Timeline: The Sister Catherine Cesnik case

With Netflix's "The Keepers" documentary series on the unsolved killing of Baltimore nun Sister Catherine Cesnik debuting Friday, we chronicle developments in the case, from her disappearance in November 1969 to the present. This timeline will be updated with more archived material in the coming days. 

1942  - Sister Cesnik was born in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pa.

Friday, Nov. 7, 1969 - Sister Cesnik, 26, left her Baltimore apartment for Edmondson Village Shopping Center in the early evening, according to her roommate, Sister Helen Russell Phillips. It was around 7:30 p.m. She lived in the Carriage House apartments in the 100 block of North Bend Road. Sister Cesnik cashed a paycheck for $255 at the First National Bank at 705 Frederick Road in Catonsville. She may have made a purchase at a bakery in Edmondson Village. She was also planning to go to Hecht’s to buy an engagement gift, according to Sister Russell.

Sister Cesnik, an 11th and 12th grade English teacher at Western High School, belonged to the School Sisters of Notre Dame, an order devoted to education. She had previously taught English and coached the drama club at Archbishop Keough High School.  

Saturday, Nov. 8, 1969  - Concerned about Sister Cesnik, early in the morning Sister Russell called two friends, Rev. Peter McKeow and Rev. Gerard J. Koob, who drove to Baltimore from Beltsville to comfort her.  After hearing Sister Russell’s story, the three called city police to report Sister Cesnik missing. At 4:40 a.m., Rev. McKeow found Sister Cesnik’s unlocked car, a green 1970 Maverick, in the 4500 block of Carriage Court. (other reports have Sister Russell and Rev. Koob also finding the car with Rev. McKeow). The vehicle was towed to the city’s Southwestern District station. Police had received several calls about the “oddly parked vehicle.”

The car was processed by the crime lab. In the vehicle, police found a box of buns purchased at Muhly’s Bakery, which was located in the Hecht company store in Edmondson Village, along with leaves and twigs. Branches had been caught in the car’s radio antenna. A twig hooked with yellow thread was found on the turn-signal lever. Police theorized that Sister Cesnik may have left the car and gone into a wooded area. The car was found a mile from sprawling, wooded Leakin Park. Police, aided by K-9 corps dogs  and civilians, searched the Leakin Park and Irvington areas of the city without a trace.

The missing nun was described as 5 feet, 5 inches tall, 115 pounds with green eyes, blonde hair and fair complexion. She was wearing an aqua coat, navy blue suit, yellow sweater and black shoes.

Sunday, Nov. 9, 1969 – Thirty-five city police officers and 5 dog teams scoured a 14-block area of southwest Baltimore from dawn until dusk. Police knocked on doors, searched alleys and deserted buildings, and sent men and dogs through rain-soaked park areas from Athol Avenue to the Baltimore County line. They were aided by many civilian searchers.

Monday, Nov. 10, 1969 - Police continued to check tips and leads but don’t resume large-scale searches.  Captain John C. Barnhold Jr., head of the city’s homicide squad, said there was “no evidence of foul play” in Sister Cesnik’s disappearance. “We could find no evidence of violence of any kind,” Barnhold said.

Tuesday, Nov. 11 , 1969  - City homicide detectives said they had no reason to believe that the young teaching nun -- who had disappeared four days earlier -- was kidnapped. Police said they were trying to piece together what happened during a two-hour period on Nov. 7, when Sister Cesnik went missing -- at 8:30 p.m., residents saw Sister Cesnik’s car drive into her reserved parking spot; the car was later spotted illegally parked about a block away at about 10:30 p.m.

Joyce Helen Malecki, 20, went missing the evening of Nov. 11. She had left her home in Baltimore to go shopping in Glen Burnie and for a date with a friend stationed at Fort Meade Army base. Police begin searching for Malecki.

Wednesday, Nov. 12, 1969 – Malecki’s abandoned, unlocked car was found parked in a lot of a vacant gas station in an area of Odenton called Boom Town. Her car, with the keys still in the ignition, was found by her brother. Her glasses and groceries she had purchased in Glen Burnie were found in the car.

Thursday, Nov. 13, 1969  - Malecki’s body was found floating in the Little Patuxent River by two deer hunters on the western edge of Soldiers Park, a Fort Meade training area. The FBI and military police immediately closed the site. City police continued to check leads in the disappearance of Sister Cesnik.

