Netflix's new series The Keepers follows the amateur investigation into the unsolved murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik, a Baltimore nun and former teacher at Archbishop Keough High School. While her death is the series' entry point, the story is actually much more complicated than you might anticipate. As the stars of the new seven-part docu-series contend, Cesnik's death may have been connected to the alleged sex abuse scandal centered at the high school where she worked, involving priests and a gynecologist named Christian Richter. That has led many to wonder: What happened to Doctor Christian Richter?
Richter was one of several named men accused of abusing underage girls from Keough, but he died never having been convicted of any sexual abuse and denied the allegations of his involvement. According to The Keepers director Ryan White's interview with People about the new series, Father Joseph Maskell was at the center of "this really horrific web" of adults who allegedly abused teen girls (many of them Keough students) throughout the 1960s and 1970s. (Maskell denied initial accusations until his death in 2001.) Maskell served as the chaplain and a guidance counselor at Keough at the time of Cesnik's disappearance and death.
The Huffington Post reported in its 2015 feature on the crime that the Catholic Church has since acknowledged that Maskell (though he was never formally convicted) was "credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors" by at least 10 former Keough students, and several of the victims eventually received out-of-court settlements from the church, long after the priest's death. However, his reported victims have alleged that the abuse went far beyond just the one priest.
According to victim interviews for the same HuffPost feature, Maskell targeted "struggling or badly behaved students." Teresa Lancaster and Jean Hargadon Wehner claim to be two of his victims. Wehner reported being abused by both Maskell and Keough's Religious Services Director Father Neil Magnus (who was never convicted and denied the allegations), beginning when she was 14 years old. Lancaster also stated in the same HuffPost interview that Maskell took her to see a gynecologist and friend of Maskell's, Dr. Christian Richter, for a pregnancy test. During the appointment, Lancaster claims that Maskell raped her while Richter performed a breast exam.
Bob Fisher, a Baltimore auto repair shop owner who was familiar with Maskell, also told HuffPost that he remembered the priest telling him similar stories: "He would say, 'Me and the doctor, we take them back and we give them exams and check them' [...] There’s no question he was always involved with the exams — that he made clear."
For his part, Richter denied sexually abusing the teens in interviews with The Sun.
In 1994, Richter (then retired) was named as a defendant in a civil lawsuit alongside Maskell, the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and the School Sisters of Notre Dame (who ran Keough), filed by two then-anonymous victims "Jane Doe" (Wehner) and "Jane Roe" (Lancaster). The two victims sought $40 million in damages, citing recently recovered repressed memories of the abuse over two decades earlier. According to the Baltimore Sun's report at the time, Richter at first denied that the priest was present during the exams, but then admitted it was "possible" that he was there:
It's possible he may have been in the examining room, in the absence of parents, I don't know, to calm the girl. It's very possible he might have come in the examining room. She was 16. She probably had a good deal of faith in him.
The court eventually dismissed the suit, finding that "repression of memories is an insufficient trigger" in justifying an extension of the statute of limitations on civil suits. Maskell died in 2001, and Richter in 2006. The OB/GYN (who retired in 1986) died at the age of 91 of leukemia. A Baltimore Sun obituary for Richter calls him "an avid Civil War buff" and quotes a fellow OB/GYN in his practice who described Richter as "a very gentle man and an excellent doctor who had a wonderful bedside manner." The obituary does not mention the 1994 lawsuit or abuse charges against him.