Buried In Baltimore: The Mysterious Murder Of A Nun Who Knew Too Much
by Laura Bassett
5-14-15On a frigid day in November 1969, Father Joseph Maskell, the chaplain of Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore, called a student into his office and suggested they go for a drive. When the final bell rang at 2:40 p.m., Jean Hargadon Wehner, a 16-year-old junior at the all-girls Catholic school, followed the priest to the parking lot and climbed into the passenger seat of his light blue Buick Roadmaster.
It was not unusual for Maskell to give students rides home or take them to doctor's appointments during the school day. The burly, charismatic priest, then 30 years old, had been the chief spiritual and psychological counselor at Keough for two years and was well-known in the community. Annual tuition at Keough was just $200, which attracted working-class families in deeply Catholic southwest Baltimore who couldn't afford to send their daughters to fancier private schools. Many Keough parents had attended Maskell’s Sunday masses. He'd baptized their babies, and they trusted him implicitly.
This time, though, Maskell didn't bring Wehner home. He navigated his car past the Catholic hospital and industrial buildings that surrounded Keough’s campus and drove toward the outskirts of the city. Eventually, he stopped at a garbage dump, far from any homes or businesses. Maskell stepped out of the car, and the blonde, freckled teenager followed him across a vast expanse of dirt toward a dark green dumpster.
It was then that she saw the body crumpled on the ground.
The week prior, Sister Cathy Cesnik, a popular young nun who taught English and drama at Keough, had vanished while on a Friday-night shopping trip. Students, parents and the local media buzzed about the 26-year-old’s disappearance. People from all over Baltimore County helped the police comb local parks and wooded areas for any sign of her.
Wehner immediately recognized the lifeless body as her teacher. "I knew it was her," she recalled recently. "She wasn’t that far gone that you couldn’t tell it was her.”
“You see what happens when you say bad things about people?”
Cesnik was still clad in her aqua-colored coat, and maggots were crawling on her face. Wehner tried to brush them off with her bare hands. "Help me get these off of her!" she cried, turning to Maskell in a panic. Instead, she says, the priest leaned down behind her and whispered in her ear: “You see what happens when you say bad things about people?”
Maskell, Wehner understood, was threatening her. She decided not to tell anyone. “He terrified me to the point that I would never open my mouth,” she recalled.
Jean Wehner in 1970. (Photo: Jean Wehner)
Over the past year, however, Wehner and other Keough alumni have begun piecing together their memories and talking openly for the first time in decades about the traumatizing things that happened to them in high school — events they believe are connected to Cesnik’s murder. And a group of them has launched their own investigation in hopes of answering the questions that continue to vex the police: Who killed Sister Cathy -- and why?
Gemma Hoskins set a bowl of Doritos and a plate of sugar cookies on her dark wooden coffee table and passed out typed copies of the January meeting agenda. One by one, her guests took their places around the oriental rug in her pale-yellow living room. “I’ll start by introducing everyone, because we have a few new faces here,” Hoskins said.
Tom Nugent, a former Baltimore Sun reporter, secured a prime spot in the wooden rocking chair in the corner. A retired Baltimore police detective the group calls “Deep Throat” settled into an armchair next to him. Teresa Lancaster, a Keough alum and Baltimore-area attorney, sat next to her husband, Randy, on the oatmeal-colored sofa. Hoskins and another former Keough student, Abbie Schaub, pulled up chairs from the dining room to form a circle.
Hoskins, 62, is spirited and irreverent, with cropped, dyed red hair and a tendency to carry around snacks for people -- a habit that's lingered since her days as a Harford County "Teacher of the Year." Today, she lives with her labradoodle, Teddy, in a duplex in Halethorpe, Maryland, a working-class suburb of Baltimore. Hoskins was a senior at Keough in 1969 when Cesnik disappeared. Now, she is at the center of the effort to find out who killed her. “I think I’m Nancy Drew,” she joked recently.