Netflix practically invented binge-watching by creating addictive shows and dropping the entire season into the queue at the same time. Now they have branched off into making documentary series that are just as compelling. In the vein of “Making of a Murderer,” “The Keepers,” which will drop May 19th, takes on a small town whodunnit that will have you glued to the screen.
Director Ryan White’s docuseries focuses on the unsolved murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik, a beloved Catholic nun and high school teacher who was abducted and murdered in Baltimore in 1969. Sister Cathy was 26 years old. Only four days after Sister Cathy’s disappearance, 20 year-old Joyce Malecki went missing and was found two days later in a nearby river. Evidence was collected and interviews were conducted, but no progress was made.
In the early 1990s, one of Sister Cathy’s former students came forward with allegations of sexual abuse by Father Maskell, the chaplain of Archbishop Seton Keough. Keough, as its alumni refer to it, was an all-girls Catholic high school where Sister Cathy had taught. “Jane Doe,” as she was known, also made the astounding claim that Maskell took her to see Cathy’s dead body in order to keep her quiet about the abuse. This new information caused a renewed interest in the two cold cases.
Unlike more sensational programs that focus on murder, “The Keepers” is very slow-paced, pausing to focus on small details like someone making a pot of tea or to pan over the woods. Much of the early narration involves investigative journalist Tom Nugent reading his own newspaper story about the murder in a calm, folksy voice, and slow fades transition comfortably between scenes. These pauses give the audience time to mull over new facts and process some of the terrible revelations of sexual abuse, police misconduct and a shocking conspiracy of silence. Viewers may need more time to deal with the topics than the director gives, so perhaps binge-watching isn’t for everybody.
Using old films, stills, and recent interviews, the documentary follows Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Fitzgerald Schaub, two of Sister Cathy’s students. as they try to piece together the events leading up to Sister Cathy’s murder and the revelations that followed. Assisted by survivors of abuse at Keough, family members of the murder victims, journalists and amateur researchers, they dig through newspaper articles, police files and the memories of the people involved. One of their strongest allies is Jane Doe herself, who reveals her identity and her story in extensive interviews.
As the story unravels, it becomes more and more unsettling, with the discomfort and outrage possibly heightened by the film’s contrasting matter-of-fact style and the normalcy of the Baltimore working class Catholic neighborhood in which these horrors occurred. At the end of the series you may remain unsatisfied, because unlike fiction, the real world doesn’t tie up all of the loose ends with a neat little bow. You may be left with the growing suspicion that the institutions that are supposed to be protecting us might be selling us out for their own nefarious purposes. Whatever else you are left with, “The Keepers” will definitely leave you with a lot to think about.
“The Keepers” may trigger some survivors. We encourage you to call 1-800-656-HOPE to reach the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline.