Do you think Jean’s family would adopt me if I asked nicely?
Seriously, if you’re ever in any kind of jam, you could do far worse than to be surrounded and supported by the extended Hargadon clan, as this episode of “The Keepers” makes clear. But we’ll get to that.
First, I want to mention the stunning title sequence for ‘The Keepers.’ This warrants some discussion, for a couple of reasons.
It’s only at this point in the series that you begin to understand how all the disparate images in the titles relate to the complex story being told. It was probably obvious to most of us who the pretty nun was in that black-and-white yearbook photo, but now we also know that the priest is Father Maskell, the car was Sister Cathy’s as it was discovered that night in 1969, and the gloomy shots of a wooded area are where her body was found.
And the beautiful young woman whose yearbook photo is shown towards the end? That’s Jean Hargadon Wehner, aka Jane Doe.
The title sequence works on two different levels. As a creative introduction to the show, it conveys the somber mood, the distance, and the simultaneous sense of foreboding you’d expect in such a tragic cold case.
But it also works on a more practical level. For a story about the power of the human mind to suppress and recall memories of long ago, it’s the memories themselves — the archival images, the yearbook photos, the monochromatic recreation footage — that are the key to the mystery, like the legend to a map. The title sequence basically tells you how to “read” this story.
By this point the framework of the two separate arcs to this story have been established — the killing of Sister Cathy and the alleged abuse at Archbishop Keough. The logical next question is one that Jean herself asks at the top of the hour: Why didn’t she say anything?
She said she’d been taken to see the dead body of Sister Cathy, the beloved teacher who’d promised to help her and stop Maskell’s abuse, as we learned in the prior episode. Why didn’t she speak up then?
Of course, the answer is as heartbreaking as it is obvious: Because that’s how ritualized long-term abuse works in children. The abuser is able to control the victim through threats and intimidation — and from what we’ve learned of Father Maskell so far, it seems clear he had no problem with either.
Jean says that to survive the horror, she in effect dissociated herself — severed herself from the experience, put the entire ordeal into a box, sealed it up, and buried it. It would stay buried for over 20 years.
Gemma and Abbie stand in for a portion of the audience here, I’m sure, when they confess they were oblivious to what was going on at Keough while they were there. Abbie even admits she didn’t believe the allegations of abuse at first.
That’s a brave admission, and I’m glad director Ryan White included it in this episode. It helps the audience grapple with their own reactions, some of which, I’m sure, mirrored Abbie’s. Doubt is understandable here. It’s not just a story of one teen being abused by one priest. This is a jaw-dropping narrative including an entire ring of abusers, who may or may not have caused the murder of a young nun to protect the criminal enterprise and who allegedly operated with impunity for years. It’s a lot to take in.
Jean’s explanation of how her memories began rising from the deep, dark hole into which she’d thrown them is delivered with her characteristic matter-of-fact manner. It began in 1992, when she and her adoring, adorable husband Mike decided to buy a house. Their agent was a former classmate, who invited Jean to an upcoming high school reunion.
Jean’s resistance to the idea struck her as odd, and as she began to explore what that was about, the memories began to resurface, she said.
By the time she began meeting with representatives of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, she’d recovered seven specific memories of incidents involving Maskell, Jean said. The church then apparently sent Maskell to a hospital for inpatient treatment after hearing Jean’s claims.
We hear from the director of psychology of that hospital, L.M. Lothstein, who describes the practice in those pre-“Spotlight” days: Priests would be sent to the clinic to be hidden from law enforcement and media. When the hospital demanded full disclosure of all relevant facts for future patients, the church abruptly stopped referring priests to the hospital, Lothstein said.
Jean says she felt pressured by church representatives to provide “corroborating evidence” — namely, the names of other victims. The pressure continued for months.
That’s when formidable Team Hardogan steps up. First, they manage to acquire a mailing list of Keough alumni. Then the large, tight-knit clan gathers together to handwrite and address over 1,000 letters to the names on that list, asking if they have any information of improprieties and, if so, to contact Jean’s attorneys.
Attorney Beverly Wallace recalls that they hoped for a few corroborating witnesses. What they got instead was “40 to 50” women responding with stories of their own.
White pairs a visual of the actual written responses with overlapping voiceovers reading key phrases from those replies. This structure crystallizes a point the attorney makes later — that these women’s stories share certain key elements: Maskell himself; Maskell’s apparent obsession with gynecological examinations and medical procedures; and the experience of lost time or partial amnesia, possibly explained by drugging or hypnosis, in addition to the psychological repression of trauma.
One of the women who responded was Teresa Lancaster, from whom we’ll be hearing more in later episodes. Here, she provides a crucial level of support for Jean’s rediscovered memories, because she said she never forgot what had happened to her — and it was every bit as horrific as Jean’s experience.
Jean asserts in the beginning of this hour, “This is not just a story. This really happened.” Watching her recount how her mind began “vomiting up” memories, as she put it, really drives home just how such systemic childhood abuse operates to erase and rewrite a child’s personality and innate self. That reprogramming can last for decades, until one day, it simply can no longer contain the weight of those secrets. The tape crackles, ruptures, and finally fails completely, and it all pours out.
We end this episode with Gemma and Abbie, our keepers, who share what must be one of the flat-out weirdest incidents in this story.
In 1990, while Maskell was serving at Holy Cross Church in Federal Hill, he ordered the cemetery’s caretaker to acquire heavy equipment, dig a huge hole, and fill it with sealed boxes wrapped in plastic, they say. Maskell then ordered the caretaker to fill in the hole and reseed the surface with grass — to erase all signs of what had happened. But before he did that, the caretaker got down in the hole and was close enough to at least get a solid look at some of the contents. A few months later, Maskell fired the caretaker, Gemma and Abbie say.
Four years later, Jean’s story hit Baltimore press with an article in The Baltimore Sun, written by Robert A. Erlandson and Joe Nawrozki. When the caretaker heard about “Jane Doe” and Maskell, he approached a local detective we’re introduced to as “Deep Throat” and told the detective all about Maskell’s bizarre actions in the cemetery.
In Episode 4, Deep Throat will tell us what he knows.