Pedophile Priest Exhumed Amid Claims he Killed Nun to Cover Mass Child Abuse
Catholic priest A. Joseph Maskell believed to have murdered Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik
The body of a Catholic priest has been exhumed after fresh evidence emerged connecting him to the death of a nun who was murdered in 1969.
Baltimore County Police dug up the grave of A. Joseph Maskell to compare his DNA to crime scene evidence after it was revealed that the priest had covered up mass pedophilia.
Former students of the school where Sister Catherine taught came forward saying Maskell had been abusing them as children, and she had found out and was about to expose him right before she was killed.
Samples of his DNA were immediately tested by Baltimore County homicide detectives against evidence found near the body of Sister Cathy Cessnik.
Sister Cathy mysteriously vanished in September 1969 and was found dead with a hole in the back of her head at a garbage dump two months later.
Her murder has haunted Baltimore for years after the gruesome discovery and is the subject a new NetFlix show called The Keepers: Who Killed Sister Cathy? which launches on the streaming site on May 19.
SCROLL DOWN FOR VIDEO
Police say it will be a "huge breakthrough" if Maskell's sample matches the evidence found at the murder scene and expect the results of the DNA test by the end of next week.
Sister Cathy taught English at Archbishop Keough High School and was a rumored confidante of girls who had been raped and abused by Maskell who died in 2001.
Close friends of the nun have always sworn she was murdered by the priest because she knew too much about the twisted web of pedophiles operating within the Catholic church.
Statements from people who knew Maskell claim he was protected by his friends in the police force and by high-ranking political figures and officials who wanted to keep a lid on the city's rampant corruption and crime.
The NetFlix documentary includes testimony from Sister Cathy's former students who say they were raped by Maskell when they were young children and bullied into keeping quiet about it. A trailer for the series points the finger squarely in his direction for her killing.
The evidence gathered and testimonies from Maskell's victims point the finger squarely in his direction for her killing.
Several former students of the school Sister Cathy taught came forward in the 1990s alleging they had been routinely raped by Maskell and his friends.
They said the priest was part of an Elite pedophile ring who sold the children to fellow priests for sex sessions which he would profit from.
They said he justified the sexual abuse by telling them it was in the name of God.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore gave a settlement as a result of their claims.
Victims of the priest's pedophilia begun piecing together the abuse that had gone on inside the school for decades, realizing that many of them had confided in Sister Cathy.
During police probes about the sexual abuse, he denied all the accusations against him, and investigations later showed that Maskell was not arrested or charged in connection with the young nun's murder.
According to The Baltimore Sun, until now, investigators "have never established that [Cesnik] was killed because of information that she had about abuse in the Catholic Church," said county police spokeswoman Elise Armacost, though she acknowledged that's the theory that police are now pursuing.
She said that detectives "felt very strongly that in the interest of leaving no stone unturned, it was necessary to exhume Maskell's body and compare his DNA to the evidence that is remaining."
There has long been speculation about whether Maskell might be connected to Cesnik's death.
Attorney Joanne Suder, who has represented Maskell's alleged victims, said at least one client told her they confided in Cesnik about abuse, and that the nun said she would tell "higher-ups."
"I think if the various law enforcement agencies had done a proper job in the '70s, that could have avoided the necessity to do [an exhumation] in 2017," Suder said.
Archdiocese of Baltimore spokesman Sean Caine said Thursday the exhumation "was total news to us."
"We support it, especially if it helps lead them to a definitive conclusion about what happened," Caine said.
"The archdiocese has been completely open and transparent with everything that we know," he added.
After Maskell was removed from the ministry following the abuse allegations, he went to Ireland, Caine said.
Church officials here learned of his whereabouts in the summer of 1996, when the archdiocese received an inquiry from an Irish bishop asking whether Maskell was in good standing.
Maskell was living in Wexford, Ireland. Archdiocesan officials sent letters to Maskell saying he was not to perform any priestly duties and asking him to return to Baltimore, Caine said.
In 1998, the archdiocese learned Maskell had returned to the United States and was living at Stella Maris, a Catholic nursing facility in Timonium.
Since the 1990s, police have gathered the DNA of about six other people as part of the investigation into Cesnik's death, Armacost said. They also have identified another suspect who is still living, she said. She did not offer details.
Cesnik taught at Archbishop Keough High School and then Western High School, and lived with another nun in southwest Baltimore. She went missing in November 1969 after going to a bank to cash a $255 paycheck and then to the Edmondson Village Shopping Center, where she bought buns at a bakery.
Her body was found in January 1970 in a field off Monumental Avenue. She had suffered blunt force trauma to her head.
County police said Thursday they also are exploring possible connections between Cesnik's death and those of three others whose bodies were found in other jurisdictions: 20-year-old Joyce Helen Malecki, who disappeared days after the nun did and whose body was found at Fort Meade; 16-year-old Pamela Lynn Conyers, whose body was found in Anne Arundel County in 1970; and 16-year-old Grace Elizabeth "Gay" Montanye, whose body was found in 1971 in South Baltimore.
"They all went missing from shopping areas in roughly the same time period," said Armacost.
She said the other victims' deaths have not been connected to Maskell.
County police seek the exhumation of a body about once every five years, she said.
Under Maryland law, bodies can be exhumed only with the permission of a state's attorney, said Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger, who signed a letter authorizing the exhumation of Maskell's body.
"At this moment, that's the extent of our office's role," he said.
Shellenberger said his office authorizes exhumations about twice a month — but typically, those are because a family member is relocating and wants to move a loved one's grave so they can be closer to them.
"This may have been the first one I've ever done for a criminal investigation," said Shellenberger, who took office in 2007.