The FBI will exhume the body of a woman whose mysterious death was detailed in Netflix’s true-crime series “The Keepers,” as law enforcement officials explore a potential link with the cold case murder of a Baltimore nun.
“The Keepers” investigated the unsolved murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik, a nun and Baltimore high school teacher, and allegations of sexual abuse by an influential Baltimore priest named Father Joseph Maskell in the 1960s.
In November 1969, before Cesnik seemingly vanished, Joyce Malecki was strangled, stabbed and found submerged in a body of water at Fort Meade.
Malecki’s body will be exhumed from Loudon Park Cemetery in Baltimore with her family’s permission as the FBI explores an unspecified lead possibly connecting the two cases, Kurt Wolfgang, executive director of Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center, confirmed to news outlets.
“The FBI gave us no indication other than to say the purpose of the exhumation is to collect evidence,” Wolfgang told WBAL-TV. “Our best speculation is that they may be looking for DNA evidence to match it up with a potential suspect they may already have.”
Gemma Hoskins, who has dedicated her life to investigating the murder of Sister Cesnik, told WBAL she always felt the two cold cases were connected and believes they’ll lead back to Father Maskell in some way.
“The family has been through an awful lot. This is not a pleasant experience for anybody, but they are looking forward to what the FBI finds and hopefully shares with them,” Hoskins told the local news outlet.
There’s no specific date set for the exhumation.
WHO WERE JOYCE MALECKI AND SISTER CATHERINE CESNIK?
Malecki was on a Christmas shopping trip before she disappeared. She had plans to meet her boyfriend at Fort Meade the day she went missing, but she never showed up.
Her body was found in a body of water on the military training base with obvious signs of trauma and a struggle.
Cesnik, 26, taught at Baltimore’s Archbishop Keough High School when she was killed, and many believe the two cases lead back to Father Maskell, who was the high school’s chaplain.
During the Netflix series, survivors detailed sexual abuse allegations against Father Maskell and accusations of an institutional cover-up.
Maskell, who died in 2001, was never criminally charged and denied all the allegations, although he was removed from priestly ministry in Baltimore in 1994.
Before that, the archdiocese moved him from two parishes in the 1960s because of “troubling behavior with children,” according to a 2023 report by the Maryland Attorney General’s Office.
Maskell allegedly had “a fascination with the sexual fantasies and behavior of Boy Scouts and having young girls in the rectory under suspicious circumstances,” the report says.
MARYLAND ATTORNEY GENERAL’S EXPLOSIVE 2023 REPORT
More than 50 years later, the troubling case is an interwoven web that’s still being investigated and pulled apart.
“The incontrovertible history uncovered by this investigation is one of pervasive and persistent abuse by priests and other Archdiocese personnel,” the report says. “It is also a history of repeated dismissal or cover-up of that abuse by the Catholic Church hierarchy.”
In April, the Maryland Attorney General’s Office released an investigative report “on child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore” that began in 2018, which specifically detailed accusations against Maskell and 155 other abusers.
Maskell was described as “intimidating,” had a “fondness for firearms” and had a “severe dislike” for archdiocesan authority, the report says.
In total, 146 clergy members were named, plus 10 more alleged abusers whose names were redacted “because they were not known to be deceased at the time of the report and had not previously been listed as credibly accused by the Archdiocese of Baltimore.”
The alleged abusers targeted “vulnerable” or “isolated” children who were shy, had low self-esteem or struggled with issues at home, according to the AG’s report, and the abusers portrayed themselves as their “protectors.”
“They told their victims the abuse was ‘God’s will’ and that no one would doubt the word of a priest,” the report says. “Some threatened that the victim or victim’s family would go to hell if they told anyone.”
Maskell sexually abused at least 39 victims and allegedly confided in a friend at some point between 1992 and 1994 that the allegations against him were true, according to the attorney general’s report.
The archdiocese listed Maskell as “credibly accused” in 2002, a year after his death, and settled a class-action lawsuit with 15 of his victims.
The archdiocese was aware of allegations against Maskell as early as 1966, but its leaders swept the concerns under the rug and avoided the issue by moving the priest from parish to parish, the report concluded.
It was common practice of the Catholic Church for decades, advocates for clerical sex abuse victims say.
The report detailed the graphic allegations against Maskell from pages 257 to 267.
WHEN DID MASKELL AND CESNIK CROSS PATHS?
One of Maskell’s victims, who was a teenager when she was raped in 1992, said Maskell allegedly showed her Sister Cesnik’s body in “a remote area” after she went missing, according to the AG report.
The victim also said that before Sister Cesnik went missing, she had asked the victim if anybody was hurting her or making her do something she did not want to do
Most of the detailed accusations of sexual abuse against Maskell took place at Baltimore’s Archbishop Keough High School. Many of the victims said he threatened them with a gun, the report says.
“Some of the accounts of abuse are intertwined with the murder of Cathy Cesnik,” according to the report, which suggested she may have been killed because his victims confided in her about the abuse.
Many victims reported Maskell took them to see Cesnick’s body, according to the report.
ARE CESNIK’S AND MALECKI’S DEATHS CONNECTED?
Malecki and Cesnick disappeared four days apart in the same area, but there’s nothing definitive connecting the two cold cases except speculation.
Law enforcement hit a dead end in Cesnik’s murder case in 2017 after Maskell’s body was exhumed by Baltimore County Police, who didn’t find any evidence tying him to her crime scene.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore bragged about the finding in a 2017 tweet that said, “SPOILER ALERT. Exhumed priest’s DNA doesn’t match evidence found at crimes scene of Sister Cathy’s Death #TheKeepersTruth @the_keepers.”
The social media post was greeted rudely by Twitter users following the case.
Malecki attended Mass with Maskell and lived close to the church’s rectory at the time of her death.
“It doesn’t matter that it was 50-some years ago. Justice is justice. And I know the Malecki family still yearns for it,” Wolfgang told WBAL.
ARCHDIOCESE RESPONDS TO THE AG REPORT
“The Archdiocese profoundly apologizes for the suffering of victims of child sexual abuse at the hands of any and all church personnel,” the archdiocese said in response ot the AG’s report.
The archdiocese devoted an entire website addressing the report.
“We appreciate the Attorney General’s recognition of some efforts made by the Church, but the Report does not acknowledge the full scope of the Archdiocese’s efforts to protect children in recent decades,” the archdiocese said on the website.
“The Attorney General’s Report also includes certain inaccuracies and does not give a clear impression that the number of incidents of child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese has fallen dramatically since its peak in the late 1970s.”
The response includes an empathic “No,” under the segment, “Is the Church still covering up abuse?”
“For decades, the Archdiocese has been firmly committed to holding suspected abusers accountable,” the statement says. “Then-Attorney General Brian Frosh confirmed in a November 2022 interview with WYPR that since at least 2002, the Archdiocese reports child abuse when it is reported to them and there is no evidence on any ongoing cover-up”
The archdiocese said it cooperated during the AG’s four-year investigation by providing “hundreds of thousands of pages” of requested documents.
“We know now that some of our early efforts were insufficient, but they were important starting points. We believe that leaders of the Archdiocese of Baltimore have, for more than three decades, worked consistently and in good faith to address the problem of child sexual abuse and respond appropriately to victim-survivors and put into place a culture that protects the most vulnerable.”
The statement doesn’t specifically mention Maskell or the speculation that he may be tied to the unsolved murders oc Cesnik and/or Malecki.