it. The late Father Joseph Maskell, one of the accused priests, is an important character in the Netflix series, leading many to wonder: how did Father Maskell Die? Up until his death in 2001, Father Maskell maintained his innocence in the eye of the law.

According to The Huffington Post's feature on Cesnik's death, Maskell was the chaplain of Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore, where Cesnik also taught prior to her disappearance. He also served as the school's psychological counselor at that time, a position which his many victims in the series allege he used to sexually abuse and terrorize them over the course of years — he supposedly "targeted struggling or badly behaved students."

Maskell wasn't investigated for his sexual abuse until over 20 years after the fact (and after Cesnik's unsolved death). At that point, several of his victims (including Jean Hargadon Wehner and Teresa Lancaster, two participants in The Keepers) had begun to recover their repressed memories of the trauma and filed a lawsuit against him and various other church officials for damages in connection with the abuse. At the same time, Wehner (then listed anonymously as "Jane Doe") testified that Maskell had taken her to see Cesnik's body and threatened her with the same fate if she came forward, which incited Baltimore police to reopen the cold case.

Romper reached out to the Baltimore Archdiocese for a statement regarding the accusations against Father Maskell and his potential involvement in Cesnik's death. The spokesperson commented that "Father Maskell was never considered a suspect in that murder. He was interviewed once. One of the victims claimed that she had a recovered memory of his involvement in her death, but he was interviewed and never charged."

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Unfortunately, neither Cesnik's death nor the abuse charges the victims raised were ever successfully pinned on anyone during Maskell's lifetime. According to the same Huffington Post feature, Wehner and Lancaster lost their suit against him because of the statute of limitations on recovered memories, and Maskell managed to flee the country before police could question him about Cesnik's murder. In 1994, he first checked himself into a residential treatment facility, citing stress and anxiety from the case. Just a few weeks later, he checked out and fled to Ireland — the Archdiocese of Baltimore's spokesman, Sean Caine, told HuffPost that they did not learn he was living in Ireland until a Bishop there contacted them in July 1996.

By 1995, the Baltimore Sun reported that Cesnik's case had been reshelved. "We had several leads that looked real good," then-Captain Rustin E. Price, head of the homicide squad, told the Sun at the time. "But we have exhausted all we had and no more leads are coming in."

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According to the investigation into the crime by Tom Nugent, a former Baltimore Sun reporter, Maskell always maintained his innocence, dying at the age of 62 from the effects of a major stroke on May 7, 2001. He'd never been reinstated by the Archdiocese after being temporarily removed from ministry in 1992, a few months after Wehner reported him. In the years since, Caine confirmed to multiple outlets that the accusations against him were deemed "credible" by the Church and they'd paid out settlements to several of his victims — meaning that the Archdiocese acknowledged the abuse of these young women.

Additionally, the increased focus on the case from Cesnik's former students has caused the Baltimore County Police to reopen their investigation, recently announcing that they'd exhumed Maskell's body to retrieve DNA to compare with evidence from the Cesnik crime scene. However, the DNA results revealed on May 17 that Maskell's DNA did not match crime scene evidence, according to The Washington Post. So the case remains opened, but hopefully, one day, the identity of Cesnik's killer will finally be unmasked.