On a frigid day in November 1969, Father Joseph Maskell, the chaplain of Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore, called a student into his office and suggested they go for a drive. When the final bell rang at 2:40 p.m., Jean Hargadon Wehner, a 16-year-old junior at the all-girls Catholic school, followed the priest to the parking lot and climbed into the passenger seat of his light blue Buick Roadmaster.It was not unusual for Maskell to give students rides home or take them to doctor's appointments during the school day. The burly, charismatic priest, then 30 years old, had been the chief spiritual and psychological counselor at Keough for two years and was well-known in the community. Annual tuition at Keough was just $200, which attracted working-class families in deeply Catholic southwest Baltimore who couldn't afford to send their daughters to fancier private schools. Many Keough parents had attended Maskell’s Sunday masses. He'd baptized their babies, and they trusted him implicitly. This time, though, Maskell didn't bring Wehner home. He navigated his car past the Catholic hospital and industrial buildings that surrounded Keough’s campus and drove toward the outskirts of the city. Eventually, he stopped at a garbage dump, far from any homes or businesses. Maskell stepped out of the car, and the blonde, freckled teenager followed him across a vast expanse of dirt toward a dark green dumpster. It was then that she saw the body crumpled on the ground. The week prior, Sister Cathy Cesnik, a popular young nun who taught English and drama at Keough, had vanished while on a Friday-night shopping trip. Students, parents and the local media buzzed about the 26-year-old’s disappearance. People from all over Baltimore County helped the police comb local parks and wooded areas for any sign of her. Wehner immediately recognized the lifeless body as her teacher. "I knew it was her," she recalled recently. "She wasn’t that far gone that you couldn’t tell it was her.”
Cesnik was still clad in her aqua-colored coat, and maggots were crawling on her face. Wehner tried to brush them off with her bare hands. "Help me get these off of her!" she cried, turning to Maskell in a panic. Instead, she says, the priest leaned down behind her and whispered in her ear: “You see what happens when you say bad things about people?”
Maskell, Wehner understood, was threatening her. She decided not to tell anyone. “He terrified me to the point that I would never open my mouth,” she recalled. “You see what happens when you say bad things about people?”
“You see what happens when you say bad things about people?”
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Giangrasso has a deep voice and a Baltimore accent, and speaks about the Cesnik case as if it happened yesterday. He said it was clear to him from the fact that her car had been deposited back at her apartment complex without any signs of struggle that she had not been the victim of a random robbery or assault. “It looked too clean,” he said. “It had to be somebody who knew her.”
The first person of interest in Giangrasso's investigation was Gerard Koob, a Jesuit priest. Koob was one of the priests Cesnik’s roommate had called when she realized the nun had not returned from her shopping trip, and he had been the one to call police to report Cesnik missing.
Koob, now a 77-year-old Methodist minister living in New Jersey with his wife, was in a romantic relationship with Cesnik at the time. Two years earlier, before he was ordained and before she had taken her final vows, he had asked her to marry him. She turned him down, but they continued to spend time together and write each other love letters. And three days before Cesnik disappeared, Koob called her from a Catholic retreat to tell her he still loved her. He was prepared to leave the priesthood for her and hoped she'd leave the nunhood for him. "I said, 'If you decide to leave, we'll leave and get married," Koob told The Huffington Post in an interview.
The police brought Koob in for questioning, but he had an alibi for the night that Cesnik disappeared. He and a fellow priest had gone to dinner in downtown Baltimore and watched "Easy Rider" at a movie theater afterward. He produced receipts and ticket stubs and passed two lie detector tests.
Harry Bannon, another retired Baltimore City homicide investigator, told the Baltimore City Paper in 2004 that he thought Koob knew more about the murder than he was admitting, but that the church forced him to back off the priest. “The church lawyers stepped in and they talked to the higher-ups at the police department. And we were told, 'Either charge Koob with a crime or let him go. Stop harassing him,'” said Bannon, who died in 2009. “After that, we had to break away from him. And that was a shame, because I’m sure Koob knew more than he was telling.”
Koob says he had no information that could have been helpful to police. “When the police were asking me, 'Who do you think did this to Cathy?' I had no clue,” he said.
