The Mysterious Murder of a Nun Who Knew Too Much
By Laura Bassett
May 14, 2015
|Archbishop Keough High School in 1969. (Photo: Archbishop Keough High School yearbook)|
n a frigid day in November 1969, Father Joseph Maskell, the chaplain of Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore, called a student into his office and suggested they go for a drive. When the final bell rang at 2:40 p.m., Jean Hargadon Wehner, a 16-year-old junior at the all-girls Catholic school, followed the priest to the parking lot and climbed into the passenger seat of his light blue Buick Roadmaster.
It was not unusual for Maskell to give students rides home or take them to doctor's appointments during the school day. The burly, charismatic priest, then 30 years old, had been the chief spiritual and psychological counselor at Keough for two years and was well-known in the community. Annual tuition at Keough was just $200, which attracted working-class families in deeply Catholic southwest Baltimore who couldn't afford to send their daughters to fancier private schools. Many Keough parents had attended Maskell’s Sunday masses. He'd baptized their babies, and they trusted him implicitly.
This time, though, Maskell didn't bring Wehner home. He navigated his car past the Catholic hospital and industrial buildings that surrounded Keough’s campus and drove toward the outskirts of the city. Eventually, he stopped at a garbage dump, far from any homes or businesses. Maskell stepped out of the car, and the blonde, freckled teenager followed him across a vast expanse of dirt toward a dark green dumpster.
It was then that she saw the body crumpled on the ground.
The week prior, Sister Cathy Cesnik, a popular young nun who taught English and drama at Keough, had vanished while on a Friday-night shopping trip. Students, parents and the local media buzzed about the 26-year-old’s disappearance. People from all over Baltimore County helped the police comb local parks and wooded areas for any sign of her.
Wehner immediately recognized the lifeless body as her teacher. "I knew it was her," she recalled recently. "She wasn’t that far gone that you couldn’t tell it was her.”
“You see what happens when you say bad things about people?”
Cesnik was still clad in her aqua-colored coat, and maggots were crawling on her face. Wehner tried to brush them off with her bare hands. "Help me get these off of her!" she cried, turning to Maskell in a panic. Instead, she says, the priest leaned down behind her and whispered in her ear: “You see what happens when you say bad things about people?”
Maskell, Wehner understood, was threatening her. She decided not to tell anyone. “He terrified me to the point that I would never open my mouth,” she recalled.
|Jean Wehner in 1970. (Photo: Jean Wehner)|
Two months later, the police announced that a pair of hunters passing through a dump outside of Baltimore had stumbled upon the body of the missing nun. Cesnik had choke marks on her neck and a round hole about the size of a quarter in the back of her skull. An autopsy confirmed she had been killed by a blow from a blunt object, probably a brick or a ball-peen hammer. But no one came forward with information about the murder, and the police never solved it.
Over the past year, however, Wehner and other Keough alumni have begun piecing together their memories and talking openly for the first time in decades about the traumatizing things that happened to them in high school — events they believe are connected to Cesnik’s murder. And a group of them has launched their own investigation in hopes of answering the questions that continue to vex the police: Who killed Sister Cathy -- and why?
Gemma Hoskins set a bowl of Doritos and a plate of sugar cookies on her dark wooden coffee table and passed out typed copies of the January meeting agenda. One by one, her guests took their places around the oriental rug in her pale-yellow living room. “I’ll start by introducing everyone, because we have a few new faces here,” Hoskins said.
Tom Nugent, a former Baltimore Sun reporter, secured a prime spot in the wooden rocking chair in the corner. A retired Baltimore police detective the group calls “Deep Throat” settled into an armchair next to him. Teresa Lancaster, a Keough alum and Baltimore-area attorney, sat next to her husband, Randy, on the oatmeal-colored sofa. Hoskins and another former Keough student, Abbie Schaub, pulled up chairs from the dining room to form a circle.
