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Murder of Catherine Cesnik

Catherine Anne Cesnik SSND (born November 17, 1942; disappeared November 7, 1969), also known as Cathy Cesnik, was a Catholic religious sister who taught English and drama at the formerly all-girls Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore, Maryland. On November 7, 1969, Cesnik disappeared.[1] Her body was discovered on January 3, 1970, near a garbage dump in the Baltimore suburb of Lansdowne.[2] Her murder remains unsolved. Cesnik's murder is the basis for the Netflix documentary web series The Keepers in 2017.

Murder of Catherine Cesnik
Cathy Cesnik.jpg
Date approx. November 7, 1969; body discovered January 3, 1970
Also known as Sister Cathy murder
Cause Intracerebral hemorrhage caused by skull fracture
Outcome Under investigation by Baltimore City and County police
Burial Saint Mary's Cemetery, Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania



Catherine Anne Cesnik was born on November 17, 1942, in Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the eldest child of Joseph Cesnik (died 1985)[citation needed] and Anna Omulac Cesnik (died 2015),[3] who married in February 1942. Her paternal grandparents, John (Jan) and Johanna Tomec Česnik, were Slovenians who emigrated from Yugoslavia to Pittsburgh,[4] while her maternal grandfather, Joseph Omulac, came from Yugoslavia and her maternal grandmother, Martha Hudok, was born in Austria.[5] She had three siblings. She attended St. Mary's School on 57th Street and St. Augustine High School, both in Lawrenceville. She was valedictorian of her Catholic high school class in 1960, where she had also been the May Queen and the president of the senior class and student council.

Disappearance and deathEdit

At the time she disappeared, Cesnik was teaching at Western High School in Baltimore, Maryland.[6] On November 7, 1969, she left the apartment shared with Sister Helen Russell Phillips at the Carriage House Apartments at 131 North Bend Road in Catonsville, en route to the Edmondson Village Shopping Center to purchase a gift at Hecht's for her sister's engagement.[7] Records found Cesnik cashed a paycheck at First National Bank in Catonsville that night, and possibly made a purchase at Muhly's Bakery in Edmondson Village since a box of bakery buns was found in the front seat of Cesnik's car.[6] The car was found illegally parked across from her apartment complex at 4:40 the next morning by Russell's friends, the priests Peter McKeow and Gerard J. Koob, in muddy condition.[6] Residents of Carriage House Apartments spotted Cesnik in her car at approximately 8:30 that night, and others spotted her car at the illegally parked location across the street around two hours later.[6]

Police searched the area immediately following Cesnik's disappearance but did not find her. On January 3, 1970, her body was found by a hunter and his son in an informal landfill located on the 2100 block of Monumental Road in a remote area of Lansdowne.[7] An autopsy of the body by Deputy Medical Examiner Werner Spitz revealed that Cesnik died from an intracerebral hemorrhage following a fracture to her skull due to a blow to her left temple by a blunt instrument.[citation needed]The murder case remains open.


During the time Cesnik was at Archbishop Keough High School, it is alleged that two of the priests, including Father Joseph Maskell, were sexually abusing the girls at the school, in addition to trafficking them to others.[8] It is widely believed that Cesnik was murdered because she was going to expose this scandal.

In 1995, Teresa Lancaster and Jean Wehner (née Hargadon), former students at Keough who were sexually abused by Maskell, filed a lawsuit against the school which was dismissed under the statute of limitations (Jane Doe et al. v. A. Joseph Maskell et al.). Wehner said that Cesnik once came to her and said gently, "Are the priests hurting you?" Both women have said that she is the only one who helped them and other girls abused by Maskell et al., and have said that she was murdered prior to discussing the matter with the Archdiocese of Baltimore.[9][1] There is currently no physical evidence linking Maskell to the crime.[10] It was revealed in late 2016 that the Archdiocese had paid off numerous settlements for Maskell's victims since 2011.[11]

Wehner alleges that, two months before Cesnik's body was discovered, and only a day or two after Cesnik disappeared on November 7, Maskell drove her to a wooded site near Fort Meade and showed her the body. Wehner claims to remember trying repeatedly to brush off the maggots crawling on Cesnik's face while frantically repeating the words, "Help me, help me." Wehner's account was brought into question by scientific evidence showing that it would have been impossible for maggots to be alive at the relevant time of year. However, Maskell reportedly told Wehner, "You see what happens when you say bad things about people?"[1] Several days later, on November 13, the body of Joyce Malecki, a 20-year-old woman who looked like Wehner, was discovered by "two hunters" in the same wooded location that Maskell had driven Wehner to see Cesnik's body. Cesnik's body was not found until January 3, 1970, and its discovery by "two hunters" was not in the wooded location near Fort Meade, but on the open hill trash dump of a small business property in Lansdowne.

