'The Keepers' Proves Sister Cathy Cesnik Was Loved By All

by Megan Walsh

The 1969 disappearance of a beloved Catholic school teacher in Baltimore is the subject of a new Netflix true crime series called The Keepers. The seven-part documentary debuts on May 19 and takes a closer look at the murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik. Her abduction and death were the catalyst for unearthing all manner of secrets about the all-girls Catholic school where she taught, though it took decades for the details to emerge. So much information about the case went unreported for years and the crime remains unsolved to this day. But who was the figure at the center of the story? Who was Sister Cathy Cesnik on The Keepers?

Sister Cathy Cesnik was a 26-year-old nun and teacher at Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore who taught both English and drama. Described in one Huffington Post article about the case as a real life Maria from The Sound of Music, Cesnik was deeply loved by her students. Her teaching methods were inventive and fun; she played the guitar and wrote musicals for her students. Gemma Hoskins, a former pupil of Cesnik's, said, "She was the reason I became a teacher. I've never met anyone like her."

Cesnik became someone that girls of Keough could confide in, which may have been the very thing that led to her death. Cesnik vanished in November 1969 and the only clue didn't provide much information: her car had been left behind in an unusual spot but without any signs of a struggle. Her body wasn't discovered until months later in early 1970, abandoned in a dump outside of Baltimore. She had been choked and there was a small hole in the back of her head — evidence of the blunt force trauma that had ended her life.

Courtesy of Netflix

The case quickly went cold, however. It wasn't until years later in the '90s that a former student came forward to reveal horrifying details. Jean Hargadon Wehner alleged that she — and many other girls at Keough — had been molested by the school's chaplain, Father Joseph Maskell. (He denied initial accusations until his death in 2001.) She even claimed that he had taken her to see Cesnik's body as a warning before it was reported to police. "You see what happens when you say bad things about people?" he told her.

Initially police thought Cesnik might have been abducted and killed by a stranger, but Wehner's allegations told a very different story. People soon began to theorize that the many girls who had been abused by Maskell confided in Cesnik, who confronted the priest in an effort to stop what was going on. But doing so cost her her life.

But that is still unconfirmed. Maskell was never convicted of Cesnik's death and her murder is still officially unsolved. Netflix's The Keepers re-explores the case, trying to uncover answers where there have only been questions.