Hoskins, 62, is spirited and irreverent, with cropped, dyed red hair and a tendency to carry around snacks for people -- a habit that's lingered since her days as a Harford County "Teacher of the Year." Today, she lives with her labradoodle, Teddy, in a duplex in Halethorpe, Maryland, a working-class suburb of Baltimore. Hoskins was a senior at Keough in 1969 when Cesnik disappeared. Now, she is at the center of the effort to find out who killed her. “I think I’m Nancy Drew,” she joked recently.
|Gemma Hoskins (right), is a retired elementary school teacher who attended Keough from 1966-1970. She leads the amateur detective group investigating Cesnik’s murder. Abbie Schaub (left) is a retired registered nurse who attended Keough from 1966-1970. She is working with Hoskins to investigate the murder. (Photos: Abbie Schaub and Gemma Hoskins)|
Cesnik was like a real-life version of Maria, Julie Andrews’ character from “The Sound of Music,” Hoskins recalled: warm, exuberant and strikingly beautiful. The nun played guitar and wrote musicals for the girls to perform on stage. She took her students to see the 1968 movie version of “Romeo and Juliet” after they read the Shakespeare play. She invented creative vocabulary games to push the girls to teach each other new, obscure words.
Cesnik lived in a modest apartment in Southwest Baltimore with another nun, and her students would occasionally drop by in the evenings or on weekends to chat, sing and play music. “She was the reason I became a teacher,” Hoskins said. “I’ve never met anyone like her.”
Around 7:30 p.m. on November 7, 1969, Cesnik told her roommate, Helen Russell Phillips, that she was going to swing by the bank and then shop for an engagement gift for her cousin. According to media reports from the time, she cashed a $255 paycheck at a bank in Catonsville, Maryland, then drove to the Edmondson Village Shopping Center, where she bought buns at Muhly's Bakery. When she hadn't returned home by 11 p.m., Phillips called two priest friends, who drove to her apartment and called the police. Later that night, Cesnik's brand-new green Ford Maverick was found unlocked and illegally parked a block from her apartment, even though she had a designated parking spot behind the building. There was no sign of the nun anywhere.
The man assigned to investigate Cesnik's disappearance was Nick Giangrasso, a 28-year-old homicide detective who had worked in the Baltimore City Police Department for five years. Giangrasso led the investigation for the three months Cesnik was missing, then had to turn the case over to Baltimore County detectives when her body was found outside the city limits. But Giangrasso, now 72, spent enough time on the case to feel like something suspicious was going on between the police department and the church.
“The Catholic Church had a lot of input into the police department,” he said. “A lot of power.”
“It looked too clean. It had to be somebody who knew her.”
Giangrasso has a deep voice and a Baltimore accent, and speaks about the Cesnik case as if it happened yesterday. He said it was clear to him from the fact that her car had been deposited back at her apartment complex without any signs of struggle that she had not been the victim of a random robbery or assault. “It looked too clean,” he said. “It had to be somebody who knew her.”
The first person of interest in Giangrasso's investigation was Gerard Koob, a Jesuit priest. Koob was one of the priests Cesnik’s roommate had called when she realized the nun had not returned from her shopping trip, and he had been the one to call police to report Cesnik missing.
Koob, now a 77-year-old Methodist minister living in New Jersey with his wife, was in a romantic relationship with Cesnik at the time. Two years earlier, before he was ordained and before she had taken her final vows, he had asked her to marry him. She turned him down, but they continued to spend time together and write each other love letters. And three days before Cesnik disappeared, Koob called her from a Catholic retreat to tell her he still loved her. He was prepared to leave the priesthood for her and hoped she'd leave the nunhood for him. "I said, 'If you decide to leave, we'll leave and get married," Koob told The Huffington Post in an interview.
The police brought Koob in for questioning, but he had an alibi for the night that Cesnik disappeared. He and a fellow priest had gone to dinner in downtown Baltimore and watched "Easy Rider" at a movie theater afterward. He produced receipts and ticket stubs and passed two lie detector tests.
Harry Bannon, another retired Baltimore City homicide investigator, told the Baltimore City Paper in 2004 that he thought Koob knew more about the murder than he was admitting, but that the church forced him to back off the priest. “The church lawyers stepped in and they talked to the higher-ups at the police department. And we were told, 'Either charge Koob with a crime or let him go. Stop harassing him,'” said Bannon, who died in 2009. “After that, we had to break away from him. And that was a shame, because I’m sure Koob knew more than he was telling.”
Koob says he had no information that could have been helpful to police. “When the police were asking me, 'Who do you think did this to Cathy?' I had no clue,” he said.
Still, Giangrasso, who retired from the police force in 1980, had a gut feeling that Cesnik had been murdered by someone with ties to the church. “I personally thought it was in-house, within her social network -- the priests and the religious order,” he said.
Giangrasso interviewed half a dozen priests who knew Cesnik as his investigation continued, and there was one in particular whose name kept coming up: Father Maskell, who worked with Cesnik at Keough. Giangrasso said he tried to interview Maskell a number of times about Cesnik’s disappearance, but the priest always managed to elude him. “He was always busy and never available,” Giangrasso said. “It got to the point that Maskell was the number one guy we wanted to talk to, but we never got a chance.”
In Baltimore in 1969, Giangrasso said, it was very difficult, if not impossible, to investigate a Catholic priest for any crime. The Archdiocese of Baltimore is the oldest in the United States, and the church considers it to be the premier Catholic jurisdiction in the country. More than half the city’s residents identify as Catholic. According to the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, Baltimore City prosecutors have charged only three of the 37 Baltimore priests who have been accused of sexual abuse since 1980. Just two of those priests were convicted, and one of those convictions was overturned in 2005.
Maskell in particular 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.
Bob Fisher, the owner of an automotive repair shop in southwest Baltimore where Maskell took his car on his days off, remembers the priest boasting about his police privileges to anyone who would listen. “He'd say, ‘I hear something on the scanner' and we'd jump in the car and take off, and we'd catch these people!” said Fisher, 74. “Really wild stories.”
Maskell’s older brother, Tommy, was a hero cop who had been shot and injured while trying to stop a robbery. Going after Maskell would mean violating the unwritten rules by which the police operated. “We’re a police family,” Giangrasso said. “The policeman’s involved, his family’s involved, we try to help the guy out. When we found out Maskell’s brother was a lieutenant, we knew we had a problem.”
Giangrasso remembers feeling pressure from his superiors to leave the priest and other members of the clergy alone. “I felt like the church was coming in and interfering, and the chain of command was coming down and checking on us -- ‘How much longer are you gonna be playing with this case?’-- as if to say, you gotta back off and move on,” he said. The Baltimore City police did not respond to a request for comment.
That Cesnik’s body was found outside of his jurisdiction, in Baltimore County, where Maskell was chaplain, was no coincidence, Giangrasso thought. Nevertheless, he had to turn the case over to Baltimore County police. The county police never charged anyone.
|(Map: The Baltimore Sun)|
he case remained cold for two decades. Then, in 1994, two women came forward with bombshell accusations against Maskell that tied him to the young nun’s murder. Identified in court documents at the time only as "Jane Doe" and "Jane Roe," the women accused Maskell of raping them when they were students at Keough. The women filed a civil lawsuit against Maskell, the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who ran Keough, and a Baltimore gynecologist named Dr. Christian Richter, seeking $40 million in damages.
The women were too afraid of Maskell and his old police friends to use their real names back then. But Maskell died in 2001, and Jane Doe and Jane Roe are finally ready to speak out publicly.
Their names are Jean Wehner and Teresa Lancaster. Wehner, who claimed Maskell had taken her to see Cesnik’s body before it was discovered by hunters, provided details about the body that were known only to investigators at the time, according to a 1994 Baltimore Sun report. Investigators were initially skeptical of her claim that Cesnik had maggots on her face, because maggots are usually not present in cold November temperatures. But an autopsy showed there were in fact maggots in Cesnik’s throat -- a detail that had not been made public.
Today, Wehner is a 62-year-old board certified reflexologist from a large, deeply Catholic Baltimore family, and Lancaster a 60-year-old general practice attorney on Maryland’s eastern shore. Wehner said that for decades, she had buried most of her memories of what went on at Keough. She started to remember the sexual abuse in bits and pieces, beginning in 1992 when she saw side-by-side pictures of Maskell and the school’s director of religious services, Father Neil Magnus, in her high school yearbook. “My whole body shook," Wehner said. “I knew.” The pictures stirred up dark and painful memories, she said, and the details slowly started to come back to her.
|Maskell and Magnus in the 1969 Keough yearbook. (Photo: Laura Bassett/The Huffington Post)|
Although Lancaster had always remembered most of the abuse that occurred at Keough, she, too, had managed to repress some of the details until her mother died in 1993. She says she avoided thinking and talking about the abuse while her Catholic mother was alive, because she knew the information would devastate her. But around the time of her mother’s death, Lancaster started thinking about all of the horrific things she had experienced in high school. “She sat up in bed one night, screaming,” her husband, Randy, recalled in a recent interview.
Survivors sometimes misremember details of traumatizing events. But Lancaster and Wehner’s accounts are corroborated by court records and interviews with eight other Keough students -- four who claim they were abused by Maskell, and another four who say they were able to fend off his advances. And Sean Caine, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, said the church now acknowledges that Maskell was “credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors.”
