Move over Making a Murderer, there’s a brand new true-crime docuseries in town – and it’s a good ‘un! Netflix’s latest seven-part offering (and our latest obsession) goes by the name of The Keepers, and follows the real-life disappearance and death of Sister Cathy Cesnik, a nun and high school teacher at Baltimore’s Archbishop Keough High School, on 7 November 1969. After embarking on a shopping trip one evening, the 26-year-old never returned to her apartment, and her lifeless body was found the following January. To this day, the case remains unsolved.
So, why is it being talked about now? As you’ll see in the series, two of Sister Cathy’s former students, Abbie Schaub and Gemma Hoskins, who are now retired, are leading an investigation of their own and are dedicated to solving the case of their former teacher. And this isn’t your average whodunit – not even close. Intrigued? Here’s what you need to know before you start bingeing…
1. Who was Sister Cathy Cesnik?
Sister Cathy was a nun who taught English and drama at the former all-girls Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore, Maryland. Gemma Hoskins describes her as warm, exuberant and strikingly beautiful. The popular nun played guitar and wrote musicals for her students to perform on stage and invented creative vocabulary games to push them to teach each other new, obscure words. She lived in a modest apartment in Southwest Baltimore with another nun, and her students would occasionally drop by in the evenings or on weekends to chat, sing and play music.
2. What happened the night she went missing?
At around 7.30pm, Sister Cathy told her roommate, Sister Helen Russell Phillips, that she was going to pop to the bank and then shop for an engagement gift for her cousin. When she hadn’t returned home by 11pm, Phillips called two priest friends, who drove to her apartment and called the police. At 4.40am the next morning, Sister Cathy’s green Ford Maverick was found unlocked and illegally parked a block from her apartment, in a muddy condition. There was no sign of the nun.
3. What next?
Nick Giangrasso, a 28-year-old homicide detective who had worked in the Baltimore City Police Department for five years, was assigned to investigate Sister Cathy’s disappearance. He led the investigation for the three months Sister Cathy was missing, then had to turn the case over to Baltimore County detectives when her body was found near a garbage dump outside the city limits. A forensic examination revealed she had been choked, then killed by a blow from a blunt object. Despite the case being handed over, Giangrasso, who is now 72, believed something suspicious was going on between the police department and the church. “The Catholic Church had a lot of input into the police department,” he said. “A lot of power.” Could they really have been involved?
4. The turning point…
Detectives found no leads on Sister Cathy’s death and the case remained cold for two decades. However, in 1992, one of her former students – a woman only known then as “Jane Doe” (in 2014, she revealed herself as Jean Hargadon Wehner) – came forward to share her experience of sexual abuse by the school’s chaplain and guidance counsellor, Father A. Joseph Maskell. She revealed she was also taken to Sister Cathy’s undiscovered body and told, “See what happens when you say bad things about people.” And Maskell allegedly wasn’t alone, inviting other men, including police officers, to take part in the abuse both in his office at Keough and off-campus. Despite this and other women coming forward with similar stories to Doe’s, no one was held accountable, and the story was largely unreported outside of Baltimore. In addition to serving as chaplain at Keough, Maskell was also chaplain for the Baltimore County Police Department and Maryland State Police….
5. “The story is not the nun’s killing, it’s the cover-up of the nun’s killing”
That’s what Abbie Schaub tells us in the trailer (below) – and she’s right, of course. Through conversations with friends, relatives, journalists, government officials and Baltimore citizens determined to uncover the truth, director Ryan White pieces together a story that goes beyond the death of a popular Catholic schoolteacher. He paints a compelling theory: Sister Cathy was murdered because she had uncovered a secret at Keough and threatened to expose it. According to Jean Hargadon Wehner, Sister Cathy once came to her and asked, “Are the priests hurting you?” – and numerous victims have said she is the only one who helped them and other girls abused by Maskell and other men. Hard to believe? Take a look for yourself.
All seven episodes of The Keepers are available to watch on Netflix now.