Letter to the Editor
Murder, He Wrote

By Robert A. Erlandson
Letter in the Baltimore City Paper
January 12, 2005

Congratulations to Tom Nugent for his excellent recap of the Sister Catherine Cesnik murder case (“Who Killed Sister Cathy?,” Jan.5), in which my former Sun colleague Joe Nawrozki and I immersed ourselves for more than a year in 1993 and 1994.

Then-Baltimore County Police Chief Mike Gambrill reopened the then-25-year-old case after we presented him with extensive evidence of sexual abuse at Seton Keough High School at the time of Sister Catherine’s abduction and murder in 1969-70, and of possible links to the murder.

I believe that our investigation actually turned up a prime suspect, a convicted rapist from the area where the murder and dumping occurred. Whoever dumped Sister Catherine’s body on a snowy piece of isolated waste ground (now completely overgrown) in Lansdowne had to know the area well. The spot was not easily accessible to a casual passerby. Detectives traveled to the Seattle area to interview the man, but without any solid evidence they were unable to elicit a confession.

The late Rev. A. Joseph Maskell, chaplain and guidance counselor at Seton Keough, may have known more about the murder than we discovered. However, I do not believe he killed the nun, despite the former Seton Keough student’s allegations that he took her to view the corpse and warned her to remain silent—or else.

Mr. Nawrozki, however, continues to believe that Maskell either committed the murder himself or hired a hit man after learning that the student had complained to Sister Catherine about his sexual abuse.

Although Circuit Judge Joseph H.H. Caplan dismissed two “recovered memory” lawsuits against Maskell, we found several Seton Keough alumnae who did not rely on “recovered memories.” One in particular, a nurse, told a particularly striking and credible story. She remembered everything clearly about Maskell’s abuse of her and she told people, including her brother, about it at the time. She and others were precluded from filing lawsuits by the statute of limitations.

Mr. Nugent also refers to the role of the Archdiocese of Baltimore in the investigation and denials that the church interfered. We had statements from several police officers that the church pressured city police heavily when Father Gerard Koob and other Cesnik intimates were being questioned about her disappearance.

When the initial allegations arose about Father Maskell sexually abusing Seton Keough students, the Archdiocese claimed it could not find any other former students to support them. However, with the help of two Baltimore County lawyers, we easily located more than a dozen such women. Their credibility eventually forced Cardinal William H. Keeler to revoke Maskell’s “priestly faculties.”

We also looked at the murder near Fort Meade of Joyce Malecki, but like the police, we found nothing to link the two crimes. Both murders were brutal crimes that cry out for solution, but after 35 years resolution appears to remain beyond investigators’ grasp. Even if, as Tom Nugent reports, county police and the FBI have reopened the Cesnik investigation, this is truly a cold case.

As the late Maj. Louis “Bud” Roemer told Mr. Nugent, every homicide cop has one case that haunts him to the end of his career and his is the Cesnik murder. This is also true of reporters; the Cesnik case is our ghost as well.

Robert A. Erlandson


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