Keough was a traditional Catholic school, where students were required to wear knee-length plaid skirts and shirts buttoned all the way up to their necks. But it was hardly immune to the 1960s counterculture. Former Keough students said that in Maskell's office and in the nearby rectory, where he lived, the priest offered the girls a relaxed, open-minded environment where they could talk freely about sex and drugs, drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes on his red velour sofa and ask for help dealing with their traditional Catholic parents. At the peak of the sexual revolution, Maskell was well positioned to exploit the experimental and rebellious atmosphere of the late 1960s and early 1970s. In a confusing time, he offered an intoxicating cocktail of spiritual guidance, hypnosis, booze, pills and himself.
Maskell was a charismatic young man in his late 20s when he started at Keough as chaplain in 1967, two years after it opened. Broad-shouldered, with light blue eyes, the Irish-descended priest also served as the school's psychological counselor. He later earned an advanced degree in psychology from the prestigious Johns Hopkins University.
Former Keough students said Maskell used his charm, psychology training and moral authority to first disarm the young girls, then to manipulate them into sexual relationships. He targeted struggling or badly behaved students -- Hoskins and Schaub, who got straight As, said he never bothered them -- asking the girls if they were having problems at home, or if they had been sexually active with their boyfriends or used drugs. Sometimes the priest used repetitive phrases -- “I only want what’s best for you, just what’s best for you,” one woman recalled him saying -- to coax them into talking.
He told her he was touching her in a “godly manner.”
Lancaster, a soft-spoken mother of four with wispy blonde hair, said that when she was a junior in 1970, she went to Maskell's office to talk to him about some problems at home. Her parents had found a marijuana joint in her bag, she said, and they didn't approve of the long-haired boy she was dating. It was the middle of the school day, and Maskell invited her into his office and shut the door behind her. He then proceeded to strip her clothes off and forced her to sit on his lap, naked. He told her he was touching her in a “godly manner.”
"He said, 'I'm not supposed to do this, but I find that I can really help people when I have physical contact,'" Lancaster recalled. “I was in total shock.”
Often, the girls didn't realize they were being raped and assaulted until months or years later. Indeed, Lancaster believed for a short time that she was in a romantic relationship with the priest. Sometimes he would play Irish music while he was with her, “almost like it was a sick date,” Lancaster said. “There was about a month or so when I actually thought he loved me. ... If there’s some kind of love there, then there's sense to all this. When I found out other people were going in there, I wondered if he loved all of them, too.”
When she started to realize the true nature of the relationship, Lancaster never fought back or told anyone, she said, because Maskell threatened to have her expelled for drugs and sent to the Montrose School for Girls, a dreaded juvenile facility in Reisterstown, Maryland. Once or twice, she said, he smacked her around and showed her the loaded handgun he kept in his desk at school. “He let me know that I either went along with whatever he wanted to do, or it was gonna be worse than I could ever imagine,” Lancaster said.
When Maskell spotted a girl who seemed troubled or was engaged in bad behavior, he would start calling her out of class over the loudspeaker for “therapy” in his office.
"I would be in class, and it could be any time. I'd hear my name over the loudspeaker, 'Report to my office now,' and I would have to report to Maskell," said Donna VonDenBosch, 58. "I remember being in class, just crying, 'Don't make me go, don't make me go!’ And the teacher pulled me out in the hall and said, 'We all know he's a weirdo, but you have to go.'"
Wehner said she went to see Magnus, the school's religious services director, for confession when she was 14 years old, because she had been feeling guilty about sexual abuse she experienced as a young child. The priest turned to her in the confessional, quizzed her on the details of the abuse, and began masturbating as she talked, she said.
After that, Maskell and Magnus would call her into their offices for joint counseling sessions, which they said was for the purpose of helping her find God’s forgiveness for what she did as a child. She says they would masturbate in front of her, take nude photos of her and force her to perform sex acts as part of her “spiritual healing” process. “I thought they were literally praying for me,” she said.
Soon, Maskell began calling Wehner out of class and into his office without Magnus, she said. He would show her pornography, tell her that he was trying to help God forgive her for the abuse she suffered as a child, and rape her. “He kept saying it didn’t seem like I was open to the Holy Spirit and God’s grace,” Wehner said. “I was just doing what I was being told, thinking I must be such a horrible person that God can’t forgive me.”
|Teresa Lancaster, a Baltimore-area lawyer, attended Keough from 1968-1972. She claims she was abused by Maskell and others. (Photo: Teresa Lancaster)|
The women recall that Maskell had a gynecologist friend, Dr. Richter, who would examine them to make sure they weren’t pregnant. Lancaster claims Maskell took her to see Richter for a pregnancy test and then raped her on the table while Richter performed a breast exam.
