Sister Cathy Cesnik was so adored by her students that they are still fighting for justice almost half a century after her shocking murder. But what exactly happened to the young nun, and why were the circumstances behind her tragic fate buried for so long?
#Netflix's latest foray into true crime is as much about the cover-up of Sister Catherine "Cathy" Cesnik's murder as her untimely death itself or, in the words of Abbie Schaub:
“The story is not the nun’s killing, the story is the cover up of the nun’s story.”
As this intriguing tale unwinds, we will be dissecting all of the evidence/new information, to make sure you don't miss anything important. So, let's flick through the evidence file presented to us in Episode 1, while trying to channel the tenacity of the incomparable Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Schaub.
1. 47 Years Of Mystery
Cathy Cesnik was murdered in the tale end of the 1969 (she was abducted on November 7th). This means her cause of death has remained a mystery for 47 years.
To put that into perspective, below are some of the historical events that happened during the year that Cathy died:
- The Apollo 11 moon mission landed the first men on the moon
- Richard Nixon became president
- Sesame Street was broadcast for the first time
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was still showing in the cinema
2. Introducing Your New Heroes
Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Schaub, characterized as the bulldog and the intellectual respectively by investigative reporter Tom Nugent, are almost sure to become your amateur detective heroes.
Both retired grandmothers in their '60s, Gemma and Abbie had not spoken to each other since high school before reuniting to create a grassroots Facebook page to try and find answers. In the words of the series's director Ryan White:
"They hadn’t even talked since high school. I don’t think they ever knew this was going to become this real grassroots movement. It was just two women who were compelled to find answers before it was too late."
3. Sister Cathy's Last Day At School
The first witness to Cathy's disappearance that we speak to is Juliana Farrell, a student who was one of the last people to see Sister Cathy at Archbishop Kenough High School.
Like seemingly everyone who had the pleasure of being educated by Cathy, Juliana clearly had a bond with her young teacher. She explained:
"We had discussions after school just sort of talking about the things that were going on in my life and that kind of thing."
The last time Farrell saw Cathy it was 11.30am, and they were having one of their aforementioned chats. Farrell recalls that Cesnik was going to go shopping for a gift after school, and that:
"She seemed really happy about this person, whoever it was. She was excited they were getting married."
4. "Russel Was The Left Brain, Kathy Was The Right"
According to investigative reporter Bob Erlandson, Cesnik probably returned to her apartment on North Bend Road at around 3.00pm. Cathy shared her home with a fellow nun named Sister Russell.
The pair were close, and a former student named Chris Centonfani explained:
"She [Sister Russell] was Cathy's friend, everyone knew that."
5. A Worrying Break In Routine
According to Sister Russell, the two roommates had a bit of a routine where Cathy would drive to the Edmonton Village Shopping Centre to buy bakery buns for the following day. On this occasion, Cathy also told Russell she had to buy her sister an engagement present.
Cathy left at around 7.00pm for the shopping centre, which was considered upscale at the time, and was considered a safe place in the neighborhood.
When Cesnik had not returned home by 10.30pm, Russell called a local priest who Cathy had struck up a friendship with named Father Gerry Koob to see if he knew Cathy's whereabouts. Some reporters (including Bob Erlandson) find it suspicious that Russell did not call the police.
6. Police Contact: The Beginning Of A Long Timeline Of Failures
Father Gerry Koob has just left a cinema screening of Easy Rider which he attended with a fellow priest, Pete McKeon, when he received the initial phone call with Russell.
After speaking to Russell for about 45 minutes to an hour, Koob drives over to Cathy and Russell's house with McKeon. They contact the police at around 1.30am, three hours after Cathy was due home, and describe the 26-year-old nun as a missing person.
After contacting police, Koop breaks some bread for communion and performs a mass. Poignantly, they still have hope that Cathy will return; they save a piece of communion bread for her.
7. Koop Finds The Car
At around 4am that night the two priests spot Casnik's green Ford Maverick parked illegally at an odd angle. The vehicle is directly opposite Cathy's apartment.
According to Koob, there was so question that the car had been to a swampy area. There was a twig hanging from the steering wheel, leaves and twigs stuck to the exterior of the car and the vehicle also had muddy tires.
This discovery gives Koob a sense of foreboding as "whoever put that car there wanted it to be found." He also explained:
"Up here I know, Cathy did not bring the car here."
