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‘The Keepers’ Netflix documentary exposes dark secrets about a nun’s chilling murder

Netflix’s new documentary series is like ‘Making a Murder’ meets ‘Spotlight,” with amateur sleuths as the driving force

Hailed as the next Making a Murderer, Netflix’s newest documentary series The Keepers uncovers dark secrets surrounding the 1969 murder of a nun who taught at a Baltimore girl’s school.

Sister Cathy Cesnick, 26, was a popular teacher at the Archbishop Keough High School when she disappeared during a grocery store run in the late fall of 1969. Her car was found abandoned the same night, but her body was found two months later. Another young woman was found dead around the same time.

The Keepers, directed by Ryan White, features interviews with former students, friends of Cathy’s, and journalists who helped to uncover a shocking sex abuse scandal at the high school where she worked. Several former female students, now in late middle age, provide detailed and horrific accounts of rape and various forms of sexual abuse they allegedly suffered at the hands of school’s chaplain, the Rev. A. Joseph Maskell, and other men he invited — including members of law enforcement — to participate in the abuse.

These interviews reveal that Cathy very likely knew about the abuse and was intent on doing something about it. In fact, it appears that many adults and students at the school had some idea what was going on, but kept their heads down out of fear.

The most explosive claim come from a former student and alleged victim, Jean Hargadon Wehner, who says she was shown Sister Cathy’s body shortly after the nun’s murder as a threat against speaking out herself.

Wehner remained silent for many years, having repressed her the memory of the physical and emotional trauma, but came forward anonymously in 1994 with a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Other alleged victims would follow, and the Archdiocese has since made hundreds of thousands of settlement payments to sexual abuse victims — but no criminal charges were filed.

Wehner finally identified herself in 2014 to journalist Tom Nugent, who has dedicated years of his career to helping solve the chilling murder case.

While The Keepers makes a strong case that members of Baltimore law enforcement were complicit in a cover-up that allowed Sister Cathy’s murder case to go cold, White was able to speak to current members of law enforcement who do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past.

“Clearly, there’s been failures over the last 45 years, and police officers were involved in the rapes of these girls, so there was motive to cover up the sexual abuse and the murder. However, 45 years later, I believe the detectives now. I don’t think the conspiracy of silence has filtered down to them,” White told Newsweek. 

The case remains unsolved, but it’s fairly clear early on who the filmmaker and many of the documentary subjects believe is responsible for the murder. Among The Keepers’ many moving parts are efforts from witnesses and amateur investigators who work tirelessly to get law enforcement to take a more serious look at that suspect. They are not unsuccessful.

Still, it can be frustrating to hear the accounts of decades-old abuse and violence, while so few of the people directly and indirectly impacted were able or willing to speak out about it. Of course, many of them were children at the time, and at least one of the alleged victims did tell Cathy.

And while it’s difficult not to question why no one was able to put the pieces together sooner, The Keepers emerges as compelling testimony about the power of dedicated amateur investigators driven not by any personal gain, but a commitment to avenging the murder of a young woman who meant so much to them during their formative years.

“There’s definitely more justice to be had,” White told Newsweek, “more answers to be had and more accountability, because there’s never been that.”

The Keepers, a seven-part documentary series, premieres on Netflix on May 19.