Fisher, the auto repair shop owner, said Maskell boasted about taking high school girls to the gynecologist when he dropped his car off at the shop in the afternoons. “He would say, ‘Me and the doctor, we take them back and we give them exams and check them,’” said Fisher. “There’s no question he was always involved with the exams -- that he made clear.”
Richter, who died in 2006, denied having abused the girls in an interview with the Baltimore Sun during the court battle over the 1994 lawsuit, but he admitted that he may have let Maskell into the room during their pelvic exams. "It's possible he may have been in the examining room, in the absence of parents, I don't know, to calm the girl,” Richter said. “It's very possible he might have come in the examining room. She was 16. She probably had a good deal of faith in him."
Maskell's trips to the gynecologist reflected a fixation with the practice. Lancaster said he liked to perform pelvic exams on the altar of the school chapel and administer vaginal douches, enemas and anal suppositories in the bathroom of his office and in the rectory. Multiple other girls also said they were on the receiving end of the mock gynecological exams and enemas. It was a way to establish further authority over the girls -- the creation of a doctor-patient relationship -- while acting out whatever fetish inspired the abuse.
The women rarely fought back, because they were terrified of Maskell. VonDenBosch said she gathered the courage to struggle once, during her senior year, and it did not go well. “I thought, he isn’t gonna kill me and have blood all over his floor and have to explain that. So I took my pocketbook and started hitting him,” she said.
VonDenBosch threatened to report Maskell, and he responded by putting the barrel of his 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.’”
She decided it wasn’t worth the risk to report Maskell to authorities, and she became suicidal in high school. But her classmates suspected what was going on. "There was a group of girls known as Maskell's girls," she said. "That's what my friends would call me, one of Maskell's girls."
|Donna VonDenBosch, a nurse practitioner student in Reading, Pennsylvania, attended Keough from 1970-1973. She claims Maskell and policemen abused her. (Photo: Donna VonDenBosch)|
Several of the women who spoke to The Huffington Post about Maskell’s abuse described the priest setting up what amounted to a full-on brothel.
Wehner said that during her senior year, Maskell began driving her to St. Clement Church, where he preached, after school, and that a string of men abused her in his office there. She does not know who the men were, but they referred to each other by generic names -- Brother Ed, Brother Ted and Brother Bob. She said some of the men gave Maskell money in exchange for the abuse. “He was prostituting us,” Wehner said.
To keep Wehner quiet, Maskell reinforced the idea that she was participating in the sex acts of her own accord. He referred to the abuse as Wehner’s “extracurricular activities” and the men as her “dates.” She says the priest once pressed his unloaded handgun into her temple, pulled the trigger, and warned her that her father, a policeman, would do the same thing but with bullets in the gun if he found out she had been “whoring around” with older men.
Lancaster, Wehner and VonDenBosch all recall uniformed police officers participating in the abuse, both in Maskell’s office and outside of school. Two more former Keough students and a third woman who attended St. Clement Church said in interviews with The Huffington Post that Maskell abused them as teenagers, often with other men. "I remember the back door light coming through and a policeman wearing dark pants, a white shirt and a badge coming in the back door," said VonDenBosch, who is studying to be a nurse practitioner in Reading, Pennsylvania. She said she felt unusually groggy that day. She woke up in Maskell’s office in the afternoon after having been there for hours, and her shirt was buttoned up differently than she had buttoned it that morning.
"‘You look at who the whore is in the room. Don’t ever act like you’re afraid.’”
She also said Maskell once handed her what she assumes was a spiked drink at an outdoor Catholic Youth Organization picnic when she was 14, led her away from the other freshmen students at dusk and stood by as a black-haired, uniformed policeman raped her in a remote area of the park. “I felt drugged,” she said.
Wehner said Maskell would stand by the door and act like he was protecting her from being caught. One time, Wehner says, he became angry at her for acting scared in front of the men; she was supposed to act like she was having consensual sex with them. “He pushed my face into a mirror and he said, ‘You look at who the whore is in the room. Don’t ever act like you’re afraid,’” she recalled.
The only person who tried to help the girls was Sister Cathy Cesnik. Wehner said that in 1969, at the end of her sophomore year, Cesnik stole a moment alone with her in her classroom. “Are the priests hurting you?” the nun asked gently. Wehner nodded her head, too afraid to open her mouth. Cesnik told Wehner to go home and enjoy the summer. She said she would handle the situation.
