Post by Graveyardbride on Jan 4, 2014 1:36:09 GMT -5
‘If I Should Ever Leave You’
Saturday, January 3, 1970, was a cold, overcast day and Captain Lewis “Bud” Roemer of the Baltimore County Police was on his third or fourth cup of coffee when the telephone rang. The officer at the other end explained two men hunting in a field near the garbage dump in Lansdowne had stumbled upon the partially clad body of a woman. “It was snowing when we got to the dump, and cold as a sonofabitch,” Roemer later recalled. “The body was pretty much covered by snow, but it didn’t take us long to figure out who she was. When I walked up on that dump, I said, ‘Hello, Cathy Cesnik.’ She was lying on her back on the slope of a little hill, with her purse and one shoe a few feet away. As soon as we opened the purse, we found a prescription bottle with her name printed on it. We worked that crime scene all day long. We called in the medical examiner and we asked for an autopsy right away. We went through our standard procedure ... I guess we spent four or five hours out there and it was nearly dark when we finally sent the body off to the morgue.”
Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik, “Sister Cathy” to those who knew her, had disappeared the night of Friday, November 7, 1969, during a brief, early evening trip to a shopping center about a mile from the Westgate apartment she shared with another Notre Dame nun, Sister Helen Russell Phillips. Described by students and fellow teachers alike as a dedicated, enthusiastic English and drama teacher, the 26-year-old nun’s disappearance was major news in heavily-Catholic Baltimore. Day after day, The Sun and other newspapers covered the story, running one dramatic headline after the other.
The morning after the body was discovered, Roemer and his detectives embarked on what would be a fruitless five-year quest to solve Sister Cathy’s murder. They began with the Maryland Medical Examiner’s autopsy report, which indicated the teacher from Baltimore’s Archbishop Keough High School for Girls had been beaten to death. She had died of blunt-force trauma to one side of her head – along with a blow that had left a round hole in the back of her skull. Her body was too decomposed for the coroner to determine if she had been sexually assaulted. Studying the autopsy report, Roemer soon found himself contemplating a likely scenario: A stranger had abducted the lady from the Edmondson Village Shopping Center near her apartment, where she’d gone to cash a check and buy some dinner rolls around 7 p.m. In all likelihood, the unknown assailant had then killed the nun and dumped her body some five miles away in Lansdowne. But his hypothesis was contradicted by one troubling fact: The young woman’s car, a 1969 Ford Maverick, had been discovered parked near her apartment only a few hours after she drove off to go shopping. “I’d been working homicide for about 10 years when Sister Cathy was killed,” Roemer said, “and I’d never heard of a ‘random killing’ where the stranger who kills you carefully returns your car to your apartment house. In that situation, the killer usually wants to get the hell away from there. The last thing he wants is to return to the area, where he might be spotted driving the victim’s car.”
In addition to the car, her roommate had not called the police after becoming alarmed when Cathy had not returned by 11 p.m. Instead, she had phoned a Catholic priest living in a Jesuit community known as Manresa, near Annapolis. Within a few minutes, Jesuit Father Gerard “Gerry” J. Koob – accompanied by a second Catholic priest, Peter McKeon – climbed into his car and drove to the Carriage House Apartments. The two men questioned Sister Helen about her roommate’s shopping trip and somewhere between midnight and 1 a.m., decided to call the police and report the nun’s disappearance. After discussing the matter further – two or three hours, in fact – Koob and McKeon left the apartment to walk around the neighborhood in order to calm their nerves. Around 4 a.m., they spotted the missing woman’s green Maverick parked at an odd angle directly adjacent to the Carriage House parking lot. According to Koob, there were no indications a struggle had taken place inside the automobile. “When we discovered the car, I was careful and I told [McKeon] to be careful,” Koob related to City Paper. “I think we both saw a little wastebasket spilled over – but that did not suggest a struggle to me. I believe Cathy would have frozen up and not struggled.” Roemer, on the other hand, was convinced the absence of signs of a struggle in the car clearly suggested “whoever killed Sister Cathy had to be someone who knew her. That’s the only thing that makes sense, once you remember that her car was returned to her apartment complex after she was killed. “We made the decision that it was time to ‘put the heat on Koob,’” he later recalled and during the many hours of interrogation, asked the priest again and again: “What, exactly, was the nature of your relationship with Sister Cathy Cesnik?”