Still, Giangrasso, who retired from the police force in 1980, had a gut feeling that Cesnik had been murdered by someone with ties to the church. “I personally thought it was in-house, within her social network -- the priests and the religious order,” he said.
Giangrasso interviewed half a dozen priests who knew Cesnik as his investigation continued, and there was one in particular whose name kept coming up: Father Maskell, who worked with Cesnik at Keough. Giangrasso said he tried to interview Maskell a number of times about Cesnik’s disappearance, but the priest always managed to elude him. “He was always busy and never available,” Giangrasso said. “It got to the point that Maskell was the number one guy we wanted to talk to, but we never got a chance.”
In Baltimore in 1969, Giangrasso said, it was very difficult, if not impossible, to investigate a Catholic priest for any crime. The Archdiocese of Baltimore is the oldest in the United States, and the church considers it to be the premier Catholic jurisdiction in the country. More than half the city’s residents identify as Catholic. According to the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, Baltimore City prosecutors have charged only three of the 37 Baltimore priests who have been accused of sexual abuse since 1980. Just two of those priests were convicted, and one of those convictions was overturned in 2005.
Maskell in particular was a difficult target. At the time, he served as the chaplain for the Baltimore County police, the Maryland State Police and the Maryland National Guard. Maskell kept a police scanner and loaded handgun in his car, drank beer with the officers at a local dive bar, and often went on “ride-alongs” with his police friends at night to respond to petty crimes or catch teenagers making out in their cars.
Bob Fisher, the owner of an automotive repair shop in southwest Baltimore where Maskell took his car on his days off, remembers the priest boasting about his police privileges to anyone who would listen. “He'd say, ‘I'd hear something on the scanner, and we'd jump in the car and take off, and we'd catch these people!'” said Fisher, 74. “Really wild stories.”
Maskell’s older brother, Tommy, was a hero cop who had been shot and injured while trying to stop a robbery. Going after Maskell would mean violating the unwritten rules by which the police operated. “We’re a police family,” Giangrasso said. “The policeman’s involved, his family’s involved, we try to help the guy out. When we found out Maskell’s brother was a lieutenant, we knew we had a problem.”
Giangrasso remembers feeling pressure from his superiors to leave the priest and other members of the clergy alone. “I felt like the church was coming in and interfering, and the chain of command was coming down and checking on us -- ‘How much longer are you gonna be playing with this case?’-- as if to say, you gotta back off and move on,” he said. The Baltimore City police did not respond to a request for comment.
That Cesnik’s body was found outside of his jurisdiction, in Baltimore County, where Maskell was chaplain, was no coincidence, Giangrasso thought. Nevertheless, he had to turn the case over to Baltimore County police. The county police never charged anyone. “It looked too clean. It had to be somebody who knew her.”
“It looked too clean. It had to be somebody who knew her.”
Lancaster, a soft-spoken mother of four with wispy blonde hair, said that when she was a junior in 1970, she went to Maskell's office to talk to him about some problems at home. Her parents had found a marijuana joint in her bag, she said, and they didn't approve of the long-haired boy she was dating. It was the middle of the school day, and Maskell invited her into his office and shut the door behind her. He then proceeded to strip her clothes off and forced her to sit on his lap, naked. He told her he was touching her in a “godly manner.”
"He said, 'I'm not supposed to do this, but I find that I can really help people when I have physical contact,'" Lancaster recalled. “I was in total shock.”
Often, the girls didn't realize they were being raped and assaulted until months or years later. Indeed, Lancaster believed for a short time that she was in a romantic relationship with the priest. Sometimes he would play Irish music while he was with her, “almost like it was a sick date,” Lancaster said. “There was about a month or so when I actually thought he loved me. ... If there’s some kind of love there, then there's sense to all this. When I found out other people were going in there, I wondered if he loved all of them, too.”
When she started to realize the true nature of the relationship, Lancaster never fought back or told anyone, she said, because Maskell threatened to have her expelled for drugs and sent to the Montrose School for Girls, a dreaded juvenile facility in Reisterstown, Maryland. Once or twice, she said, he smacked her around and showed her the loaded handgun he kept in his desk at school. “He let me know that I either went along with whatever he wanted to do, or it was gonna be worse than I could ever imagine,” Lancaster said.