Kathy Hobeck, 63, said she asked Cesnik to protect her from Maskell's abuse when she attended Keough in 1968. "She would make excuses for me when he would ask me to come down [to his office]," Hobeck said. "She'd say, 'She's in a study, she can't get away,' or she'd make up a story."
In the fall of 1969, Cesnik left Keough and took a new job at Western High School, a public school in Baltimore. But she still maintained close ties to her former students, who visited her apartment regularly. Maskell remained a frequent topic of conversation for some of them. Two days before Cesnik disappeared, Hobeck and a classmate visited Cesnik at home, and the nun asked whether Maskell was still bothering them. "We told her no, and that was the end of it," Hobeck said.
Not all the girls were so lucky. Wehner said that despite Cesnik's promise to intervene with Maskell on her behalf, the priest continued to abuse her after she returned from summer break, even more violently than before. And another former Keough student, who spoke to The Huffington Post on the condition of anonymity, visited Cesnik at her apartment the night before she disappeared to discuss the abuse going on at the school.
In the middle of their conversation, this woman said, Maskell and Magnus barged into Cesnik's apartment without knocking. "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.
|A memorial page for Cesnik in the 1970 Keough yearbook. (Photo: Laura Bassett/The Huffington Post)|
In June of 1992, more than two decades after Cesnik’s murder, Wehner reported her abuse allegations against Maskell to the Baltimore Archdiocese. Caine, the director of communications for the Archdiocese, told The Huffington Post that the church temporarily removed Maskell from ministry for psychological evaluation in October 1992, five months after Wehner reported him. Maskell had left his job at Keough in 1975 and was working as the pastor of Holy Cross Church, about four miles from the high school, at the time.
Maskell "was referred for evaluation and treatment over the next several months," Caine said. "During that time, the Archdiocese attempted to corroborate the allegation, which Maskell denied, by seeking out any additional victims on its own and through the attorney representing the individuals who initially came forward. After months of trying unsuccessfully to corroborate the allegation, the Archdiocese returned Maskell to ministry."
A spokesperson for the school, now called Seton Keough High School, declined to comment, but noted that no one who currently works at the school was there when the alleged abuse occurred.
Although the church claims it could not find any other victims to corroborate Wehner’s claims, her attorneys had no problem doing so. They circulated a letter to Keough alums in 1993 and placed an ad in the Baltimore Sun asking if anyone remembered abuse happening at the school in the 1960s and 70s. More than 30 women, including Lancaster, came forward with first- and second-hand stories of sexual abuse, according to media reports. Lancaster’s story was so compelling that Wehner’s attorneys invited her to be a co-plaintiff in the civil lawsuit against Maskell, Dr. Richter, the church and the order of nuns that ran Keough.
Maskell and Richter both vehemently denied the abuse, and in 1995, after a high-profile trial, the case was thrown out of court on a technicality. According to Maryland law, victims of sex abuse have three years from the time the abuse ends or from when they discover it to file a civil lawsuit. The women’s attorneys had argued that because Wehner and Lancaster had only recently started remembering some of the abuse, they were still within the three-year period. “Memory impairment often follows trauma, and I've had many such cases,” said Dr. Neil Blumberg, Lancaster’s psychiatrist.
But the church brought in a “false memory” expert, Catholic psychiatrist Paul McHugh, who successfully argued in courtrooms throughout the 1990s that memories of child sexual abuse cannot be repressed and then recovered. At the time, there was a major backlash against the concept of repressed memory. The 1980s saw several high-profile prosecutions of daycare workers based on recovered memories that later proved false. Though Lancaster and Wehner's case was different, since they had not been coaxed into recovering false memories by investigators or therapists, winning the case in the new climate proved impossible.
Judge Hilary Caplan told The Huffington Post that he found the women credible, but he decided after hearing McHugh’s testimony that recovered memories could not restart the statute of limitations. “The experts testified, and I found that the memory was not sufficient to justify the plaintiffs’ case,” he said in a recent interview.
The women didn’t win in court, but their testimonies prompted police to begin investigating Maskell for rape and murder. The search for evidence came up empty until a Baltimore gravedigger named William Storey called police with a tip.
Storey, the groundskeeper at Holy Cross Cemetery, said Maskell had ordered him to dig a 12-by-12-foot hole in the graveyard in 1991 so the priest could bury a truckload of confidential files in it. The gravedigger produced a hand-drawn map indicating the location of the documents.
