Netflix has certainly changed a lot of things about watching traditional television programs and films.
It allows us to “binge watch” several episodes and even entire seasons of particular shows. We also can watch shows and other material that may not otherwise make it to broadcast television.
One of best things about Netflix is broader access to exemplary documentaries on a range of topics like faith, religion, values, sexuality, politics and morality.
This includes films produced by Netflix itself, such as “The Keepers.” Released in May, this seven-part docuseries delves into church, state, murder and corruption. At its heart is the unsolved murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik, who disappeared Nov. 7, 1969, in Baltimore.
Sister Cathy, 26, was a beloved high school English teacher. Her car, a 1969 Ford Maverick, was found — parked illegally near her apartment building.
The disappearance was greeted with confusion, uncertainty, fear and oppressive silence. Joyce Malecki, a young woman from a large Catholic family, disappeared in a similar manner. There were conflicting stories, blind alleys and repeated assurances there hadn’t been foul play.
While it was an era of change, reforms hadn’t necessarily penetrated all corners. Media was limited to what officers wanted to share. The church was monolithic, and its influence could be intimidating.
“From November into the Christmas time, I kind of think we all thought (Sister Cathy) would never be found,” says Gemma Hoskins, a student at the time. “We knew there was an investigation going on, but it wasn’t visible to us anymore. We didn’t see pictures of people looking in the fields and people with dogs out looking for the presence of Cathy Cesnik. We had so many questions, and we didn’t think we were going to get any answers.”
In January 1970, Sister Cathy’s body was found in a garbage dump, 5 miles from where she’d last been seen. Someone had caved in her skull.
Joyce Malecki’s body was found too. One of her brothers was taken into an alley, where police asked him to identify the body; her parents couldn’t bring themselves to look.
Police said these discoveries offered few new leads. What simmered beneath were rumors police had conspired with church officials to conceal the truth.
“The coverup itself is the cancer inside Baltimore,” insists journalist Tom Nugent.
By many accounts, Baltimore is a “Catholic city.” A point of pride is it was the site of the nation’s diocese.
“Every neighborhood had its own parish,” says resident Deb Silcox. “All the sacraments were a really big deal. You were not only going to school with people that were Catholic, going to church with people that were Catholic, you were living in Catholic communities.”
Silcox is among former students now seeking answers. These women aren’t adolescents anymore. They’re retired. They’re grandmothers. They aren’t inclined to quietly accept “no” from presumed authority figures.
Hoskins and classmate Abbie Schaub started the “Justice for Sister Cathy” Facebook group a few years ago to collect information on the cold case.
They’re a true team. Schaub, whom Nugent calls “the intellectual,” pores over public records, newspaper clippings and other materials. She pushes for open access. Hoskins is “the bulldog,” says Nugent. She’s a charmer — a talker — wheedling details out of anyone who might have a new lead to track.
“The Keepers” is available for streaming and download. For more information, go to Netflix.com.