When Maskell spotted a girl who seemed troubled or was engaged in bad behavior, he would start calling her out of class over the loudspeaker for “therapy” in his office.
"I would be in class, and it could be any time. I'd hear my name over the loudspeaker, 'Report to my office now,' and I would have to report to Maskell," said Donna VonDenBosch, 58. "I remember being in class, just crying, 'Don't make me go, don't make me go!’ And the teacher pulled me out in the hall and said, 'We all know he's a weirdo, but you have to go.'"
Wehner said she went to see Magnus, the school's religious services director, for confession when she was 14 years old, because she had been feeling guilty about sexual abuse she experienced as a young child. The priest turned to her in the confessional, quizzed her on the details of the abuse, and began masturbating as she talked, she said.
After that, Maskell and Magnus would call her into their offices for joint counseling sessions, which they said was for the purpose of helping her find God’s forgiveness for what she did as a child. She says they would masturbate in front of her, take nude photos of her and force her to perform sex acts as part of her “spiritual healing” process. “I thought they were literally praying for me,” she said.
Soon, Maskell began calling Wehner out of class and into his office without Magnus, she said. He would show her pornography, tell her that he was trying to help God forgive her for the abuse she suffered as a child, and rape her. “He kept saying it didn’t seem like I was open to the Holy Spirit and God’s grace,” Wehner said. “I was just doing what I was being told, thinking I must be such a horrible person that God can’t forgive me.” He told her he was touching her in a “godly manner.”
He told her he was touching her in a “godly manner.”
She also said Maskell once handed her what she assumes was a spiked drink at an outdoor Catholic Youth Organization picnic when she was 14, led her away from the other freshmen students at dusk and stood by as a black-haired, uniformed policeman raped her in a remote area of the park. “I felt drugged,” she said.
Wehner said Maskell would stand by the door and act like he was protecting her from being caught. One time, Wehner says, he became angry at her for acting scared in front of the men; she was supposed to act like she was having consensual sex with them. “He pushed my face into a mirror and he said, ‘You look at who the whore is in the room. Don’t ever act like you’re afraid,’” she recalled.The only person who tried to help the girls was Sister Cathy Cesnik. Wehner said that in 1969, at the end of her sophomore year, Cesnik stole a moment alone with her in her classroom. “Are the priests hurting you?” the nun asked gently. Wehner nodded her head, too afraid to open her mouth. Cesnik told Wehner to go home and enjoy the summer. She said she would handle the situation.
Kathy Hobeck, 63, said she asked Cesnik to protect her from Maskell's abuse when she attended Keough in 1968. "She would make excuses for me when he would ask me to come down [to his office]," Hobeck said. "She'd say, 'She's in a study, she can't get away,' or she'd make up a story."
In the fall of 1969, Cesnik left Keough and took a new job at Western High School, a public school in Baltimore. But she still maintained close ties to her former students, who visited her apartment regularly. Maskell remained a frequent topic of conversation for some of them. Two days before Cesnik disappeared, Hobeck and a classmate visited Cesnik at home, and the nun asked whether Maskell was still bothering them. "We told her no, and that was the end of it," Hobeck said.
Not all the girls were so lucky. Wehner said that despite Cesnik's promise to intervene with Maskell on her behalf, the priest continued to abuse her after she returned from summer break, even more violently than before. And another former Keough student, who spoke to The Huffington Post on the condition of anonymity, visited Cesnik at her apartment the night before she disappeared to discuss the abuse going on at the school.
In the middle of their conversation, this woman said, Maskell and Magnus barged into Cesnik's apartment without knocking. "Maskell glared at me," she said. "He knew why I was there." The woman said she left Cesnik's apartment at that point. The following day at school, Maskell called her into his office. With a gun in his hand, he warned her that if she ever told anyone about the abuse, he would kill her, her boyfriend and her entire family. “That I remember as though it happened yesterday,” she said, “because I have been protecting my family ever since.” Cesnik vanished that night. "‘You look at who the whore is in the room. Don’t ever act like you’re afraid.’”
"‘You look at who the whore is in the room. Don’t ever act like you’re afraid.’”
