As the Vietnam war raged a world away in 1969 and counter culture and civil rights movements rose in the brutal unrest, the sleepy, peaceful and safe town of Baltimore, Maryland received its own rude awakening, shaking it’s Catholic dominated hierarchies to their very core. The unsolved disappearance and subsequent murder of well-liked teacher Sister Cathy Cesnik fuels Netflix’s new true crime docu-series “The Keepers”, but as the layers continue to be pulled back surrounding that horrific act, the murder itself proves to be the least disturbing thing lurking under Baltimore’s early Nixon era idyll.
The true sociopath at the heart of the mystery of “The Keepers” is a priest named Joseph Maskell, who served as a principal of sorts at the high school where Cesnik taught english and drama. Wielding his power and influence to ghoulish ends, the series purports that it was Maskell himself who slew Cesnik, or was at least closely related to her murder, the Sister having discovered his culture of child abuse and molestation, involving police and other civic leaders and fellow clergymen, under the guise of questionable medical examinations and religious repentance.
Or was it? The recollections of principal witness / victim Jean Wehner (known only as “Jane Doe” when the case unsuccessfully went to trial) are hazy at best, painting a macabre picture of being taunted by Maskell with Cesnik’s body in a chilling tableau that the filmmakers can’t seem to decide upon the scientific possibility of. Queries arise involving Cesnik’s unsavory neighbors as well, and the suspicious behavior of her spurned would-be boyfriend her jealous former roommate in the years after her demise.
“The Keepers” almost functions as the antithesis to HBO’s recent “Mommy Dead And Dearest“. While I found the HBO doc to be too brisk and slight, “The Keepers” agonizes and labors over each and every detail of its’ case, however trite, so as to ultimately render the audience numb to its eventual closing revelations, as fundamentally insignificant they may be. “The Keepers” is a binge watchers dream, entertaining from start to finish, but unlike last year’s “Making A Murderer”, it essentially, disappointingly offers no clear resolution for either viewer or participant.