'The Keepers' recap, Episode 6: Revisiting a cold case

For The Baltimore Sun

The Keepers” director Ryan White knows how to parcel out the information in a way that keeps you leaning forward in your seat, doesn’t he?

In the recap of the last episode, I said the “nun in the attic” dethroned the Holy Cross Cemetery document dig as the most bizarre incident in this story. And in Episode 6, a stunning upset unseats Billy Schmidt’s habit-clad mannequin, courtesy of the former Rev. Gerry Koob and an unidentified detective.

But first, let’s meet Edgar!

It seems that among the reasons why Ed’s ex-wife “Margaret” suspects he was involved in Sister Cathy’s case is a recording of a call-in show with Baltimore broadcaster Jerry Turner. In an excerpt we get to hear, the caller claims he knows the man who has possession of Sister Cathy’s personalized rosary case.

Margaret identified the caller as Edgar. And in his interview for “The Keepers,” he admits it! He was the caller in question.

Case closed? Not so fast. Ed now claims, sitting in his apartment with his somewhat extensive collection of stuffed animals, that he was just trying to make people think he knew more than he did. He didn’t really have anything to do with Cathy’s disappearance or murder. He just wanted his ex-wife to think he did.

Why, exactly, would he do that? The interviewer says that doesn’t make much sense to him. Ed agrees — it doesn’t make much sense to him either!

But note the way he identifies the nun in the picture he’s handed.

“Cathy.”

Not “Sister Cathy.” Not “the nun who was murdered.”

Just “Cathy.” He recognizes Maskell, too, though he claims he never met him.

Next, we meet Marilyn Cesnik Radakovic, Cathy’s sister and the bride-to-be for whom she was purportedly shopping the night she disappeared.

Intriguingly, Marilyn tells us that her mother’s recent death marked a pretty big sea change for her with respect to her sister’s case. When she cleaned out her mother’s apartment after the funeral, she said she discovered all the many newspaper clippings she’d saved over the years.

That’s how she learned that the notion of her sister’s murder she’d had for almost 50 years was (probably) completely wrong. This whole time, Marilyn thought her sister was killed by some stranger because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that the police had found absolutely zero evidence.

She’d never even heard Maskell’s name.

So that’s why she’s in Baltimore, meeting Gemma and making contact with the cold case investigators on her sister’s case.

One of those investigators is Gary Childs of Baltimore County Police. He’s only been looking into this case for a few weeks at the time of his interview, but sometimes an outsider’s perspective is the most valuable thing you can bring to a cold case.

Childs is adamant that there would have been no cover-up of Maskell or anyone else, had any evidence of his involvement been developed. He asserts that Maskell was investigated and questioned as a suspect, but that Maskell denied all the allegations.

A former police officer also says he personally witnessed Maskell being led out of Holy Cross Church in handcuffs in the mid-’90s. He stresses that this would only happen if Maskell had been arrested, or if he’d been the focus on a high-profile serious investigation — like, oh, say, for murder. (For what it’s worth, Baltimore County police spokeswoman Elise Armacost told The Baltimore Sun that detectives interviewed Maskell in the ‘90s, but did not consider him a prime suspect at the time.)

But we’re left with questions: Why do Abbie’s multiple Freedom of Information Act requests to law enforcement agencies at all levels get met with denials that any documents about an investigation into Maskell even exist?

Where are all these documents and boxes of evidence — for example, the boxes dug up from the cemetery?

Destroyed in a basement flood, according to one response detailed in the show.

Just not there, according to others.

Here, I confess: I’m like Abbie — I need proof. I need data. I don’t buy conspiracy theories.

But at this point, “The Keepers” is definitely laying out a theory that there’s something else beyond bad weather and bureaucracy going on here.

This was and is a huge case, after all. As Abbie points out, wouldn’t officials be more inclined to preserve all this documentation that’s being generated and collected? Yet now there’s nothing?

Case in point: Marilyn tells us about a tantalizing clue literally dropped into her inbox the week after her sister disappeared — she received a letter, she said, addressed to her in Cathy’s distinctive penmanship, postmarked after the date of her disappearance.

At her dad’s urging, she said she turned the unopened letter over to a man she believed was a plainclothes detective as potential evidence.

