'The Keepers' finale recap: An ending, of sorts

For The Baltimore Sun

Here we are, at the seventh and final episode of Ryan White’s stunning piece of true crime documentary television, “The Keepers.”

And as predicted, there’s no smoking gun presented. No secretly recorded confession. In a sense, we’re left with as many questions as we started with in the first episode.

Some of those questions are introduced along with an entirely new “character” in this seven-part tragedy. It’s a bold choice to start off the last installment with someone we’ve never even heard mentioned before, but in this context, it makes all the sense in the world.

Remember that when Jean says she first went to the Archdiocese in the 1990s with her allegations against Maskell, but before other victims made themselves known, the Archdiocese stressed to her the need for corroboration.

Charles, a former student at St. Clements, says he was abused by Maskell, too. But he told his mother what was happening, and he claims his mother went straight to the Archdiocese -- in 1967.

Their response, he says, was to transfer Maskell to Keough, where he met Sister Cathy, Jean, and all the other young women he abused.

Then, years later, he says, he was asked to meet with Monsignor Malooly and two unidentified canon lawyers where the church representatives listened to his allegations. Franz claims Malooly then asked him, “What do you want?” -- going so far as to offer him a boat. Franz says he declined the boat and asked them to “do the right thing.”

But when Jean is informed of Franz’s claims by the documentarians, she pulls out one of those letters she received demanding corroboration and the names of other victims -- and it’s signed by Malooly. Yet according to Franz, Malooly already knew about his allegations against Maskell. It’s this frustration which ultimately leads Jean to utter what seems to be a heartfelt and yet somewhat out of character exclamation: “Those f***ers!”

We also spend some more time with Marilyn, Cathy’s sister, in this episode. After meeting with Gerry Koob and his wife, and showing him the ring he gave Cathy, which Cathy was wearing at the time of her death, she recounts for the camera Cathy’s last visit home in the summer of 1969. She remembers that Cathy’s visits were usually upbeat, happy affairs, but this time was different. Cathy explained to the family that she’d asked the convent for permission to transfer to a public school and live in an apartment. Marilyn remembers her father expressing concerns -- Cathy had lived a sheltered life since she’d joined the convent and the world outside could be dangerous.

Marilyn also says she remembers Cathy’s response: “How do you know that my world isn’t dangerous, too?”

Would Cathy have told her little sister about the abuse at Keough? Marilyn says no. But she also says that Cathy would never have promised to stop it without actually doing something to follow through on that promise.

One person who could enlighten us on what Cathy did or didn’t do in an effort to stop Maskell is Sister Russell, Cathy’s roommate in that Carriage House apartment. But sadly, Sister Russell never really spoke about Cathy again. When others tried to encourage her to share what she knew, they say she would avoid the subject or say simply, “My life was different back then.” She left the convent, married and raised a family, then died of cancer two days after Maskell’s death.

Did Sister Russell know more than she ever said? Gerry Koob doesn’t know but says he’s confused why she never mentioned the anonymous student who visited the nuns the night before to talk about Maskell’s abuse. That visit was interrupted by Maskell and Magnus, the student claims, and she’s quite insistent, Gemma confirms, that Russell was there.

If that’s true, Koob asks, why didn’t she speak up the next night, or any time after Cathy seemingly vanished?

Marilyn and her now-husband -- the man she was engaged to all those years ago -- take a look at the infamous necklace. You’ll remember from the previous episode that a month after Cathy’s disappearance, but before the discovery of her body in early January 1970, Edgar Davidson gave his then-wife a silver necklace with a bell-shaped pendant and a faux peridot, the birthstone for August.

Marilyn sees the pendant as a wedding bell, and notes that her husband’s birthstone is, indeed, peridot. Could this have been Cathy’s engagement present to her? Marilyn says it seems like something Cathy would have chosen for the occasion, as nothing was ever too small not to have meaning for her.

Edgar, for his part, continues to deny involvement in Cathy’s murder, although we do learn one more tantalizing bit of information. It seems mud was found on the brake pedal of Cathy’s car, but not on the accelerator. From this, the investigators apparently concluded that whoever drove the car back to the apartment complex used both feet to drive instead of just the right foot on both pedals.

And though he no longer drives these days, Edgar admits he did use both feet back when he did.

We also learn from Detective Childs that there is one piece of evidence -- one or more cigarette butts left at the scene near Cathy’s body -- that has provided a source of DNA. Unfortunately, there’s been no match discovered yet. (We also know now that Baltimore authorities exhumed Maskell’s body last month to analyze his DNA, but found no match.)

And now, finally, we get back to Joyce Malecki. Her case was introduced in the first episode but aside from an occasional mention, we haven’t really heard any more about her since. And if I have any significant complaint about “The Keepers,” it’s this book-ending treatment. Either Joyce’s case is connected to Cathy’s or it isn’t, but given the abbreviated discussion, I still have only the vaguest sense of what the answer to that question might be.

Yes, we do find out that Joyce was a parishioner of Father Maskell’s, and that he even sent her parents a condolence card after her death. So, contrary to the apparent assertion by the FBI years ago that they could find no connection, there does seem to be at least this tenuous thread.

But the simple facts that both victims knew the same priest doesn’t mean the same priest was involved in both deaths.

Sadly, though, Joyce’s family feels forgotten. And it’s easy to see why. There seems to be a real jurisdictional confusion here, with the FBI saying they turned the case over to Anne Arundel County authorities, and the county saying, essentially, “No, they didn’t.” As Abbie wonders aloud, “Did anyone investigate this case?”

Well, the FBI did something, because it claims to have over 4,000 documents amassed in her case. Yet Abbie’s been waiting over three years to date to see any part of those documents in response to her FOIA request.

So with the wheels of the criminal justice system turning so slowly, if at all, for these women, justice in general will have to come from somewhere else -- perhaps through the efforts of Md. State Del. C.T. Wilson, whom we’re introduced to as the official who advocates for legislation to extend the statute of limitations in child abuse cases. You’ll recall that it’s that short time period in which a child victim can bring a civil suit against an abuser that got the Roe/Doe vs. Maskell lawsuit dismissed in the 1990s.

While the show stops with the bill in question dying in committee, Wilson was ultimately successful this year, and now victims have until the age of 38 to file suit. But for Jean, Teresa and the others, justice may mean something completely different. At the very least, Jean says, more and more women are speaking up and being heard. And those stories, she hopes, will one day shatter this case wide open.

As viewer KJ Jacks noted last week in “The Keepers” official Facebook group, “There was a segment on the news this morning about how the Baltimore Police are getting such a high number of new allegations that they had to set up a special online form to fill out to make an allegation. The anchor said, ‘and this is all because of a nun.’ I thought to myself, Sister Cathy told those girls she would take care of it, and now, almost 50 years later, she is.”

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