Police: Exhumed priest's DNA does not match evidence from crime scene killing of Sister Cathy

We review the case of the 1969 slaying of Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik, a popular nun who taught at Archbishop Keough and Western high schools. Her killing has gone unsolved for nearly 50 years. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)

The DNA sample taken from a Catholic priest who died in 2001 does not match evidence from the unsolved 1969 killing of Baltimore nun Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik, Baltimore County police said Wednesday.

The remains of the Rev. A. Joseph Maskell were exhumed in February so detectives could compare his DNA profile to a sample taken from the crime scene nearly 50 years ago. Police said they received results from a forensics lab in Virginia on Wednesday that excluded Maskell as a contributor to the DNA from the scene.


The announcement came days before the premiere Friday of the Netflix documentary series "The Keepers," which focuses on Cesnik's killing and sexual abuse at the Archbishop Keough High School.

Police spokeswoman Elise 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.


"For now, we've pretty well reached the end of the road when it comes to forensic evidence," she said. "Our best hope for solving this case at this point lies with the people who are still alive. And we hope that someone will be able to come forward with conclusive information about the murder."

Cesnik, who taught at Keough and Western High School, went missing in November 1969. Her car was soon discovered near her southwest Baltimore apartment, but her body was not found until January 1970 in a Lansdowne field. The 26-year-old had suffered blunt force trauma to the head.

Maskell worked at Keough between 1967 and 1975 as a counselor and chaplain. Multiple former students have accused him of sexual abuse. "The Keepers," which has seven episodes, examines the theory that Cesnik was killed because she knew about the abuse.

The police department declined to specify what physical evidence remains in the case of the nun's death. Maskell's DNA sample was sent to Bode Cellmark Forensics lab in Lorton, Va., police said.

Since the 1990s, police have tested the DNA of about six other suspects in Cesnik's death, but none matched evidence in the case.

As with Maskell, Armacost said: "The fact that the DNA profiles of the various suspects have not matched the crime scene evidence — it doesn't necessarily exonerate them."

Police say they also submitted the DNA profile from the crime scene to the FBI's national database. There have been no matches there, either.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore says it has paid a total of $472,000 in 16 settlements to people who said Maskell abused them, plus $97,000 more in counseling assistance.

Joanne Suder, an attorney who represents victims with abuse claims against Maskell, said more people are talking about the case in light of recent developments, and she believes that will turn up new information for the investigation.

"Our office has received quite a few important calls that we intend to share with the police," she said.

In the 1990s, a woman who came forward with abuse allegations told police that Maskell had taken her to see Cesnik's body before it was discovered by authorities.

In recent days, the Baltimore archdiocese posted a section of its website outlining its response to the case. The section includes a "Frequently Asked Questions" page and links to diocesan policies on reporting abuse.


Officials with the archdiocese said they first received an accusation about Maskell in 1992. The priest, who was then working at Holy Cross in Baltimore, denied the accusation. He was sent for psychological evaluation and treatment.

Church officials said they could not corroborate the allegations and he returned to work at St. Augustine in Elkridge in 1993.

Additional allegations surfaced, and Maskell was removed from the ministry in 1994, according to the archdiocese. He fled to Ireland before returning to the United States.

Irish media reported recently that he worked as a psychologist in that country.


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