Now, over 45 years later, Marilyn talks to the Baltimore County Police Department and asks if she can just look at that letter. She understands, she says, that she can’t have it if it’s evidence, but all this time, she’s wondered what Cathy wrote in the letter. Can she just see it?

No. Because it’s apparently gone, too.

And it’s here we get one of the most simultaneously frustrating and satisfying moments of the entire series: Childs finds out, he says, that the city never turned over the letter, or any of the other evidence on the list, apparently.

It’s then that things take a weird turn. Up until now, I’ve pretty much taken Gerry Koob, the former priest who had a close personal relationship with Sister Cathy, at face value. He seemed genuine, and sincerely affectionate toward Cathy. And he had an alibi witness, right? Rev. Pete McKeon went with Koob to have dinner and see “Easy Rider,” then raced over to the apartment with him when Sister Russell called that night.

Tom Nugent, however, tells viewers he thinks Koob hasn’t told the truth about that night — that there are “holes” in his story about his movements. Those holes seem to be based on an article published the day after Cathy’s disappearance, in which McKeon told the reporter he’d left his home at the monastery in Beltsville to travel to the nuns’ apartment.

But according to Gerry, they were together at the Manresa Retreat Center in Annapolis when Sister Russell called, and they left Annapolis together.

This could be a reporter’s mistake, McKeon’s misunderstanding of a reporter’s question, or something else entirely.

But when Marilyn hears of this conflict, and finds out that McKeon either got disconnected from or hung up on the documentary makers who tracked him down, she insists on calling McKeon herself. She identifies herself, and apparently she doesn’t get very far before McKeon launches into the “dinner and a movie” alibi that Gerry has consistently offered.

This is where director Ryan White blows the lid off our previous creep factor for this show with this charming revelation: According to Gerry Koob, in the days following Cathy’s disappearance, he was being interrogated by a detective who suddenly left the room, came back in a moment later, and tossed on the table — forgive me — Cathy’s vagina, wrapped in newspaper.

OK.

Putting aside Mr. Koob’s apparent anatomical confusion, we’ve got a much bigger issue with this story. It seems like there’d be no reason for body parts to be removed like this and moved out of the medical examiner’s office, for one thing.

Here’s another thing. Koob says he hates this guy and will never forgive him. OK, fair enough. Even if it’s fake, it’s a harsh tactic. I can understand anger here.

But elsewhere, Koob professes that he has already forgiven Cathy’s killer, because Cathy would have been the first to do so.

So he can forgive the person who took her life, but not the guy who was trying to catch said killer?

This bothered me, and now I don’t know what to think.

We end the hour by returning to Gemma, who is researching maggots. You’ll recall that Jean said when Maskell took her to Cathy’s body, she wiped maggots off her face. Well, that detail has troubled investigators, who have believed that there’s no way this happened because it was winter and maggots don’t thrive in winter.

And remember from Episode 1, retired Capt. James Scannell affirmed that there were no maggots.

I thought at the time that emphasis was odd, and I was right, because it comes back with a flourish now: Gemma says she’s discovered that the temperatures when Jean would have been taken to the body were in the upper 50s and lower 60s — more than sufficient for maggots.

Confirming this in the documentary: the famous Dr. Werner Spitz who worked this case when he was employed at the state medical examiner’s office in 1970 (side note: I loved the moment when he asked his assistant to recite his famous cases to the documentary crew, and she rattles off “JFK — that’s President Kennedy” plus a handful of other huge cases we’re all familiar with). Spitz says that the autopsy report does, in fact, reference maggots in Cathy’s trachea and mouth.

Gemma thinks this proves Jean was telling the truth.

To be logically rigorous here, though, this revelation simply means that the reason for not believing Jean has been eliminated.

White has one more episode to wrap this up and convince us all, one way or the other. How will this shake out? I’m not expecting any secret bathroom recorded confession a la “The Jinx,” but that doesn’t mean we won’t get some more stunning revelations. White’s been pretty skilled at parceling those out over the hours so far.

ALSO

Read The Sun’s archived coverage of the Sister Catherine Cesnik case

Baltimore braces for documentary on nun’s death, sex abuse at Catholic school

What critics are saying about “The Keepers”

Newspaper strike silenced coverage of murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik

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