At first, Koob insisted the two were simply good friends who enjoyed a great deal of purely “platonic affection” for each other. “That’s fine,” Roemer told the priest. “But why would Sister Helen have called you instead of the police after Cathy disappeared that night?” Roemer understood the reason better a few days later when he visited Father Koob’s residence. There, he discovered a letter Cathy Cesnik had written to the priest November 3, just four days prior to her disappearance. (In an interview with City Paper, Koob claimed he willingly gave the letter to the detective in order to assist police in their investigation.) Roemer read the letter, which did not reach Koob until after Sister Cathy went missing, and concluded the actual relationship between nun and priest had been far from platonic. Interestingly, the letter began with a reference to a song about what might happen if the lady suddenly vanished:
My very dearest Gerry,
“If Ever I Should Leave You” is playing on the radio. I’m all curled up in bed. My “period” has finally arrived, ten days late ... So you might say I’m moody ... My heart aches so for you.
It goes on to outline the young woman’s struggle with her relationship:
I must wait on you – your time and your 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 ... I must tell you, I want you within me. I want to have your children ....
According to Roemer, when he confronted the priest about the letter, Koob “quickly broke down and admitted he was having sex with the nun. That didn’t make any difference to me, of course – that was their business. But it did put me on guard, because it told me that the Catholic Church would have a whole lot to lose if that letter should ever get out.”
Cathy Cesnik grew up in a modest bungalow at 1023 Downlook Street in Baltimore. Each morning during the school year, she and her sisters walked a half-mile to the tiny parochial school adjoining St. Mary’s Assumption Church on 57th Street. The school was operated by the School Sisters of Notre Dame and hers was a typical 1950s Catholic grade-school education. Intensely religious, Cathy was deeply impressed by some of her dedicated Notre Dame teachers, so impressed that by the time she entered St. Augustine Catholic High School in 1956, she was already considering entering the Notre Dame Convent and becoming a School Sister herself. After graduating, she entered the Baltimore Province Convent of the School Sisters of Notre Dame September 29, 1960, as a “postulant” (candidate for the sisterhood) and after seven years of study, professed her “final vows” July 21, 1967.
The youthful nun had already begun her teaching career in 1965 at the newly opened Archbishop Keough High School on Caton Avenue in Southwest Baltimore. During the next four years, she would teach English and drama to several hundred students from the mostly working-class, Irish-American community. Gemma Hoskins – Maryland “Teacher of the Year” in 1992 – said Sister Cathy was the reason she became a teacher and remembered the young woman as a deeply inspirational figure and “terrific” teacher. “I still regard her as the finest teacher I ever had." More than a dozen other former Keough students described Cathy as an outstanding teacher. “She was our ‘Pied Piper,’” said one, “the kind of teacher you never forget.”
Although Sister Cathy loved teaching, there is evidence she was struggling with some inner turmoil during the spring of 1969. “To me, she seemed stressed out, perhaps even on the edge of a nervous breakdown,” one former student revealed. “She was exhausted and extremely nervous and she missed a lot of school during the spring months.” One possible reason for her apparent stress became more clear in June of that year when she asked her Notre Dame superiors for permission to enter a period of “exclaustration,” an experiment in which she would live outside the convent, while substituting civilian attire – skirts, blouses and dresses – for the traditional nun’s habit. Permission was granted and Cathy moved into a two-bedroom apartment at the Carriage House Apartments on North Bend Road. At the same time, she decided on a second experiment: Instead of teaching at Keough during the 1969-70 school year, she would serve as a “missionary” teacher at Western High, a public school. During the first few months of that school year, Cathy shared her apartment with a friend, fellow nun and Western High teacher, Sister Helen Russell Phillips, who had also stopped wearing the habit.
During interviews years later, two former Keough students remembered their frequent visits to Cathy Cesnik at her apartment just a few months before she died. “I was also friends with Sister Helen, her friend and roommate, when they moved to the apartment on North Bend Road,” Kathey Payne of Ellicott City remembered. “I visited them there during that summer and I did some sewing for Sister Helen.”
Although Roemer felt Father Koob was somehow involved in what happened to Cathy Cesnik, the priest passed two separate lie-detector tests soon after Sister Cathy’s body was found. His alibi was that he had eaten dinner and taken in the movie Easy Rider with another priest in Annapolis before the call came from Sister Helen. His alibi seemed airtight, but to this day, some investigators continue to believe Koob knows more about what happened that night than he has ever revealed. Even more troubling, two retired investigators later confided while they were “putting the heat” on Koob, Catholic Church officials conferred with high-ranking police officials concerning the case. “We thought Koob was about to break,” retired Baltimore City homicide investigator Harry Bannon said. “And then the church lawyers stepped in and they talked to the higher-ups at the police department. And we were told, ‘Either charge Koob with a crime or let him go. Stop harassing him.’ After that, we had to break away from him,” Bannon added. “And that was a shame, because I’m sure Koob knew more than he was telling.” Roemer agreed the investigation “seemed to dry up” after Koob was allowed to walk away from the case. “Nobody ever told me to back off the investigation in order to protect the Catholic Church,” Roemer asserted. “And if they had, I wouldn’t have done it. But the word did come down from higher levels of the police department that we had to lay off Koob. And I couldn’t help wondering if maybe one of the Catholic officials had gotten to somebody high up in the police.”