Friday, Nov. 14, 1969 - An autopsy of Malecki’s body revealed that the victim was stabbed and choked and her hands were bound behind her with a cord. She had a number of scratches and bruises indicating a struggle. The cause of her death was either choking or drowning -- further test were needed to determine the cause. Malecki was described as 5 feet, 7 inches tall and 112 pounds. She had brown hair and brown eyes. Baltimore homicide detectives reported that Sister Cesnik was still considered a missing person with no new leads.

Saturday, Nov. 16, 1969 - Police investigated whether a pair of black high-heeled shoes found near Malecki’s watery grave belonged to Sister Cesnik, who was said to be wearing black shoes at time of her disappearance. “We have no indication that they are Sister Cesnik’s shoes, but we will check it out,” Capt. Barnold said at the time.

Jan. 2, 1970 – Baltimore’s major newspapers, The Baltimore News American, Baltimore Sun and Evening Sun, are shut down by a strike that would last 74 days. Sister Cesnik's body would be found the next day. 

Jan. 3, 1970Sister Cesnik’s partly clad body was found by two hunters, a father and son, in a remote area in Lansdowne in Baltimore County. The body, partially hidden by an embankment and snow covered, was discovered about 100 yards from the 2100 block of Monumental Avenue. Police said it was probable that Sister Cesnik had been carried to the area or forced to walk there. (A car could not have been driven from Monumental Avenue to where the body was found.). An autopsy revealed a skull fracture caused by a blow to Sister Cesnik’s left temple by a blunt instrument. Baltimore County Police take over the homicide investigation, which remains open to this day.

1970 - 1977 - According to a timeline provided by Baltimore County Police, the Sister Cesnik case was extremely active during this period: "Detectives conduct numerous interviews and polygraphs. Physical evidence from the scene is collected and preserved; relatively little physical evidence is found at the crime scene. Because of the poor condition of the body, detectives are unable to determine if Sister Cesnik had been sexually assaulted."

After 1977 – The Sister Cesnik case becomes dormant. According to a timeline provided by Baltimore County Police: "During this period, detectives receive little new information. They receive no calls from witnesses nor from victims alleging sexual abuse from associates of Sister Cesnik’s in the Catholic Church." 

1992 - The first allegations of sexual abuse are made against Rev. A. Joseph Maskell, a Catholic priest, by two former female students of Baltimore’s Archbishop Keough High School. Maskell denies the allegations, which are investigated by city police.

Maskell grew up in northeast Baltimore and graduated from Calvert Hall College. He trained for the priesthood at St. Mary’s Seminary in Roland Park. He was ordained in 1965. He was a school chaplain and counselor at Archbishop Keough from 1967 to 1975.  He served at several local parishes: Sacred Heart of Mary from 1965 to 1966; St. Clement (Lansdowne) from 1966 to 1968 and from 1970 to 1975; Our Lady of Victory from 1968 to 1970;  Annunciation from 1980 to 1982; Holy Cross from 1982 to 1992; and St. Augustine’s (Elkridge) from 1993 to 1994. He earned a master’s degree in school psychology from Towson State in 1972. He also earned a certificate of advanced study in counseling from Johns Hopkins University. He served as a chaplain for the Maryland State Police and Baltimore County Police and Maryland National Guard and later the Air National Guard as a Lieutenant colonel.

1992  - Maskell, pastor of Holy Cross Church in South Baltimore, was removed from his position by the Archdiocese of Baltimore following accusations of sexual misconduct.

October 1992 – April 1993  Maskell stayed at the psychiatric hospital, “Institute of Living,” located in Hartford, Conn. He “returned to Baltimore after an evaluation found no psychological or sexual abnormalities,” according to a 1994 Sun article.   

August 1993 - Maskell was named pastor of St. Augustine’s in Elkridge after an investigation by the archdiocese did not corroborate sexual abuse allegations, according to the church.

Spring 1994  - A former Archbishop Keough student tells Baltimore County police that Maskell sexually abused her and took her to see Sister Cesnik’s body weeks before it was discovered on Jan. 3, 1970. The student also told police that another man she met in the priest’s office told her he had beaten Sister Cesnik to death because the nun knew of the alleged sexual molestation. Police note inconsistencies in the student’s account. 

