It’s a sad truth that despite the exhaustive efforts of law enforcement officials and crime scene investigators, some cases will never be solved. Sister Catherine Anne was a kind, beautiful, hardworking young woman. When she disappeared in 1969, her family, friends, and colleagues were beside themselves with grief.
Her body was found several months later and despite these same exhaustive efforts by Baltimore police, the case eventually went cold. Decades later, a number of witnesses came forward with information that might lead to Sister Catherine’s killer. To solve the case, the police would have to enter the murky world of conspiracy and get their hands a bit dirty…
For the Love of God
Catherine Anne was born on November 17, 1942, in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania. She and her three siblings were all raised with a healthy understanding of the Catholic Religion. From the very start, Catherine was drawn to God, so much so that she decided to join the clergy.
Top of the Class
She attended St. Augustine Catholic High School and was valedictorian of her class in 1960. On top of that, she was also crowned May Queen and served as president of the senior class and student council. When she finally graduated, she attended the seminary, eventually becoming a Catholic high school teacher herself…
Loved Her Job
For nearly a decade, Sister Catherine did God’s work. She helped to teach and counsel young women like herself and despite the challenges of dealing with the rebellious girls at the school, she loved her job. Life was good and she found the work more fulfilling than she ever could have hoped.
Sister Catherine shared an apartment at the Carriage House Apartments in West Baltimore with fellow nin, Sister Helen Russell Phillips. On November 7, 1969, she left her apartment to buy an engagement gift for her sister at the Edmondson Village Shopping Center. It was a chilly evening and though she didn’t know it, a foreboding wind was blowing…
Money and Buns
On her way, she cashed a paycheck at the Catonsville First National Bank and stopped at Muhly’s Bakery for a box of bakery buns. Sadly, Sister Catherine never made it back to her apartment after that. Though, the next day, her abandoned car was found parked across the street from her apartment complex.
At 4:40 A.M. the next morning, her muddy car sat sitting along in front of her building, the box of buns was still in her front seat, as was the gift for her sister. Her roommate’s friends Rev. Peter McKeow and Rev. Gerard J. Koob, were the last two people to have seen her alive, sitting in her car at around 8:30 P.M. the night before…
Police were immediately called in and searched the area but were unsuccessful in locating Sister Catherine. She had no history of depression and hadn’t told anybody of any plans to leave her city or her job. Then on January 3, 1970, a hunter and his son discovered the nun’s body near a landfill area in Lansdowne.
An autopsy of the body revealed that Sister Catherine had been killed due to a severe blow to her left temple by something heavy and blunt but there was no evidence of any sexual trauma. So the question remained, who could have possibly had it in for a nun? As it turned out, Sister Catherine had made indeed made an enemy during the course of her work as a teacher…
It wasn’t until the 1990s, that a number of allegations began to arise against Rev. Joseph Maskell, a chaplain and teacher at the same Catholic school where Sister Catherine worked. Two students had come forward in 1992 stating that Maskell had abused them and by 1994, both of them and more had filed a lawsuit against Maskell for physical and sexual abuse.
Apparently, several of the victims had confided in Sister Catherine at the time of the abuse and had named not only Maskell, but another priest at Archbishop Keough High School as well as the abusers. What’s worse, not only were the priests sexually molesting, abusing, and harassing the girls, they were also trafficking them to local policemen and others…
Expose the Scandal
Given this information, investigators began to reopen the case. The theory was, that Sister Catherine was murdered for what she knew and disposed of quickly so the school and the church could avoid a scandal. Yet who had done it, Maskell, the other guilty priest, or someone else?
Unfortunately, just as the police were looking into the possible murder, the lawsuit against the school was dismissed under the statute of limitations. Without any timely evidence to back up the former students’ allegations, and no witnesses to corroborate, there was little the police could do. But they could get justice for Sister Catherine…
According to the girls, Sister Catherine was their guardian angel. She once came up to them and asked, as tenderly las possible, “Are the priests hurting you?” Of all the many priests and nuns at the school, she was the only one who tried to help them.
The girls also allege that, about two months before her body was found, Rev. Maskell drove one of them out to the burial site and showed her the partially covered body of Sister Catherine. He then threatened her saying, “You see what happens when you say bad things about people?” And so the girls stayed silent for years…
Because of the mounting suspicions against him, Maskell fled to Ireland several years after the allegations began and remained there until his death in 2001. In late 2016, it was revealed that the Archdiocese of Baltimore had apparently paid off numerous settlements since 2011 to Maskell’s victims.
Hold the Key
Later that year, the police were given permission to exhume Maskell’s body from his burial site. They believed that they could find DNA evidence on him that might link him to the murder of Sister Catherine once and for all. And so, sixteen years after his death, Rev. Joseph Maskell was disinterred…
The exhumation prompted a complete reopening of every facet of the case. Police conducted new interviews and investigated further using state-of-the-art techniques. In the nearly five decades since her death, DNA testing had become a vital investigative tool.
Police took DNA samples from the reverend’s corpse and checked them against a DNA profile taken from the evidence in 1970. As expected, the 47-year-old DNA evidence was highly degraded. Still, the police were hopeful that it would tell them something about Maskell’s involvement…
Inconclusive but Clear
The exhumation proved fruitless, however, as investigators were unable to find a DNA match to evidence from the crime scene. Nevertheless, it is clear to everyone that Father Maskell was hardly an innocent man. Whatever he was fleeing from, eventually caught up to him in the end, just like it does for everyone.
Sadly, Sister Catherine’s mother, Ann Patricia Cesnik, died in November of 2015 at the age of 92 without ever learning who had killed her daughter. Though, DNA evidence or not, we know that the protective nun died trying to help the girls under her charge, and her family can take pride in that knowledge.