Gradually, the murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik was overshadowed by fresher cases and was all but forgotten until 1994 when more than 30 men and women with firsthand knowledge of alleged abuse came forward to offer testimony in a shocking $40 million lawsuit against the Catholic Church. Included in the suit were two former Keough students who claimed to have been injured by rampant sexual abuse at the school. According to the lawsuit, the abuser had been the school chaplain, a Diocesan priest named A. (Anthony) Joseph Maskell. According to the complaint, the abuse included “vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio, vaginal penetration with a vibrator, administration of enemas ... hypnosis, threats of physical violence, coerced prostitution and other lewd acts ....” The list of charges troubled many Baltimore Catholics, but those dramatic charges were soon eclipsed by testimony from one of the plaintiffs, identified only as “Jane Doe,” in which she claimed to have been taken to the Lansdowne garbage dump by Father Maskell in late November 1969 and shown the body of a dead nun as a warning that she should say nothing about the sexual abuse. As the Baltimore Sun reported June 19, 1994, “in interviews with the police and Sun, [Jane Doe] provided details about the body that were known only to investigators at the time, and detectives have not dismissed her claims.”
The sensational allegations of “Jane Doe” stunned Baltimore and no one was more shocked than Roemer, who even after the passage of 25 years, still reacted with amazement: “When I heard about the woman who was supposed to have been shown the nun’s body by Maskell, I could hardly believe my ears. If that was true, it meant the priest would have been involved in this thing up to his eyeballs!” Until the lawsuit, Roemer said, he had never heard of Father Joseph Maskell or the alleged abuse at Keough. His team of sleuths had completely missed this aspect of the investigation.
Although the abuse lawsuit brought in Baltimore County Circuit Court by the two former Keough students (“Jane Doe” and “Jane Roe”) was eventually dismissed on a technicality involving the courtroom admissibility of “recovered memory” evidence in Maryland, the testimony and depositions were so compelling that the Archdiocese conducted its own investigation of Maskell. After reviewing the evidence, church officials formally “revoked the faculties” of the priest and relieved him of his administrative duties as the pastor of St. Augustine’s parish in Elkridge.
Maskell, meanwhile, insisted he was totally innocent of all charges. (He died from the effects of a major stroke May 7, 2001, at the age of 62.) The Archdiocese never reinstated him, after finding the evidence against him to be “credible,” according to an Archdiocesan spokesman. The Archdiocese also confirmed longstanding reports that Father Maskell had kept handguns at the parish rectory where he lived: “After his departure from St. Augustine’s in 1994, guns were found in the residence.”
Did one or more of the students who were visiting Sister Cathy during the summer and fall of 1969 tell her about the sexual abuse that was taking place at the school? One former student later recounted in a City Paper interview how she had gone to the young nun for help after being abused by a priest at Keough, but the most startling evidence comes from retired Sister Mary Florita, a former School Sisters of Notre Dame teaching nun. “I knew several of the kids at Keough,” Marian Weller (the former Sister Mary Florita) said. “And one of them described to me how three or four girls who were being abused by this priest had gone to Sister Cathy for help. There’s no question but that she knew about the abuse that was taking place during the months leading up to her death.”
* * *
Roemer, who solved more than 150 murders during his 23-year career, interviewed numerous people in the case, but it wasn’t until long after he retired as a major in 1975 that he made the connection between the victim’s personal problems and the much more serious issue. “The more you look at the Cesnik murder case,” he observed, “the more it looks like somebody was trying to cover something up. There was something wrong at the Catholic high school where Sister Cathy taught. What you had there was a whole lot of sex going on among priests and students. Can you imagine the scandal, in 1970, if that stuff had ever come out in a trial? Hell, it could have blown the lid right off the Church! It doesn’t make any sense to me. Never did. No, there was something going on at that school, and it all came to a head. And when it did, Sister Cathy wound up on the garbage dump with her skull caved in.”
During an interview after his retirement, Roemer pointed to one side of a yellowing photograph he dug out of his files and asked, “Do you see that hole in the back of her skull? That hole is perfectly round and about the size of a quarter. I’ve studied that photo over and over again, trying to imagine how she might have died. A hole like that – it looks to me like it could’ve been made with a ball-peen hammer. “It might have been a hammer,” he continued. “Or maybe a tire iron. Or maybe it was a priest’s ring – one of those heavy gold rings a lot of Catholic priests wear. A priest’s ring would make a hole like that, if he hit her hard enough. Every homicide cop has one case that haunts him to the end of his career, and Sister Cathy is mine. I sure do wish we could close this one out, before I kick the bucket.”