Investigative journalist Bob Erlandson reaffirms the ambiguity of the car situation by explaining:
"Nobody has proved she [Cathy] ever came back to her apartment. We don’t know exactly where Sister Cathy was taken. She might have been grabbed from just outside her door for all we know, all we know is that she never came back from that trip."
8. Who Left The Vehicle?
The mystery behind the erratic parking of the vehicle adjacent to Cathy's Carriage House apartment was expanded by Bob Nugent, who disagreed with initial police theories that Cathy was probably abducted by a stranger near the shopping centre:
"How had the dead woman’s ford gotten back to the apartment complex. In that situation the killer wants to get the hell away from there. Last thing he wants is to return to the area where he might be spotted driving the victim's car."
9. The Neglected Eye-Witnesses
A few people might have useful information about Cathy's movements, according to evidence gathered by Abbie Schaub and Gemma Hoskins.
An air hostess claims to have seen Cesnik in the car parking lot of the Edmonton Shopping Centre at around 8.30pm. She was reportedly sitting in her car like she was "waiting for something."
Mary Spence, who also attended Keough High School, was also hanging around in the area of Sister Cathy and Sister Russell's apartment the night Cathy disappeared. A teacher she had a crush on (Mr Noone) lived nearby, and Mary was hanging around outside the apartment watching him through the windows.
"Before we knew it, we heard this yelling and I would say it came from that direction [points in the direction of Sister Cathy's house]. It was a man’s voice, loud booming, garbled with emotion, anger. We really thought it was some kind of violence going on up there."
10. Cathy's Body Is Discovered, Two Months Later
Nobody has any idea what happened to Cathy for two months after her disappearance, including her close friend Father Koob, who said:
"From November the 7th to mid January. I had no idea what happened to Kathy and what I learned is the imagination went crazy."
Sister Cathy ended up on a small garbage heap with her skull caved in, five miles away from where she disappeared. The 26-year-old nun died from blunt force trauma to one side of head and a blow that left a round hole in the back of her skull.
James Scannell was the first officer on the scene after hunters found the body. She was stripped down to the waist with her purse laying next to her. According to Scannell, "the condition of the body indicated that she was there for a while" and he theorized she had been dumped straight out of a car.
Bizarrely, after Scannell says the body had clearly been exposed for a while, he also claimed "she hadn't deteriorated, no maggots or anything like that."
Bud Roemer — chief of the Baltimore M squad — also went to the site of the body. He reports that it was snowy and freezing on the day the body was discovered (Jan 3 1970).
The site where the body was found has particular significance to investigative journalist Bob Erlandson, who theorizes that the very "out-of-the-way area" means the murder was probably committed by someone who “knew the area very well."
11. The Parallel Murder Of Joyce Malecki
Just three days after Cathy went missing, Joyce Malecki was also abducted. She lived just 3.3 miles away from Cesnik.
Many circumstances of the disappearance were strikingly similar including:
- The car was found at the side of the road with the door open
- Both girls were young and attractive
- There was no sign of struggle at the scene of the abduction
- Both girls had gone shopping before they disappeared
Abductions were almost unheard of in the area at the time, so the short time frame also potentially links the two cases.
Joyce was also found 20-30 feet away from a dirt track, similar to Cathy, but her body was laying in the Little Patuxent River. She had her hands tied behind her back and her throat was cut.
Joyce Malecki's brother Pat identified the body to spare his parents the agony. He also noted that:
"Her face was all messy and dirty and her hair had all sticks in it."
Joyce's brother Don has been contacting the FBI about his sister's murder regularly and he has always given the same answer: "It's an open case, we cannot discuss it." In Don's words:
"It almost leads me, personally, to believe it's a cover-up, because I can't get any information. Even if they come out and say "we don't have anything" at least they would be talking, but we don't even have that."
12. Sinister Evidence Of A Police Cover Up
Journalist Tom Nugent also claims to have spoken to a retired detective who worked on the case who told him:
"The real problem here is the cover up itself, the cover up is the cancer inside Baltimore."
13. Who Is Jane Doe?
The first episode also introduces Jane Doe, an ex-student from the Catholic school where Cathy taught. In the words of Nugent:
"Jane Doe probably knows exactly what happened, and it has taken her 45 years to gradually confront the full horror in herself."
Are there any crucial pieces of information or evidence that I missed? Leave your own observations in the comments below.