Police Dug Up Late Baltimore Priest’s Body to Further Investigate Sister Cathy Cesnik’s Murder

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Baltimore County police exhumed Father A. Joseph Maskell’s body more than two months ago as part of an investigation of a Baltimore nun’s unsolved 1969 killing, according to media reports.

WJZ’s Denise Koch broke the news Thursday evening that the Baltimore County Police Department went to Maskell’s grave on Feb. 28 to extract DNA evidence from his body for testing. Police spokeswoman Elise Armacost told Koch, “Maskell was a player in this scenario that we needed to take a look at so…this was a step that we needed to take.”

Speaking by phone, police spokeswoman Natalie Litofsky confirmed Maskell’s body was exhumed as part of the investigation of Cesnik’s murder. As for the turnaround on those tests, “a fairly standard expectation for processing time for DNA is about six weeks,” though it could run as long as eight weeks, she said.

Cesnik’s body was discovered in a field in southwestern Baltimore County in early 1970, about two months after she was murdered. Cesnik was a beloved and well-respected nun at Archbishop Keough High School, which has since been renamed to Seton Keough High School, an institution set to close at the end of this school year.

Despite investigating many leads, Baltimore County police never solved Cesnik’s murder. Maskell was named as a suspect, but was never charged. In the 1990s, a woman stepped forward and told police that Maskell himself took her to the nun’s body before it was discovered. The woman, then a student, said she had been planning to report being sexually abused when the priest brought her to view Cesnik’s remains and told her, “See what happens when you say bad things about people.”

Father Maskell, who was also accused of sexually abusing multiple students, denied any involvement in Cesnik’s killing. He passed away in 2001 after suffering a stroke. Last year, the Baltimore Archdiocese paid for the allegations against him from his time at Keough, shelling out tens of thousands of dollars in settlements to around a dozen accusers who said he had abused them when they attended the school.

 

The police department’s move to test his DNA comes as Netflix is preparing to release a new true crime docuseries titled “The Keepers,” surrounding the mystery of Cesnik’s death. The show premieres May 19. Watch the trailer here:

Litofsky said the exhumation happened due to police having better technology to revisit evidence in the case, rather than because of the timing of the upcoming show’s release.

She did say the department has received more calls about the case since Netflix’s announcement about the series, and that police expect high call volumes after the premiere this month.

This story has been updated with comment from the Baltimore County Police Department.

 

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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