On November 13, 1969, just six days after Sister Cathy Cesnik vanished, the body of 20-year-old Joyce Malecki (above) was found on the Fort Meade Army base in Anne Arundel County, just a few miles from where Cesnik’s corpse would later turn up. Her hands were tied behind her back and she was lying face down in the Little Patuxent River. According to the autopsy, she had been strangled and stabbed several times in the throat area. Malecki, a secretary for a liquor distributor in the Baltimore area, had been abducted from the parking lot of E. J. Korvette’s Department Store in Glen Burnie around 7 p.m., Tuesday, November 11.
Understandably, police investigators and newspaper reporters were intensely interested in a possible connection between the two disappearances and their speculations were often reported on the front page of local newspapers. Nevertheless, no link between the murders has ever been established, according to FBI and Baltimore police officials today. However, an investigation by City Paper turned up some disturbing links between the two crimes:
• An examination of the 1968-69 Keough yearbook, The Aurora, shows that a gift was made to the school during that year by “The Malecki Family,” the name of which appears on the “Patrons” page.
• Interviews with remaining family members reveal the Malecki family, which lived in Lansdowne (less than a mile from where Cathy Cesnik’s body was found), attended nearby St. Clement Church. The Malecki siblings, including Joyce, also attended week-long “retreats” as high school students – during which they spent entire days engaged in religious instruction with priests.
• Baltimore Archdiocesan records confirm that alleged abuser-priest A. Joseph Maskell served “at St. Clement (Lansdowne) from 1966 to 1968 and at Our Lady of Victory (located on nearby Wilkens Avenue, about three miles distant) from 1968 to 1970.” The official Archdiocesan record continues: “[Father Maskell] lived and assisted at St. Clement (Lansdowne) while serving at Archbishop Keough High School from 1970 to 1975.”
• St. Clement Church is located less than a mile from where Cesnik’s body was found in a very remote area. One former high-ranking Baltimore County Police investigator said: “Whoever dumped the nun’s body there had to know the area well. That dump was difficult to get to, if you didn’t know your way around and the nun did not vanish until after dark.”
• Archdiocesan records make clear that Father Maskell was Joyce Malecki’s parish priest during a two-year period shortly before she was killed. Meanwhile, Archdiocesan records and the Keough yearbook show that he was also serving as a chaplain at Keough from the mid-1960s until 1975.
“One thing I can’t understand," said Donald Malecki, Joyce's older brother, "is why no law-enforcement officials have ever made this connection or asked us about it.”
When asked about the possible connection between the killings, Baltimore-based FBI Special Agent Barry Maddox told City Paper the Bureau “didn’t actually do the investigation” into Joyce Malecki’s death, but turned all its information over to the nearby Anne Arundel County Police Department. But a spokesman for the Anne Arundel County Police insisted no investigation of any kind had ever been conducted by his police department and referred the inquiry back to the FBI. For his part, a totally mystified Bud Roemer said he couldn’t understand why “they haven’t all gotten together and run down these leads. If it was me, I’d sure as hell want to check everything out!”
Several years ago, Donald Malecki visited the FBI’s Baltimore office and was informed the Bureau conducted “a periodic review of the case” and he would be notified if “we find anything new.” He said, “They kept me in the lobby and sent down two 25-year-old kids who tried to reassure me, but they wouldn’t show me the files or talk to me about the case. Instead, they told me that my best chance of finding the killer was to talk to the producers of Unsolved Mysteries on television and try to get them interested in the case.”
After reviewing the new information uncovered by City Paper, FBI spokesman Maddox concluded: “All of these coincidences certainly rise to the level of possible significance for solving both killings. We haven’t ruled anything out, including Father Maskell, and we have gone back to reinvestigate the Malecki killing and possible links to the Cesnik case.”
Bud Roemer told City Paper: “If all of these new findings are accurate, it looks to me like we’ve got two murders, four days and a few miles apart. And both of the victims seem to be tied directly to the school and the church. I just hope they’ll figure it out. I hope we can get closure on Sister Cathy before I go to meet my maker.” Sadly, Roemer died in 2005 and the murder of Catherine Cesnik remains unsolved to this day.
Incredibly, Gerry Koob, today a married Methodist minister living in New Jersey, continues to insist he never had a physical relationship of any kind with Sister Cathy Cesnik.
Sources: Robert A. Erlandson and Joe Nawrozki, The Baltimore Sun; City Paper; OpenSalon and Baltimore County Police.