In August of 1994, the police exhumed the boxes, which were mostly filled with psychological evaluations of the Keough students Maskell had counseled. Deep Throat said at least one of the boxes also contained nude pictures of underage girls, which would have been enough evidence to arrest Maskell for possession of child pornography.
“We found hard evidence -- these girls had their tops open,” he said. “I saw them with my own damn eyes.”
But those pictures never made it to the evidence room. The detective said they inexplicably vanished after the graveyard dig, and the Baltimore Sun reported only that Maskell’s buried boxes contained “psychological test evaluations and canceled checks.” Judge Caplan, who presided over Wehner and Lancaster’s civil trial, says the photos were never submitted as evidence and that he had never heard of them.
Maskell proved just as slippery and well-connected as he had in 1969.
As police continued the search for evidence, Maskell proved just as slippery and well-connected as he had in 1969. Deep Throat said that as soon as he started looking into the Cesnik case, he received a phone call from one of his superiors in the police department.
“He said, ‘Listen kid, this is a career buster. We knew who the hell killed her back when it happened, and you'll find out, and you're gonna find out things you shouldn't find out. Let it go,’” the detective recalled.
Before police had a chance to question Maskell in 1994, he checked himself into a residential treatment facility, claiming he needed help coping with the stress and anxiety the case had caused him. Weeks later, he quietly checked himself out and fled to Ireland, where he continued to work as a priest. "The Archdiocese did not learn that Maskell was living in Ireland until a Bishop in Ireland contacted the Archdiocese in July 1996," Caine told HuffPost. "Maskell had left the residential treatment facility two years earlier and refused to inform the Archdiocese where he was living."
Law enforcement dropped the investigation once Maskell fled the country, and he died without ever being charged with a crime. Magnus had died years earlier, in 1988. Richter died in 2006.
Wehner said she was “devastated” that her case was tossed out and that no one was ever brought to justice. She said she feels betrayed by the church, the school, the police and the justice system. “We had no chance, because of all these institutions that let us down, that were used against us instead of for us,” she said.
Gemma Hoskins' hunt for answers about Cesnik’s murder began in the summer of 2013, when she re-connected with Nugent, the former Baltimore Sun reporter who had interviewed her about Cesnik years earlier. Both of them had been fascinated by the case since 1994, when Wehner and Lancaster filed their lawsuit against Maskell and the church.
Nugent, now a 71-year-old freelance writer in Hastings, Michigan, was raised Catholic in Baltimore and had covered political corruption there a reporter, and he suspected that the Cesnik story had more tentacles than anyone realized. He interviewed a few retired detectives, including Deep Throat, who confirmed they had been pressured to back off the Catholic priests during their investigations. “It seemed apparent to me that some of this was covered up,” he said.
Nugent interviewed Hoskins in 2004 for a story about the Cesnik case, but he was never fully able to crack it. Nearly a decade later, she called him out of the blue. “Do you remember me?” Hoskins asked Nugent. “When are you coming back here to finish this?”
Hoskins wanted to see justice for Cesnik and her Keough classmates in her lifetime, and she now had time to devote to the investigation. She had recently retired from teaching, her husband had died of cancer when they were both 35, and she never had any children. She said her late husband always encouraged her to spend time helping others, even when he was on food stamps because he was too sick to work. “He always said, ‘When we get older and don’t have to worry about money, we need to take care of other people,’” Hoskins said. “It’s important to me to honor that.”
Nugent didn't need much prodding. “Gemma pricked my conscience,” he said. “I personally don’t want to live in a world where this kind of thing is swept under the rug.”
Hoskins started by seeking out more women who might have been victims of sexual abuse at Keough. In September 2013, she logged onto the official Facebook page for Keough alumni and asked whether anyone knew of such abuse taking place at the school in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“I personally don’t want to live in a world where this kind of thing is swept under the rug.”
The page started buzzing. Women who had been silent for years came forward with stories of abuse by Maskell and others. When Hoskins mentioned Cesnik’s murder, she said “all hell broke loose.” Some Keough alums accused her of launching a “witch hunt,” and school administrators kicked her off the Facebook page for posting “inappropriate” content.
But Hoskins had attracted the attention of a few like-minded women, including Schaub, who had long suspected that the sexual abuse at Keough was somehow connected to Cesnik’s murder. The women created their own, private Facebook group where the discussion could continue, and those online conversations eventually evolved into a full-on murder investigation that hundreds of people are following. “We're not driving this,” Schaub said. “It seems to have a life of its own.”