The student said the priest and the other man – whom she did not identify – warned her that she would suffer the same fate if she told her story to anyone else. Police were unable to verify or disprove the woman’s allegations. But in interviews with police and The Sun, she provided details about the body that were known only to investigators at the time.

July 31, 1994  - Maskell left his parish at St. Augistine’s in Howard County to seek therapy in the face of mounting allegations of sexual abuse. A least a dozen women alleged that Maskell abused them while they were students and he was a counselor at Archbishop Keough during the late 1960s and 1970s.  His departure came after Archdiocese of Baltimore officials interviewed two more Keough students, who said Maskell sexually abused them.  

Aug. 10, 1994 - City investigators excavated a pit in Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn Park, seeking records buried there in 1990 on Maskell’s orders while he was pastor at Holy Cross Church.

Aug. 24, 1994 – Two former students of Archbishop Keough filed a $40 million dollar lawsuit against Maskell and a retired gynecologist, Dr. Christian Richter, 79, accusing them of sexual abuse at the school. 

In 1996, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the lawsuit could not go forward. The women had argued they should be allowed to sue even though the statute of limitations expired, because they had only recently recovered memories. The court rejected the women’s argument.

Nov. 4, 1994 - A $6,000 dollar reward is offered by the Archdiocese of Baltimore and Metro Crime stoppers for information leading to the conviction of the killer of Sister Cesnik.

December 1994 - Maskell, who left his Elkridge parish in July 1994, officially resigned from the St. Augustine's post

1994 - According to police, Maskell is not considered a prime suspect in the Cesnik case at this time, but he is interviewed "at length."

1994 – 2000s - DNA profiles of about a half-dozen suspects are developed and compared to the known crime scene sample, with negative results, according to Baltimore County Police.

February 1995  - Cardinal William H. Keeler’s permanent revocation of Maskell’s priestly duties is made public.

April 1995 - Baltimore County Police return the unsolved case of the slaying of Sister Cesnik to the “cold case” file.

May 7, 2001 – A. Joseph Maskell died at St. Joseph’s Hospital. He was 62 years old.

May 2016 – The Archdiocese of Baltimore posted a list of dozens of priests and religious brothers accused of sexual abuse. The list, posted on the archdiocese website, includes the names of 71 clergymen about whom church officials have received what they call "credible" accusations during the priest's lifetime. All of the names, including Maskell’s, had previously been disclosed by the church.

November 2016 - The Archdiocese of Baltimore acknowledges it paid a series of settlements to people who alleged they were sexually abused by Maskell. Since 2011, the archdiocese has paid a total of $472,000 in settlements to 16 people who accused Maskell of sexual abuse. But he was never criminally charged.

2016 - Baltimore County Police reassigned the Sister Cesnik case due to the retirement of detectives. According to a timeline provided by police: “Activity on the case intensifies as victims of sexual abuse discuss information about Sister Cesnik’s circle, including Maskell. Numerous interviews are conducted. One living suspect is reinterviewed.”  

Feb 28, 2017 – Baltimore County Police exhumed Maskell’s body to compare his DNA with crime scene evidence from the Sister Cesnik case.  Maskell's body was exhumed Feb. 28 at Holy Family Cemetery in Randallstown and returned to the grave the same day, county police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said.

May 2017 – Baltimore County Police received an allegation from a woman who said she was abused by a now-deceased county officer associated with Maskell and the Cesnik case, Armacost said. But the woman wanted to remain anonymous, Armacost said, and declined to be interviewed by police.

May 4, 2017 - County police said they were also exploring possible connections between Cesnik's death and those of three others whose bodies were found in other 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.

May 17, 2017 – Baltimore County Police announce that Maskell’s DNA does not match evidence from Sister Cesnik’s crime scene. Police said they received results from a forensics lab in Virginia  that excluded Maskell as a contributor to the DNA from the scene. Armacost said the results don't necessarily clear Maskell as a suspect. They mean current forensic technology doesn't provide a physical link between him and the crime scene, she said.

May 19, 2017 – Netflix is scheduled to release “The Keepers,” a documentary series on the unsolved killing of Sister Cesnik. (Trailer video

Compiled by Sun researcher Paul McCardell

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