Unsolved 1969 Murder of Baltimore Nun Gets New Attention

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Sister Catherine Cesnik
Via whokilledsistercathy.org

Wow. A doozy of a longread just went up over at the Huffington Post. It begins with the unsolved murder of a Baltimore nun in 1969 and spirals quickly into a nightmarish world of sexual abuse and corruption within Archbishop Keough High School and area police departments. Now Keough alumnae have taken it upon themselves to solve the case and help their classmates heal.

WARNING: The following contains descriptions of alleged abuse.

In 1969, the body of Sister Catherine Cesnik was discovered in a garbage dump with “choke marks on her neck and a round hole about the size of a quarter in the back of her skull.” The detective who initially led the investigation into Cesnik’s disappearance suspected the culprit was someone in the church, but found that “[t]he Catholic Church had a lot of input into the police department, a lot of power.” He told the Huffington Post that investigating a Catholic priest in Baltimore in 1969 was exceedingly difficult. And the priest he suspected in particular, Father Joseph Maskell, “was a difficult target.”

At the time, he served as the chaplain for the Baltimore County police, the Maryland State Police and the Maryland National Guard. Maskell kept a police scanner and loaded handgun in his car, drank beer with the officers at a local dive bar, and often went on “ride-alongs” with his police friends at night to respond to petty crimes or catch teenagers making out in their cars.

Eventually, the city had to turn the investigation over the county. No one was charged, and the case went cold.

Starting in the ’90s, several Keough alumnae have come forward with horrific stories of abuse at the hands of Maskell, Father Neil Magnus, several police officers, a gynecologist, and other men. One woman recalled Maskell threatening her by placing a loaded gun in her mouth:

“He said, ‘You’re a troublemaker. You’re trash. Nobody would ever believe you.’ He said, ‘Look at my degree. I went to school at Johns Hopkins.’”

But most incredible of all, one of the women claimed that Maskell had taken her to see Cesnik’s body two months before it was discovered. She was able to give details that were, at the time, not public knowledge.

The main alleged abusers — Maskell, Magnus, and the gynecologist — are now dead, but several Keough alumnae have been investigating the case and calling for their classmates who suffered abuse to come forward with their stories. The picture that has emerged is one of a vast network of abusers and abetters and one lone nun, Cesnik, who tried to protect her students.

One of those students told the Huffington Post that she was with Cesnik at her apartment the day before she disappeared when Maskell and Magnus barged in.

“Maskell glared at me,” she said. “He knew why I was there.” The woman said she left Cesnik’s apartment at that point. The following day at school, Maskell called her into his office. With a gun in his hand, he warned her that if she ever told anyone about the abuse, he would kill her, her boyfriend and her entire family. “That I remember as though it happened yesterday,” she said, “because I have been protecting my family ever since.” Cesnik vanished that night.

Read the whole story here.

Share a tip with the team of Keough alumnae here.

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  1. Thank you for spreading the word about this case. We, the Keough Alum, are grateful to everyone who gets this story out. This sociopath was allowed to continue his abuse for years and now with the internet we were able to reach hundreds of people who BELIEVE us. We strive for justice and for the church to perform PENANCE as they asked us to do when we sinned. The Church needs to make this right!

  2. The Church needs to be thoroughly investigated by some sort of international entity – there are most likely many more stories like this. Every records office and archive needs to be combed through, every parish needs to be turned upside down and inside out, and every priest needs to be GPS chipped going forward. Until then “Catholic priest” and “rapist thug” are synonymous.

    How any decent, intelligent person remains Catholic is beyond me. They have confused the institution with God.

  3. This article was really good. However, I think you should warn readers of the triggering contents written. I am a survivor who has worked through the pain. But this article bothered me and now I am getting intrusive thoughts and that “feeling.” I think most therapists would agree it can be re-traumatizing. However. All of you are doing wonderful work here.

    • Thank you Boe for your concerns for other Survivors. We have placed resources on the FB page Justice for Sr. Cathy as well as the webpage. You can also share any resources through the tip line. Our Survivors knew that this article could trigger feelings and committed to providing resources at the end of the article as well.

    • Good point but by the title, I anticipated I would read and start to obsess. Intrusive thoughts, etc. Always happens to me when reading about pedophile priests. Here it is 36 hours after I’ve read the article and Ijust did this search and found this. And I’m not a victim. I just BELIEVE THE SURVIVORS. This is more than a crime.

    • Thank you for the advice, Boe, and I’m sorry for the lack of a warning. I’ve just added one.

  4. Twenty years after this horrible abuse took place at Keough, at least one vulnerable student at the same school was exposed to sexual advances by a lay female religion teacher. The student came forward with her allegation in 2014, as reported in the Baltimore Sun.

  5. A Catonsville resident, Frank Dingle, who attends the same church I attend, has been a major advocate for the resolution to this horrible murder, and many other serious abuse cases. I tip my hat to this very brave man for the decades he has dedicated to speaking the truth.

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