Mys­tery of nun's un­solved mur­der is lat­est US doc­u­men­tary hit

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Adoc­u­men­tary about the mys­te­ri­ous killing of a beloved young Catholic nun half a cen­tury ago is the lat­est smash hit on Net­flix, high­light­ing the pop­u­lar­ity of true crime sto­ries in Amer­ica these days. The series called "The Keep­ers," which be­gan last month, is a sus­pense­ful ex­am­i­na­tion of the crime com­mit­ted in 1969. Peo­ple with in­for­ma­tion about the case are now ei­ther de­ceased or el­derly. The nun, a cheer­ful, buoy­ant woman known as Sis­ter Cathy, was 26 when she died. She was a teacher at the all-girls' Arch­bishop Keough High School, and her stu­dents were crazy about her.

But there was ap­par­ently a dark side of the school, over­seen by the Bal­ti­more arch­dio­cese. The school chap­lain, Father Joseph Maskell, was al­legedly a dan­ger­ous pe­dophile who ex­erted psy­cho­log­i­cal dom­i­na­tion over his vic­tims. Maskell, who was also a po­lice chap­lain, de­nied any wrong­do­ing. He died in 2001 and was never charged. The mak­ers of "The Keep­ers" fol­low the dogged work of two women in their 60s, Gemma Hoskins and Ab­bie Schaub, stu­dents of Sis­ter Cathy (whose last name was Cesnki), who cre­ated a Face­book page to try to learn the truth about the death of their teacher. The re­tired women ef­fec­tively be­come de­tec­tives, dig­ging back into decades' worth of files and cre­at­ing an on­line posse of sleuths.

Break­ing the si­lence

The pair uncover stun­ning in­for­ma­tion, which is re­vealed over the course of the series' seven episodes. Dozens of for­mer stu­dents at the high school came for­ward to break decades of si­lence and talk about how they were sex­u­ally abused by Father Maskell. The hy­poth­e­sis of the series is that Sis­ter Cathy was killed by the priest as she was about to re­veal his crimes. The suc­cess of the series il­lus­trates Amer­i­cans' fas­ci­na­tion with so-called cold cases-un­re­solved cases that are tech­ni­cally open but all but dead.

Two sim­i­lar doc­u­men­taries have re­cently made real-life im­pacts. A man named Ad­nan Syed, con­victed of killing his girl­friend, may get a new trial thanks to the hit pod­cast "Se­rial." And a man im­pris­oned for life as a mi­nor may be freed be­cause of doc­u­men­tary TV series "Mak­ing a Mur­derer." "The Keep­ers" is also stir­ring up pres­sure for jus­tice. "Peo­ple are very an­gry. That's the emo­tion I am see­ing most that comes out of it. Peo­ple are frus­trated," said Ryan White, the di­rec­tor of the series. "They want some­thing to be done about it."

The church strikes back

Over the course of the work by White's team, which lasted three years, two ma­jor in­sti­tu­tions in Bal­ti­more-a port city with many Catholics-were heav­ily crit­i­cized for their han­dling of the case: the po­lice and the Catholic Church. They have now hit back. Ac­cused of ig­nor­ing Father Maskell's vic­tims, the arch­bishop of Bal­ti­more pub­lished on­line a series of ques­tions about the case and the church's re­sponse to them. This ap­proach, too, has been crit­i­cized.

"I am some­one now who is very pro­tec­tive of Maskell's sur­vivors, be­cause I spent the last three years lis­ten­ing to them and I am in­debted to them be­cause their sto­ries com­prise 'The Keep­ers," said White. "And to watch the Catholic Church come out in at­tack mode, ques­tion­ing the in­tegrity of them and the doc­u­men­tary, I call this sickening." Church of­fi­cials in­sist they did not learn of ac­cu­sa­tions against the priest un­til 1992 and ac­cuse "The Keep­ers" of mis­rep­re­sent­ing the role of the church in the case.

"At no point do we sug­gest that Maskell was not guilty, or that the vic­tims aren't telling the truth. We be­lieve that to be the case," said Sean Caine, a spokesman for the Bal­ti­more arch­dio­cese. As soon as the al­le­ga­tions emerged, Caine said, "we hired a pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor. We spent hun­dreds of hours in­ves­ti­gat­ing it, in­ter­view­ing for­mer stu­dents, for­mer fam­ily num­bers, peo­ple in the com­mu­nity. No suc­cess at all." But he ac­knowl­edged the church could have done a bet­ter job at pub­lic re­la­tions given the raw emo­tions raised by the doc­u­men­tary.

Po­lice have re­opened the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, acutely aware that, with the series' pop­u­lar­ity, they are be­ing closely watched. Maskell's re­mains were ex­humed to see if his DNA could be linked to the killing of Sis­ter Cathy. The re­sults turned up noth­ing. But the probe has taken on an­other, larger di­men­sion. "I think we can still find out the an­swer and I think Father Maskell en­gi­neered this mur­der," said White. — AFP

A fam­ily plot which once con­tained the body of Reverand A Joseph Maskell, whose body was ex­humed for the cold case in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the mur­der of Sis­ter Cather­ine Ces­nik. — AFP

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