The Keepers: A Nun’s Murder Shrouded

Netflix True Crime Bingefest
(Sister Cathy Cesnik’s killing)

This week, I’d like to start a little sabbatical from Forensic Files and discuss the new Netflix series The Keepers, a seven-part documentary about a nun’s murder in Maryland in 1969.

The crime went unsolved for decades — and apparently not because the culprit was some kind of lone maniac who slipped in and out of the area around Baltimore.

That and many other aspects surrounding the homicide come as surprises.

Ad hoc sleuths. Usually any violent crime against a clergy member would mean harnessing maximum police manpower for as long it takes to track down the fiend — the people demand it.

But public sentiment lost out in regard to Sister Cathy Cesnik’s murder. The case went cold. A retired Baltimore police officer interviewed on camera for the series unapologetically said that there were lots of murders in the region every year and this one didn’t merit special attention.

Another unexpected element: The nun’s former students — rather than journalists or detectives — spearheaded the investigation that ultimately turned up the most relevant evidence. It was fun to meet the onetime Catholic schoolgirls taught to respect authority without question, who are now in their 60s and aggressive in their own styles.

Sister Cathy Cesnik shortly before her death

Resident evil. Finally, as we learn as the series progresses, although the crime was most likely tied to sexual abuse taking place at Archbishop Keough High, the all-girls Catholic school where Sister Cathy taught English, the collusion that hindered justice went beyond the church hierarchy.

It allegedly involved police, at least one unaffiliated low-life from the community, and even a local gynecologist.

Actually, one more surprise that I’m not sure how to phrase the right way but will try: The 26-year-old nun at the center of the tragedy was by all accounts warm, gentle, empathetic, and a bit of a rebel.

No stereotype. Not that there’s any shortage of nuns with such positive traits, to be sure: It’s just that on an anecdotal basis, one tends to hear more about sisters who hit children with wooden implements, frightened them with visions of the inferno, etc.

The Keepers has plenty of other compelling plot twists, and it portrays the richness and complexity of the lives of the survivors both within and outside of the late-1960s time capsule.

I did a two-day binge-watch of the entire series, directed by Ryan White, and intend to see it again and write a bit more about it next week. Until then, cheers. — RR


Update: Read Part 2.