In 2016, the Baltimore County Police Department (BCPD) reassigned the case due to retiring officers, prompting new interviews and further investigation into the alleged sexual abuse at Keough.[12] After attaining permission from the State's Attorney's office, the BCPD exhumed the body of Maskell, who died of a major stroke in 2001, but did not find a DNA match to evidence from the crime scene.[10][13] Police spokeswoman Elise Armacost announced that this discovery does not exclude Maskell from being a suspect in the case.[10]

Due to new awareness to the case brought upon by The Keepers, the Baltimore Police Department created an online form to report sexual abuse that occurred at Keough.[citation needed]

In popular cultureEdit

Netflix produced a seven-part documentary series about the case called The Keepers, which debuted on May 19, 2017.[14] The series features interviews with women who were Cesnik's students and with some of those who claim they were sexually abused by Maskell and others.[15]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Bassett, Laura (May 14, 2015). "Buried in Baltimore: The Mysterious Murder of a Nun Who Knew Too Much". The Huffington Post. Retrieved April 20, 2017. 
  2. ^ Nawrozki, Joe; Erlandson, Robert A. (June 19, 1994). "With New Lead, Police Reopen Old Murder Case". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved April 20, 2017. 
  3. ^ O'Neill, Brian (May 13, 2017). "Justice for Sister Cathy is Long Overdue". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: PG Publishing Co. Retrieved June 14, 2017. 
  4. ^ Joseph Cesnik in 1930 Census; Census Place: Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; 1930 United States Federal Census; National Archives and Records Administration.
  5. ^ Pennsylvania, Marriages, 1852–1968
  6. ^ a b c d "Timeline: The Sister Catherine Cesnik Case". The Baltimore Sun. May 19, 2017. Retrieved June 14, 2017. 
  7. ^ a b "Sister Catherine Cesnik Case: Missing Nun's Body Found in Lansdowne". The Baltimore Sun. January 8, 1970. Retrieved June 14, 2017. 
  8. ^ Koch, Denise (February 27, 2017). "Baltimore Priest Victim: Police Were in on Sexual Abuse". CBS Baltimore. Retrieved June 14, 2017. 
  9. ^ Smith, Jennifer (April 20, 2017). "The Next Making a Murderer: Netflix Releases Trailer for True Crime Docu-series about Baltimore Nun's Unsolved 1969 Killing and How the Church 'Covered It Up'". Mail Online. Retrieved April 20, 2017. 
  10. ^ a b c Knezevich, Alison (May 17, 2017). "Police: Exhumed Priest's DNA Does Not Match Evidence from Crime Scene Killing of Sister Cathy". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved April 20, 2017. 
  11. ^ Knezevich, Alison (November 15, 2016). "Baltimore Archdiocese Pays Settlements to a Dozen People Alleging Abuse by Late Priest". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved June 14, 2017. 
  12. ^ "About the BCoPD Cold Case Unit and the Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik Homicide" (PDF) (Press release). Baltimore County Police Department. 2017. Retrieved June 14, 2017 – via Archdiocese of Baltimore. 
  13. ^ Knezevich, Alison (May 4, 2017). "Priest's Body Exhumed from Randallstown Cemetery in Investigation of Baltimore Nun's Decades-Old Killing". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved June 14, 2017. 
  14. ^ Liebman, Lisa (May 19, 2017). "The Dead Nun, the School Sex Scandal, and the Amateur Detectives Fighting for Justice". Vanity Fair. Retrieved December 24, 2017. 
  15. ^ McDonell-Parry, Amelia (May 19, 2017). "'The Keepers': Inside Netflix's Compelling New True-Crime Docuseries". Rolling Stone. Retrieved December 24, 2017.