It’s no secret that true crime is having a moment — and Maryland has no shortage of real stories that are being used in documentaries, TV series and podcasts. Here are some of the top jaw-dropping stories that have been retold for your viewing (or listening) pleasure:
Unsolved nun’s murder and sex abuse in local Catholic schools
Netflix’s seven-part documentary “The Keepers,” released last year, was a disturbing look at the unsolved murder of 26-year-old Baltimore nun Sister Catherine Cesnik, who disappeared after a shopping outing at a local mall in 1969. The documentary also explores allegations of a sexual abuse ring where Cesnik taught.
Sexual abuse survivors identified Rev. A. Joseph Maskell, a priest and clergyman who served as a guidance counselor for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, as the center of the ring. They alleged that he abused them at Archbishop Keough High School in the 1960s and ’70s. In February 2017, Baltimore County police exhumed the remains of the priest, who died in 2001, to take DNA samples for comparison with evidence from the garbage dump where Cesnik's body was found in 1970.
The case of Adnan Syed
The “Serial” podcast by former Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Koenig is likely one of the most popular true-crime series set in the Baltimore area. The 12-episode series, launched in 2014, follows the case of Adnan Syed who was charged with the murder of his high school girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999 — a crime he might not have committed. The story, which includes interviews with Syed, acquaintances and people involved in the case, takes some twists and turns, and features some compelling evidence (or lack thereof), which eventually led to a judge granting a hearing for Syed (Koenig documented the hearings in three bonus episodes).
The Investigation Discovery network, too, hopped on the bandwagon, hosting a special titled “Adnan Syed: Innocent or Guilty?” in 2016 to analyze the latest developments of the case and take a closer look at evidence.
The Fallston murder of Lara Crockett
Investigation Discovery’s “Fatal Vows” released an episode on the Fallston murder of Lara Crocket Muscolino, who was shot nearly two years ago by her husband Ricardo Muscolino. Ricardo Muscolino was sentenced to 50 years in jail for her murder earlier this year.
The episode, which aired Saturday, focuses on how the couple, both nurses, met on a night shift and fell in love, but later had financial troubles. Lara Crocket Muscolino also had an extramarital affair.
The episode also includes video surveillance — from a system Lara Muscolino had installed in her house to detect paranormal activity — of the night she was killed. The video, which was played for the jury that convicted Ricardo Muscolino, shows Muscolino coming into the couple’s home, going upstairs and later coming back down.
What it didn’t include was the portion of the video between Muscolino going up and coming down, when there was no visible action, only the sound of five gunshots. That part was played for the jury during the trial. The shooting itself was re-enacted for the show.
A Dundalk standoff
Investigation Discovery’s “Your Worst Nightmare” recounted the case of serial womanizer named Joseph “Joby” Palczynski, who killed multiple people and held his ex-girlfriend’s family hostage during a four-day standoff with police in Dundalk in March 2000.
The episode, entitled “The One That Got Away,” depicted the 31-year-old unemployed electrician’s troublesome past and pattern of seducing young women, typically minors, and then threatening them and their families when they attempted to leave him. Palczynski’s relationship with 20-year-old single mother Tracy Whitehead, his oldest girlfriend, would be his last.
After Whitehead left him, Palczynski kidnapped and raped her at gunpoint and killed three people who tried to help her. He also shot and killed a fourth victim the next day. After Whitehead escaped him, Palczynski went after her family. He broke into an apartment where Whitehead's mother lived with her boyfriend and his son, holding them hostage.
Palczynski was killed during the standoff after police shot him 27 times after storming the apartment four days later. Whitehead's family was unharmed.
The befuddling murder of Stefanie Watson
Investigation Discovery’s show “On the Case With Paula Zahn,” hosted by Paula Zahn, dedicated roughly 40 minutes to the murder of Stefanie Watson, which had stumped police investigators for more than 30 years. The 27-year-old Laurel resident disappeared on July 22, 1982, while on the way to work for her final night shift as an admitting clerk at a local hospital.
Days later, police discovered Watson's parked 1981 Chevrolet Chevette covered in blood, according to news reports. Police determined "a violent struggle" had occurred inside the vehicle, according to charging documents.
Six weeks later, Laurel Police reported Watson's skull had been found in a wooded area in Laurel after a witness reported seeing a man wearing yellow gloves throw something into the woods. Watson's body was never found.
Thirty-one years after Watson's death, police revisited the case and tested blood stains from a seat of her car for DNA, which led them to John Ernest Walsh, a man in his 70s who was incarcerated at Eastern Correctional Institute in Westover, serving a 72-year prison term for rape and kidnapping stemming from two crimes in 1969.
A Baltimore County murder-for-hire
In December 2014, Investigation Discovery’s “Fatal Vows” series featured a look at the murder of William “Ray” Porter, who was fatally shot at a Towson gas station he owned in 2010.
The White Marsh woman paid a hit man $400 to kill her husband. The twist?: Her attorney’s argued at trial that she suffered more than two decades of physical and emotional abuse from her husband, which led to her to believe he would kill her if she did not kill him first.
A hunt for a serial rapist
Investigation Discovery featured Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater in an episode of “Dead of Night,” in which they recount the case of a years-long search for a serial rapist that started in 2003 in Baltimore. William Vincent Brown, of Gwynn Oak, was eventually convicted of raping and killing two women in 2011. Brown dumped the bodies, and a third victim he tried to kill, in Leakin Park.
The Sun reports state that in June 2003, a 25-year-old homeless woman named Emma O'Hearn was found comatose outside Calverton Middle School; she died six months later. And in March 2004, the strangled body of 15-year-old Antania Mills was found wrapped in bed linens along the 2500 block of Talbot Road. The third victim, a former sex worker, identified Brown as the "hack" cabdriver who picked her up in his burgundy Nissan 300ZX along Edmondson Avenue that spring evening in 2003. He drove her to Leakin Park, she said, choked her, raped her and nearly severed her ears from her head.
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters David Zurawik, Christina Tkacik, Tricia Bishop, Jessica Anderson and Erica Butler contributed to this article.
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