Priest's Body Exhumed from Randallstown Cemetery in Investigation of Baltimore Nun's Decades-old Killing
By Alison Knezevich
May 4, 2017
The grave of a priest who died in 2001 was dug up this year as part of the investigation into the slaying of a Baltimore nun more than 40 years ago, Baltimore County police said Thursday.
A. Joseph Maskell's body was exhumed Feb. 28 at Holy Family Cemetery in Randallstown to extract material for a DNA profile, county police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said.
The body was returned to the grave the same day, she said.
County police are handling the cold case of Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik, whose body was found in Lansdowne in 1970. Investigators want to compare Maskell's DNA to the physical evidence from that crime scene.
The case is the subject of the upcoming Netflix documentary "The Keepers," a seven-part series that premieres May 19. The documentary explores the theory that 26-year-old Cesnik was killed because she knew of sexual abuse committed by Maskell.
Prior to his death the priest, who was removed from the ministry in 1994, had denied allegations of abuse and also denied knowledge of Cesnik's death. But the Archdiocese of Baltimore has since reached settlements with at least a dozen people who said he abused them.
Police have previously tested the DNA of about about six other people as part of the investigation, Armacost said. They have also identified a suspect who is still living.
Armacost said there is very little physical evidence remaining in the decades-old case.
"But the detectives who are assigned to this case felt very strongly that in the interest of leaving no stone unturned, it was necessary to exhume Maskell's body and compare his DNA to the evidence that is remaining," she said.
It will take up to six more weeks from now to get results from the DNA testing, Armacost said. She declined to specify what evidence remains from the crime scene.
In the 1990s, a woman who came forward with allegations of abuse by the priest — who worked at Archbishop Keough High School — implicated him in the nun's death.
Cesnik, who taught at Archbishop Keough High School and then Western High School, lived with another nun in southwest Baltimore. She went missing in November 1969 after going to a bank to cash a $255 paycheck and then to the Edmondson Village Shopping Center, where she bought buns at a bakery. Her body was found in January 1970 in a field off Monumental Avenue.
She had suffered blunt force trauma to her head.
County police also said Thursday that they are exploring connections between Cesnik's death and those of three others whose bodies were found in different jurisdictions: 20-year-old Joyce Helen Malecki, who disappeared days after the nun did and whose body was found at Fort Meade; 16-year-old Pamela Lynn Conyers, whose body was found in Anne Arundel County in 1970; and 16-year-old Grace Elizabeth "Gay" Montanye, whose body was found in 1971 in South Baltimore.
"They all went missing from shopping areas in roughly the same time period," Armacost said.
Archdiocese of Baltimore spokesman Sean Caine said Thursday the exhumation "was total news to us."
"We support it, especially if it helps lead them to a definitive conclusion about what happened," Caine said.
There has long been speculation locally about Maskell's possible connections to Cesnik's death.
Caine said church authorities did not know of abuse by Maskell until the 1990s.
"The archdiocese has been completely open and transparent with everything that we know," he said.
Under Maryland law, a body can only be exhumed if permission is granted by a state's attorney, Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger said. He said he signed a letter earlier this year authorizing the exhumation.
"At this moment, that's the extent of our office's role," he said.
This story will be updated.