As police continued the search for evidence, Maskell proved just as slippery and well-connected as he had in 1969. Deep Throat said that as soon as he started looking into the Cesnik case, he received a phone call from one of his superiors in the police department.
“He said, ‘Listen kid, this is a career buster. We knew who the hell killed her back when it happened, and you'll find out, and you're gonna find out things you shouldn't find out. Let it go,’” the detective recalled.
Before police had a chance to question Maskell in 1994, he checked himself into a residential treatment facility, claiming he needed help coping with the stress and anxiety the case had caused him. Weeks later, he quietly checked himself out and fled to Ireland, where he continued to work as a priest. "The Archdiocese did not learn that Maskell was living in Ireland until a Bishop in Ireland contacted the Archdiocese in July 1996," Caine told HuffPost. "Maskell had left the residential treatment facility two years earlier and refused to inform the Archdiocese where he was living."
Law enforcement dropped the investigation once Maskell fled the country, and he died without ever being charged with a crime. Magnus had died years earlier, in 1988. Richter died in 2006.
Wehner said she was “devastated” that her case was tossed out and that no one was ever brought to justice. She said she feels betrayed by the church, the school, the police and the justice system. “We had no chance, because of all these institutions that let us down, that were used against us instead of for us,” she said. Gemma Hoskins' hunt for answers about Cesnik’s murder began in the summer of 2013, when she re-connected with Nugent, the former Baltimore Sun reporter who had interviewed her about Cesnik years earlier. Both of them had been fascinated by the case since 1994, when Wehner and Lancaster filed their lawsuit against Maskell and the church.
Nugent, now a 71-year-old freelance writer in Hastings, Michigan, was raised Catholic in Baltimore and had covered political corruption there as a reporter, and he suspected that the Cesnik story had more tentacles than anyone realized. He interviewed a few retired detectives, including Deep Throat, who confirmed they had been pressured to back off the Catholic priests during their investigations. “It seemed apparent to me that some of this was covered up,” he said.
Nugent interviewed Hoskins in 2004 for a story about the Cesnik case, but he was never fully able to crack it. Nearly a decade later, she called him out of the blue. “Do you remember me?” Hoskins asked Nugent. “When are you coming back here to finish this?”
Hoskins wanted to see justice for Cesnik and her Keough classmates in her lifetime, and she now had time to devote to the investigation. She had recently retired from teaching, her husband had died of cancer when they were both 35, and she never had any children. She said her late husband always encouraged her to spend time helping others, even when he was on food stamps because he was too sick to work. “He always said, ‘When we get older and don’t have to worry about money, we need to take care of other people,’” Hoskins said. “It’s important to me to honor that.”
Nugent didn't need much prodding. “Gemma pricked my conscience,” he said. “I personally don’t want to live in a world where this kind of thing is swept under the rug.”
Hoskins started by seeking out more women who might have been victims of sexual abuse at Keough. In September 2013, she logged onto the official Facebook page for Keough alumnae and asked whether anyone knew of such abuse taking place at the school in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Maskell proved just as slippery and well-connected as he had in 1969.
Maskell proved just as slippery and well-connected as he had in 1969.
The page started buzzing. Women who had been silent for years came forward with stories of abuse by Maskell and others. When Hoskins mentioned Cesnik’s murder, she said “all hell broke loose.” Some Keough alums accused her of launching a “witch hunt,” and school administrators kicked her off the Facebook page for posting “inappropriate” content.
But Hoskins had attracted the attention of a few like-minded women, including Schaub, who had long suspected that the sexual abuse at Keough was somehow connected to Cesnik’s murder. The women created their own, private Facebook group where the discussion could continue, and those online conversations eventually evolved into a full-on murder investigation that hundreds of people are following. “We're not driving this,” Schaub said. “It seems to have a life of its own.”
Schaub, a retired registered nurse, is measured and articulate, and the most data-driven member of the group. Schaub was in Hoskins' class at Keough and tutored her in math, but the two weren't close as teenagers. Today, however, they make a good team. While Hoskins uses her personality and people skills to connect with survivors of Maskell's abuse, Schaub digs through decades-old newspaper articles, criminal records, marriage and death certificates and property deeds.
