Sister Cathy Suffered A Terrible Death

by Caralynn Lippo

The true crime obsession is alive and well, if Netflix's slate is any indication. Making a Murderer first captivated the nation's attention (and dominated the conversation of many) in late 2015; the second season of that show is still highly anticipated and forthcoming. Netflix's Amanda Knox documentary also garnered rave reviews, as has the recently-released Casting JonBenét, about the JonBenét Ramsey murder case. The latest addition is the upcoming new documentary series The Keepers, a show about the death of Sister Cathy Cesnik, a Baltimore nun. But how was Sister Cathy Cesnik killed?

Cesnik was a 26-year-old nun living in Baltimore in the '60s when she went missing in November 1969. Two months later, her body was reportedly found by a pair of hunters. According to The Huffington Post's feature on the crime, Cesnik "had choke marks on her neck and a round hole about the size of a quarter in the back of her skull," the later of which was thought to have been caused "by a blow from a blunt object, probably a brick or a ball-peen hammer." Based on the state in which her body was found, it was pretty clear that the young nun was murdered — but her killer was never identified. In fact, no one was ever even formally charged with the crime.


What may have been just another utterly tragic and horrible, unsolved murder case becomes so much more when you consider the circumstances surrounding Cesnik's mysterious death — circumstances that garnered enough attention for Netflix's The Keepers.

At the time of her death, Cesnik was working at a new job at Western High School, a public school in Baltimore, also according to Huffington Post. But just a few months prior, she'd been employed at Archbishop Keough High School, a Catholic school in the same city at the center of an alleged disturbing priest sex abuse scandal — a dozen victims alleging abuse by the late Father Joseph Maskell were paid settlements by the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 2016. Students who attended at the time Cesnik taught at Keough told HuffPost that she'd been a beloved teacher — and several alleged victims of Maskell said that they'd confided in Cesnik about the abuse and that she'd intervened on their behalf. Those students, depicted in the Netflix series, believe that Cesnik may have been killed because she was going to go public about the abuse. (He denied initial accusations until his death in 2001.)


While no firm connection between Cesnik's death and the sex abuse scandal has been proven, many believe that the two are no mere coincidence. One victim, Jean Hargadon Wehner, told HuffPost that shortly after Cesnik's disappearance, Maskell had taken her to see the nun's body and threatened her, saying "You see what happens when you say bad things about people?" Cesnik's case was reopened in 1994 after Wehner (then reported to be an anonymous 41-year-old Jane Doe) came forward with her story.

Other Keough alumnae began actively investigating their former teacher's death, along with Tom Nugent, a former Baltimore Sun reporter who wrote about the case. Their investigation forms the basis of the upcoming Netflix series. Romper reached out for comment to the Baltimore County Police Department regarding any suggestions of a suspected cover-up to the crime, to which they stated:

In the nearly 50 years since Sister Cathy Cesnik’s murder, no one has come to us to initiate an investigation of wrongdoing by police officers. If anyone has information about improper actions by police in connection with this case, we strongly encourage them to come forward now so detectives can conduct a formal, proper investigation.

The Baltimore Archdiocese also provided a statement regarding the accusations against Father Maskell and his theorized 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."

In addition, the DNA results from when the police exhumed Father Maskell's body came back on May 17 to reveal that his DNA did not match crime scene evidence, according to The Washington Post.

The seven-episode first season of The Keepers will be released on May 19 on Netflix, where more details about this disturbing case will undoubtedly be revealed and explored.