The Keep­ers works to close 1969 mur­der case

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - HANK STUEVER

Sis­ter Cathy “has never got­ten jus­tice” say am­a­teur sleuths

A re­newed fas­ci­na­tion for true crime and un­solved mys­tery sto­ries — par­tic­u­larly in se­ri­al­ized for­mats on pod­casts and bou­tique TV — has taken us to deep, dark places that tra­di­tional jour­nal­ism used to avoid, some­times on le­gal ad­vice.

Old rules about ac­cus­ing some­one of a crime and jump­ing to con­clu­sions have grown a bit fuzzy as a more “Scooby-Doo” ap­proach me­an­ders and oc­ca­sion­ally blun­ders or sup­poses its way into new de­tails, dra­mat­i­cally play­ing up po­ten­tial ev­i­dence.

Au­di­ences are un­der­stand­ably en­gaged by this in­vig­o­rat­ing spirit of trans­parency.

The heroic am­a­teurs who sleuth around in Net­flix’s ab­sorb­ing and emo­tion­ally grip­ping doc­u­men­tary se­ries “The Keep­ers” (which be­gan stream­ing Fri­day) are Gemma Hoskins and Ab­bie Schaub — who were class­mates at Arch­bishop Keough High School in Baltimore al­most 50 years ago and have al­ways won­dered about the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the dis­ap­pear­ance and mur­der of their favourite teacher, Sis­ter Cathy Ces­nick, a 26-year-old nun.

On a Fri­day evening in Novem­ber 1969, Ces­nick left the apart­ment she shared with an­other nun, plan­ning to run some er­rands. Her hap­haz­ardly parked car was found the next day, but it was an­other 11 weeks be­fore her blud­geoned, de­com­pos­ing body was dis­cov­ered on the hill­side of a va­cant lot.

Al­though Baltimore jour­nal­ists over the years have taken pretty good swings at shed­ding new light on this un­solved case, Hoskins and Schaub are driven to find jus­tice for Sis­ter Cathy, un­de­terred by their lack of de­tec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence. They started a Face­book group and be­gan metic­u­lously re­vis­it­ing ev­ery scrap of records and leads in the case. And yes, this is the same un­solved mur­der that com­pelled Baltimore County po­lice ear­lier this year to ex­hume the body of the Rev. A. Joseph Maskell, who had served as the high school’s chap­lain in the late 1960s and early ‘70s.

Al­though po­lice said Wed­nes­day that DNA re­sults from Maskell’s body do not link him to crime-scene ev­i­dence, Maskell was ac­cused by sev­eral for­mer stu­dents at Keough and else­where of sex­ual abuse. Al­though he died in 2001, the Arch­dio­cese of Baltimore fi­nally paid set­tle­ments to some of his al­leged vic­tims last year.

Hoskins and Schaub, who had no inkling that any­thing was ever amiss at their idyl­lic high school, serve as ready-made char­ac­ters through which “Keep­ers” di­rec­tor Ryan White (“The Case Against 8”) can sort through a story that is painfully tan­gled up in broader, aw­ful de­tails of rit­ual rape and a coverup by both church of­fi­cials and lo­cal po­lice. “The Keep­ers” also of­fers a thor­ough con­tex­tual study of the fer­vent Catholi­cism that plays a sub­stan­tial part in Baltimore’s his­tory and iden­tity.

Schaub de­scribes her­self as “the in­tel­lec­tual,” pre­fer­ring to dig through records and hunt for doc­u­ments, while Hoskins, she says, is “the bull­dog,” will­ing to knock on doors and ask tough ques­tions. “Who­ever mur­dered (Sis­ter Cathy) has got­ten away with it,” Schaub says. “And she has never got­ten jus­tice.”

Bless­edly short on the­atrics, “The Keep­ers” skil­fully walks view­ers through the many de­tails of the case while fol­low­ing Schaub and Hoff­man’s progress.

Zero­ing in on Haskell’s in­volve­ment (the work­ing the­ory is that he got some­one else to mur­der Sis­ter Cathy be­cause she was go­ing to re­veal the abuse of girls at Keough), “The Keep­ers” gets em­broiled in a trag­i­cally fa­mil­iar nar­ra­tive in which vic­tims came for­ward in the 1990s only to find them­selves si­lenced by church au­thor­i­ties and statutes of lim­i­ta­tion.

In ad­di­tion to giv­ing th­ese vic­tims enough time and em­pa­thy to tell the story that oth­ers re­fused to hear, “The Keep­ers” takes its own ini­tia­tive to seek out some po­ten­tial wit­nesses and doc­u­ments on Schaub and Hoskins’ long to-do list. Like all se­ri­al­ized pod­casts and doc­u­men­taries, “The Keep­ers” some­times grows re­dun­dant, partly in ser­vice to help­ing its au­di­ence keep the de­tails straight and partly so it can float some ru­mours and the­o­ries without seem­ing ir­re­spon­si­ble. Pac­ing is dif­fi­cult in a project like this, but an ur­gent mo­men­tum takes over right where it’s most needed, cre­at­ing the sense that a so­lu­tion is within grasp.

By the fi­nal mo­ments, it’s im­pos­si­ble not to be out­raged over missed op­por­tu­ni­ties and blind eyes that were turned. So, yes — dig up whomever and what­ever still needs to be dug up; un­seal what­ever doc­u­ments are still be­ing hid­den. Schaub and Hoskins are ab­so­lutely cor­rect: Sis­ter Cathy still needs and de­serves our help.

“The Keep­ers” (seven episodes) is stream­ing on Net­flix.

NET­FLIX, NET­FLIX

Sis­ter Cathy Ces­nik, whose un­solved 1969 mur­der is ex­plored in the Net­flix se­ries “The Keep­ers,” is shown with her fa­ther, Joseph Ces­nik.

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