With one massively successful true crime docuseries already under its belt, Netflix released its brand new true crime series The Keepers just days ago. But while all the trailers and teasers for #TheKeepers promised one thing — a series delving into the unsolved murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik — it ends up delivering something else altogether, uncovering dark secrets about the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and decades of sexual abuse the church did nothing to prevent.
It's this unexpected diversion that really separates The Keepers from most other true crime shows you've seen before, because this series isn't one that predominantly focuses on those that committed the atrocities described; it's about the incredibly brave people who survived it, and have now risked it all by talking about it.
All too frequently in a true crime series of any form, the story is told from the perspective of the person who either committed the crime, is alleged to have committed it or is suspected of having committed it. Victim are often left at little more than a name, a photograph, and perhaps a few sound bites from friends or family. Names such as Teresa Halbach, Hae Min Lee and Susan Berman may all sound fairly unfamiliar, but paired with the names Steven Avery, Adnan Syed and Robert Durst they suddenly click into place. However, this is where The Keepers differs, placing the victims front and center and offering them a chance to tell their story.
The series gets its start thanks to the investigative work of the titular "keepers," Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Schaub, two ex-pupils of Baltimore's Archbishop Keough High School who set out to try and find answers surrounding the death of their former teacher, Sister Cathy Cesnik. However, it soon becomes clear that while Gemma and Abbie's time at Keough was idyllic, for many others it was sheer hell due to ongoing sexual abuse by a priest named Father Joseph Maskell. Soon enough the series comes to the conclusion that Sister Cathy's death was likely linked to the fact that she knew of the abuse at Keough, and attempted to stop it. But then the series goes beyond Sister Cathy's death after we're introduced to Jean Hargadon Wehner, one of Maskell's victims.
Over the course of several episodes we learn that Jean was horrifically abused by Maskell — and several others brought in by Maskell — through her time at Keough. However, it wasn't until decades later that she started recovering memories and was able to start processing what happened to her. This recovery led to Jean confronting the Baltimore Archdiocese, and ultimately going forward with a lawsuit in the '90s under the name of Jane Doe. Although another woman — revealed in The Keepers to be Teresa Lancaster — also anonymously joined the lawsuit, the victims never got their day in court due to Maryland's statute of limitations. And not only did the justice system work against them, but the Archdiocese also did everything in its power to cast doubt on the women's stories, leading many in the public to believe they had concocted the story in an attempt to make money from the church.
However, The Keepers proves this is clearly not the case, with Jean, Teresa and many others shedding the protection of anonymity to come forward and speak frankly about the abuse, something they only now feel able to do, over 45 years after the abuse took place. Their stories leave you as a viewer absolutely enraged at the abuse of power that took place, disgusted that the church tried to discredit their stories, and utterly heartbroken for what the victims' lives — including Sister Cathy's — could have been if they weren't so drastically changed by the repellent actions of a man who claimed to be serving God, though was clearly only serving himself.
Though extremely difficult to watch, the fact that The Keepers evokes such strong emotion in the viewer is absolutely the thing that makes it such important viewing. Seeing the women talk about their abuse so honestly, and break down as they relive the torturous — and ultimately fruitless — experience of attempting to have their story heard and believed, is something that will emotionally destroy even the most hardened of true crime fans.
It's rare for a true crime series to put such a focus on the victims, and The Keepers does it in spectacular fashion. Importantly though, it also highlights just how difficult it is for sexual assault victims to come forth and admit what happened to them — particularly when it's an accusation against a person involved in a high-profile and powerful organization.
If anything can come out of The Keepers (other than justice for the victims, of course), we can only hope that it will be a greater level of understanding for those thousands of people across the world in similar positions; the hope that in the future their stories may be heard, and justice may be served as is fair and deserved.
The Keepers is available to stream on Netflix now.
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