Baltimore braces for documentary on nun death
Von Den Bosch was watching the trailer of the upcoming Netflix documentary “The Keepers.” The seven part series focuses on sexual abuse in the 1960s and ’70s at Archbishop Keough High School and the unsolved 1969 disappearance and death of Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik, an English teacher at the Catholic school in Southwest Baltimore.
Von Den Bosch, who has received a settlement from the Archdiocese of Baltimore for abuse she suffered at Keough, is featured in the series. She is among the many across the region who are bracing for its release Friday.
While many of the details have been aired before, the publicity generated by a Netflix series in the age of social media will bring a new level of interest from the public and scrutiny to local institutions. The series is drawing comparisons to “Making a Murderer,” the hit true crime series released by Netflix in 2015.
Some hope all the attention will turn up new information. Gemma Hoskins, 64, is one of a group of Keough alumni who have tried to investigate their teacher’s death.
“I really believe that once this film airs, we will get the answers that we’re looking for,” she says.
Police revealed this month that in February they exhumed the body of the Rev. A. Joseph Maskell, a Catholic priest accused of abusing students at Keough and suspected in the nun’s killing.
“I’ve been talking to reporters pretty much nonstop ever since,” police spokeswoman Elise Armacost says.
A central figure in the series is Jean Wehner, the woman who told police in 1994 that Maskell had shown her the nun’s body. Maskell, who was Keough’s chaplain and counselor, died in 2001.
Since 2011, the archdiocese has paid a total of $472,000 in settlements to 16 people who accused Maskell of sexual abuse. But he was never criminally charged. And no one has been arrested in Cesnik’s killing.
Ryan White, whose aunt attended Keough when Cesnik taught there, directed the series.
“I think ultimately ‘The Keepers’ is a story about justice and, unfortunately, a lot of injustice, and the fact that virtually nobody’s held accountable for any of these crimes,” he says. “I hope the visibility of Netflix will anger people in some way to say, ‘Why did this happen under our watch?'”
‘The reason I became a teacher’
Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik belonged to the School Sisters of Notre Dame, an order devoted to education. At Keough, she taught English and coached the drama club.
The young nun taught girls dance moves for their performances, lifting her black habit to show them her footwork, Hoskins remembers. When she read aloud from books, she took on the voice of the characters.
“She’s really the reason I became a teacher,” Hoskins says. “And when I became a teacher, I used everything that I saw her do, and it worked.”
The president of Seton Keough High School in southwest Baltimore wrote to parents this week about the upcoming Netflix series “The Keepers,” which focuses on sexual abuse and the unsolved killing of a nun who taught there decades ago. She left her home in the Carriage House apartments on the evening of Nov. 7 to go to the bank and Edmondson Village Shopping Center, and was never seen again. She was 26.
Baltimore police led the search. Her unlocked car, a green Ford Maverick, was soon found parked illegally near her apartment. Inside was a box of bakery buns, twigs and leaves.
Her body would not be found until Jan. 3, 1970, covered in snow in an area off Monumental Avenue. They could not determine whether she had been sexually assaulted.
Baltimore police Detective Nick Giangrasso was assigned to handle the missing persons case with his partner. He does not believes her killing was a random attack.
“I believe that she was a confidante of girls at Keough,” says Giangrasso, now 74 and retired. “I think they came to her telling her about the things that Maskell was doing.”
That’s a central theme in “The Keepers,” and a theory Baltimore County detectives have pursued. The county took the case when Cesnik’s body was found there.
County police cooperated with the documentary’s producers, but did not make detectives available to talk to The Baltimore Sun about the case for this article.
Maskell had deep ties to police, and some of his victims say they were also sexually abused by officers he associated with. Maskell served as chaplain for the Maryland State Police and the Baltimore County police, The Sun reported in the past. (Officials with those agencies today say they don’t have records of his service). His brother was a city police lieutenant. Victims say he carried a gun.
“He was extremely connected, and everyone knew that,” says Joanne Suder, an attorney who has represented victims who received settlements from the archdiocese.