If you couldn't get enough of Making a Murderer and The Jinx, then get ready to be completely sucked into Netflix's new true crime documentary series, The Keepers.
Directed by Ryan White, the seven-episode docuseries explores the 1969 unsolved murder of nun Sister Cathy Cesnik in Baltimore, Maryland. But The Keepers differs from those other true crime shows in several ways: Cesnik is not the only victim, and the focus of the series is bigger than that one murder.
The Keepers takes a hard look at systemic sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and the failure of the church and the American justice system to hold anyone accountable for it.
Cesnik, who was 26 at the time of her death, was a much-beloved English teacher at Baltimore's all-girls Catholic school Archbishop Keough High School. On November 7, 1969, Cesnik went to buy an engagement gift for her younger sister and never returned. Her car was later found right across from her apartment, with mud on its tires and a twig inside near the ignition. Cesnik's body wasn't found until almost two months later, on January 3, 1970. Her killer has never been identified.
The investigation into Sister Cathy Cesnik's death eventually went cold, but two of her former students, Abbie Schaub and Gemma Hoskins, decided to work together in recent years to find justice for their teacher. Schaub and Hoskins, both retired, have spent the last decade knocking on doors, interviewing people, and poring over old articles looking for information related to the case.
But Schaub and Hoskins weren't initially aware of a crucial piece of the story that could ostensibly relate to Cesnik's murder. As the series progresses, the focal point becomes not just who killed Cesnik, but why. As it turns out, many of the young students at Keough in the late '60s and early '70s were victims of repeated sexual abuse at the hands of a priest named Father Joseph Maskell. It turns out that Sister Cathy Cesnik was apparently one of the only people who knew about it.
At the heart of the show is Jean Hargadon Wehner, who, in her 40s, began to have memories of the abuse she'd endured at the hands of Maskell, which until then she'd repressed entirely. Along with another victim of Maskell's abuse, Teresa Lancaster, she filed a lawsuit in 1994 against Maskell, the school where Maskell had been employed, and the archdiocese of Baltimore. The statute of limitations for sexual abuse had long expired, but the women's lawyers argued that the case was still valid because both women had repressed their memories until the '90s. However, Paul McHugh, a Catholic psychiatrist brought in by the church, got the case thrown out on the basis of his "false memory" theory.
The Keepers serves as a powerful look at the world of sexual abuse survivors and the victim-blaming that so often goes along with it. As Hargadon Wehner says at one point, speaking candidly to White in her kitchen, “Some part of this is really squelching people’s righteous anger and people’s need to make things public. Stop acting like we’re invisible. We’re not invisible.”