“Abbie and I are perfect examples of left brain and right brain,” Hoskins said. “It’s almost like two halves that fit really well together. I’m thrilled that we've reconnected.” In the two years that the Keough women have been investigating Cesnik’s murder, they have chased at least a dozen leads. They looked into possible connections between Cesnik’s murder and the murder of other young girls in the area around the same time, requesting all files from the Baltimore police and the Federal Bureau of Investigations related to those cases. They tracked down the descendants of Storey, the gravedigger, and contacted all the teachers and administrators they could find who worked at Keough in the late 1960s, hoping that someone might come forward with a smoking gun or eyewitness account. They dug up property records for the dilapidated rectory where Maskell once lived and interviewed the neighbors, hoping the house still contained some incriminating evidence.
The women have even zeroed in on a living suspect they believe -- but can’t yet prove -- participated in Cesnik’s murder. They interviewed several of the man’s family members, obtained all of his old police records, and discovered that the police considered him a person of interest in the Cesnik case in the 1990s. But they are still searching for a piece of evidence that might prove he was involved.
As the women seek justice, the police are still investigating. In September 2014, Wehner returned to Baltimore County police headquarters to tell cops her story for the first time since the 1990s. Four months later, Dave Jacoby, the detective currently assigned to the case, drove to New Jersey to question Cesnik’s Jesuit love interest, Gerard Koob, about the murder. Koob said he had no new information for the detective and was confused by the visit.
“At the end of our conversation, I said, ‘Where are you guys with this? You're going back now, we're talking, 40 years,” Koob recalled. “He said, ‘At the moment, we haven't ruled out the possibility it was some stranger that came by and picked on her.’”
Jacoby declined a request for comment from The Huffington Post, citing the “open and active” nature of the investigation.
The Keough women are skeptical that the police will be able to deliver justice for Cesnik, but they are starting to make peace with that, because their mission has evolved into something bigger. What began as a quest for justice has grown into a source of support and healing for sexual abuse survivors. Through the women's Facebook page, a growing number of Keough alums are reconnecting with each other and speaking openly for the first time in decades about the abuse they suffered in high school.
Schaub said that when the group's investigation into Cesnik's murder ends, the community they've created for survivors will remain active. “This isn’t really our story to tell,” Schaub said. “It’s bigger than we are."
Lancaster has become a child sexual abuse activist. She works directly with victims through the Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests, the national advocacy group commonly known as SNAP, and she testified before the Maryland State Legislature recently in support of a bill that would extend the statute of limitations on civil sex abuse cases.
In 2010, the church apologized and paid her $40,000 as part of a group of settlements it made with sexual abuse victims. “Please accept my apology on behalf of Archbishop [Edwin] O’Brien and the Archdiocese of Baltimore for the suffering that has resulted from your experiences,” Alison D’Alessandro, director of the church’s Office of Child and Youth Protection, wrote to Lancaster in a letter. The Archdiocese also offered her the chance to have O’Brien apologize to her in person for the abuse. She declined. “I said, 'I am so through with you people and your skirts and strange men in their outfits,’” she recalled. “‘It will be a cold day in hell when I will sit and look at that man.’”
Wehner said the other women’s support has changed her life. She said she's lived in fear since first coming forward anonymously in the 1990s, and has a hard time getting close to people. Now that the Keough alums are rallying around her, though, she is emerging from her shell. “I now have this communal sense of, ‘We believe you. We trust you,'” she said. “I didn’t have that 40 years ago or 20-something years ago. Every step of the way is a tremendous struggle, but I get healthier and healthier.”
Hoskins and her team plan to continue their search for evidence, but Wehner believes they have already honored Cesnik's wishes by bringing a group of traumatized Keough girls together to heal. “I know the agenda for them is to find out who killed Cathy Cesnik,” she said. “My objective is that the truth be told for all the innocent victims. If Cathy Cesnik were standing here, she would say that’s what she would prefer.”If you have new information about the events detailed in this story, please email LBassett@huffingtonpost.com or submit an anonymous tip to the Keough women here.Resources for rape survivors: “I personally don’t want to live in a world where this kind of thing is swept under the rug.”
“I personally don’t want to live in a world where this kind of thing is swept under the rug.”
National Sexual Assault Hotline 1.800.656.HOPE (4673)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1.800.273.8255