{Archived} The Mysterious Murder of Sister Catherine Cesnick

January 3, 1970

It was a cold and gray Saturday morning in Baltimore County, Maryland when two hunters stumbled upon the decomposing body of a young woman in a field.

The police arrived on the scene and immediately notified Detective Captain Louis George "Bud" Roemer - who rushed to the scene. Could this be the missing nun? As he approached the body, a purse and a single shoe were seen a few feet away. As he searched the purse, he found a pill bottle with the victim's name on it. It was indeed Sister Catherine Ann Cesnick - who had gone missing from her Carriage House Apartment on November 7, 1969.

Be Aware: This is still an active murder investigation, with many twists that involve the Archdiocese of Baltimore. This includes allegations of sexual abuse of students that had attended the Archbishop Kenough High School - and the possible link to another murdered woman. All suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

 Who was Sister Catherine Anne Cesnik?

Catherine was born in the small town of Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, located across the river from Pittsburgh. She was the daughter of a postal worker father and a mother who was a homemaker. The Cesniks were devout Roman Catholics.  Catherine and her sisters attended Catholic schools, but it was not until Catherine entered into High School that she became sure of her vocation.  

In 1960 Catherine entered the Convent School ofSisters of Notre Dame, a teaching order in Baltimore, as a candidate for sisterhood. In 1965 she began teaching at the new all-girls school, Archbishop Kenough High School. On July 21, 1967, she took her vows and took the name of Sister Joanita.

In the Spring of 1969, students started noticing some changes within their favorite teacher. At this time, Vatican II was making monumental changes within the Catholic Church. Sister Catherine applied for and was granted an "exclauisation" - This is where a nun could live outside the Convent and wear modest "civilian" clothing instead of the traditional Habit.

Catherine moved into a two bedroom apartment with another exclauisng nun, Sister Helen Russell Phillips. The apartment was in the Carriage House Apartment complex on North Bend Road in Baltimore. She began teaching at Western High.

 What happened to Sister Catherine?

On Friday, November 7th, Sister Catherine left her apartment to pick up some dinner rolls and cash a check at theEdmonton Village Shopping Center. When she wasn't home by 11 pm her roommate, Sister Helen, called two priests: Father Gerald J. "Gerry" Koob and Father Peter McKeon who lived in Manresa, Maryland. They arrived at the apartment around 1 a.m. Saturday morning - that is when then they called the police.

 After several hours of questioning, the three of them decided to go for a walk at four in the morning to "clear" their minds. This is when they discovered Sister Catherine's 1969 Green Ford Maverick parked in an "odd" manner in the parking lot near her apartment. The vehicle showed no signs of a struggle.

 After Sister Catherine's body was discovered, suspicion turned to Father Koob. Detectives thought it was strange that Sister Helen called these two particular Priests and not the police.

Father Koob insisted that his relationship with Sister Catherine was strictly platonic, but Detective Captain Roemer wasn't buying it. He paid Father Koob a visit at the Priest's quarter and discovered a letter that was written to the Priest by Sister Catherine.

 “My very dearest Gerry, 

‘If Ever I Should Leave You’ is playing on the radio. I’m all curled up in bed. My ‘pride’ has finally arrived, ten days later… So you might say I’m moody… My heart aches so for you. I must wait for you – your time and you need – even more than I had before… I think I can begin to live with that more easily now than I did two months ago, just loving you… within myself…” 

Sister Catherine, the author of the letter, went on to write: “I must tell you, I want you within me. I want to have your children.”

Father Koob had an alibi the night Sister Catherine went missing: He was with Father McKeon. They had dinner and saw the movie "Easy Rider.'  This was confirmed and he also passed two polygraph tests.

Even with this information, the police wasn't finished with the priest.  Unfortunately, pressure from outside the police department ended the investigation into the Priest. The case went cold. Until almost twenty-five years later when two women, who were students at the High School, claimed that they were sexually abused by Father Anthony Joseph Maskell in the late 60's early 70's.

 Dozens of men and women claimed to and testified to have had first-hand knowledge of the sexual abuse that happened at the Archbishop Kenough High School.

 An anonymous witness testified with information that hadn't been released to the public.  To protect her identity, she was referred to as "Jane Doe" - but her real name is Jean Wehner.  She stated that in late November 1969, Father Maskell took her to the Lansdowne Dump and showed her the body of Sister Catherine. She was told, "that she had better keep her mouth shut or she would end up the same way."

 Sister Mary, from the Sisters of Notre Dame, testified that she knew of several kids that claimed about the abuse by Father Maskell and that they had confided in Sister Catherine. So it is clear that Sister Catherine was aware of the abuse in the months leading up to her death.  

 The lawsuits against the Archdiocese did not hold up in court.  The courts ruled that regressed memories were not viable evidence. The Archdiocese, on the other hand, believed the allegations and removed Father Maskell from "active" duty and reassigned him to clerical duties at the St. Augustine Parish in Elkridge, Maryland, where he died of a massive stroke on May 7, 2001, at the age of 62.

 Father Maskell was never charged with the murder of Sister Catherine. He had a close relationship with the Police Department and often rode with the officers. Many of the officers couldn’t and wouldn't believe that he would have done such horrible things. He Baptized their children and even their grandchildren.  

 One witness claimed that Father Maskell forced her to perform sexual acts with a police officer. 

 Who was the second murder victim and could the two cases be related?

 Around 7 pm on November 13, 1969, 20-year-old Joyce Malenki, a secretary for a liquor distributor in Baltimore, disappeared from the parking lot of E. J. Corvettes department store, located in Glen Burnie, Maryland. She was discovered the following morning in the Little Patuxent River, at the military base, with her hands tied behind her back and multiple stab wounds to the throat. Joyce had been strangled to death.

 Her family attended St. Clement Church in Lansdowne. Joyce participated in many retreats with area Priests during her high school years. Father Maskell was assigned to St. Clement from 1966 to 1968. In 1969, Father Maskell was also working at Our Lady of Victory, which was about three miles from St. Clement, which was less than a mile from where a Sister Catherine's body was found.  He continued to reside at St Clement while he was at the Archbishop Kenough High School from 1970 to 1975.  

 We may never know what really happened to Sister Catherine. There are some that wholeheartedly believes that Father Maskell either murdered her or helped with her murder. Was she murdered because she was about to blow the whistle on the sexual abuse that was happening at the school? Was Joyce Malenki one of Father Maskell's victims that were about to talk? Are the two cases related?


-Written by Michele Smith

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