Schaub, a retired registered nurse, is measured and articulate, and the most data-driven member of the group. Schaub was in Hoskins' class at Keough and tutored her in math, but the two weren't close as teenagers. Today, however, they make a good team. While Hoskins uses her personality and people skills to connect with survivors of Maskell's abuse, Schaub digs through decades-old newspaper articles, criminal records, marriage and death certificates and property deeds.
“Abbie and I are perfect examples of left brain and right brain,” Hoskins said. “It’s almost like two halves that fit really well together. I’m thrilled that we've reconnected.”
In the two years that the Keough women have been investigating Cesnik’s murder, they have chased at least a dozen leads. They looked into possible connections between Cesnik’s murder and the murder of other young girls in the area around the same time, requesting all files from the Baltimore police and the Federal Bureau of Investigations related to those cases. They tracked down the descendants of Storey, the gravedigger, and contacted all the teachers and administrators they could find who worked at Keough in the late 1960s, hoping that someone might come forward with a smoking gun or eyewitness account. They dug up property records for the dilapidated rectory where Maskell once lived and interviewed the neighbors, hoping the house still contained some incriminating evidence.
The women have even zeroed in on a living suspect they believe -- but can’t yet prove -- participated in Cesnik’s murder. They interviewed several of the man’s family members, obtained all of his old police records, and discovered that the police considered him a person of interest in the Cesnik case in the 1990s. But they are still searching for a piece of evidence that might prove he was involved.
As the women seek justice, the police are still investigating. In September 2014, Wehner returned to Baltimore County police headquarters to tell cops her story for the first time since the 1990s. Four months later, Dave Jacoby, the detective currently assigned to the case, drove to New Jersey to question Cesnik’s Jesuit love interest, Gerard Koob, about the murder. Koob said he had no new information for the detective and was confused by the visit.
“At the end of our conversation, I said, ‘Where are you guys with this? You're going back now, we're talking, 40 years,” Koob recalled. “He said, ‘At the moment, we haven't ruled out the possibility it was some stranger that came by and picked on her.’”
Jacoby declined a request for comment from The Huffington Post, citing the “open and active” nature of the investigation.
The Keough women are skeptical that the police will be able to deliver justice for Cesnik, but they are starting to make peace with that, because their mission has evolved into something bigger. What began as a quest for justice has grown into a source of support and healing for sexual abuse survivors. Through the Facebook page that Wehner and Schaub set up, a growing number of Keough alums are reconnecting with each other and speaking openly for the first time in decades about the abuse they suffered in high school.
Schaub said that when the group's investigation into Cesnik's murder ends, the community they've created for survivors will remain active. “This isn’t really our story to tell,” Schaub said. “It’s bigger than we are."
Lancaster has become a child sexual abuse activist. She works directly with victims through the Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests, the national advocacy group commonly known as SNAP, and she testified before the Maryland State Legislature recently in support of a bill that would extend the statute of limitations on civil sex abuse cases.
In 2010, the church apologized and paid her $40,000 as part of a group of settlements it made with sexual abuse victims. “Please accept my apology on behalf of Archbishop [Edwin] O’Brien and the Archdiocese of Baltimore for the suffering that has resulted from your experiences,” Alison D’Alessandro, director of the church’s Office of Child and Youth Protection, wrote to Lancaster in a letter. The Archdiocese also offered her the chance to have O’Brien apologize to her in person for the abuse. She declined. “I said, 'I am so through with you people and your skirts and strange men in their outfits,’” she recalled. “‘It will be a cold day in hell when I will sit and look at that man.’”
Wehner said the other women’s support has changed her life. She said she's lived in fear since first coming forward anonymously in the 1990s, and has a hard time getting close to people. Now that the Keough alums are rallying around her, though, she is emerging from her shell. “I now have this communal sense of, ‘We believe you. We trust you,'” she said. “I didn’t have that 40 years ago or 20-something years ago. Every step of the way is a tremendous struggle, but I get healthier and healthier.”
Hoskins and her team plan to continue their search for evidence, but Wehner believes they have already honored Cesnik's wishes by bringing a group of traumatized Keough girls together to heal. “I know the agenda for them is to find out who killed Cathy Cesnik,” she said. “My objective is that the truth be told for all the innocent victims. If Cathy Cesnik were standing here, she would say that’s what she would prefer.”