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'The Keepers' director Ryan White: It's not too late to solve Sister Cathy's murder

When the body of Sister Cathy Cesnik was discovered in January 1970 two months after her sudden disappearance, many were shocked to learn a popular nun who taught English and drama at Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore had been brutally murdered.

Nearly 50 years later, no one seems to know who could have killed the 26-year-old, but filmmaker Ryan White has since uncovered several shocking clues.

[SPOILER ALERT: The remainder of this article contains spoilers about Netflix's "The Keepers."] 

In his seven-part Netflix documentary titled “The Keepers,” viewers discover how several former Catholic schoolgirls alleged to have endure sexual abuse at their school and how Cesnik promised to helped them, until she ended up dead. 

Fox News: Many people are calling ‘The Keepers’ the next ‘Making a Murderer.’ How do you feel about the comparison?
White:
 Look, ‘Making a Murderer’ was extremely popular, so to be mentioned in the same breath as them is flattering... Our films are very different and mine focuses on the victims, and in that way it might be harder for a lot of viewers to watch because you’re bearing witness to a lot of pain and trauma… but I think all of us would agree that our common goal is to correct injustice. I’m OK with the comparison.

Fox News: What inspired you to create this film?
Ryan White:
My connection to the story is a personal one. I come from a big Catholic family in Baltimore and my aunt was actually Sister Cathy’s student. She is the one who introduced me to the story.

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Fox News: You’ve mentioned how you never set out to solve a murder.
White:
We just knew this film wasn’t going to solve a mystery that was 45-years-old. And while we were investigating the case, we realized this was also a story that seemed to have been deliberatively buried… We never set out to make this film so we can announce who killed Sister Cathy.

However, now that the documentary has been released to the world, I do fully believe now the murder could be solved. I’m hoping the series could lead to more people coming out with definitive answers for Sister Cathy’s family.

Fox News: Were you ever hesitant in putting your focus on a documentary that may question the Catholic church?
White:
I grew up Catholic, and I had a very positive experience in the Catholic church. And I think the secrets of abuse and cover-ups within the Catholic church are widely known at this point. I didn’t see this as a documentary that would ever be against the Catholic church.

I was surprised and disappointed during the filmmaking process that the Archdiocese of Baltimore seemed so resistant to participate. I was extremely disappointed in their reaction towards the series. I thought they would come out a lot more compassionately and their reactions so far have been much more of an attack mode. As a Catholic, it’s been a very disappointing experience from the beginning because that was never the intent. I don’t consider ‘The Keepers’ an anti-Catholic movie. I consider it a movie against child abuse and cover-ups of child abuse.

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Fox News: What were some of the things that surprised you about Sister Cathy in learning about her life before the murder?
White:
It’s interesting. As a filmmaker, you’re constantly digging into people’s backstories that you usually get all sides of that person.

With Sister Cathy, I only heard glowing things about her… I haven’t even heard a bad story where she was mean to someone or selfish. All portrayals of Sister Cathy from her friends, her students, her family — they’re almost of an angel. I truly believe she would had left a huge impact on the world if her life wasn’t taken from her so soon.

Fox News: After the film was made, was there any movement in the investigation?
White:
Right after the trailer was released, the Baltimore press picked up the story of Father Maskell’s body being exhumed by the Baltimore County Police. They tested him for his DNA to see if it was a match from what was found in the crime scene. They recently released the results and it was not his DNA. But that was a very positive movement made by the Baltimore County Police.

Fox News: It was also reported the Baltimore Police Department recently created a crime-reporting forum for those involved in the story. Why has it taken so long?
White:
I don’t know! But I’m so pleased by that, and it’s Baltimore City Police. The murder investigation is with Baltimore County because that’s where Cathy’s body was found. But the high school was located in Baltimore City. So any abuse cases that may have happened would have to be reported to Baltimore City.

What I noticed within the three years of making this documentary was that there’s a lot of confusion and fear by survivors on how they can report their cases. But I’m very pleased they created a system that makes it easier, more seamless, and safer for women to come forward with their accounts.

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Fox News: Do you think we’ll ever find out who killed Sister Cathy?
White:
 I hope we do. I don’t think it’s too late to find out. I probably began the project thinking it was too late to find out, but I don’t believe that now… I believe her family deserves justice. And part of that is being able to name who killed Sister Cathy.

Fox News: Throughout the making of ‘The Keepers’ did you ever have any suspicions of who might have done it?
White:
Yeah, I mean one of the biggest surprises in making the documentary was, as you can see in episode five, two families popped up, both with very similar secret narratives of how their uncles may have committed this murder… I was also on that journey where I was wondering if I was being tossed a curveball… but I do think there are people out there that may have answers.

Fox News: What’s next for you?
White:
Right now, I’m deciding on my next project. At the moment, I’m completely dedicated to ‘The Keepers.’

Fox News: Do you see yourself tackling another true crime mystery?
White:
I’m not drawn to true crime specifically. I’m more drawn to the human side of it. It was Sister Cathy who drew me to ‘The Keepers.’ If I found another story ... I believe has that resilient human spirit at the center of it, and it just so happens to be a true crime, then absolutely. But I’m not ever going to be picking my projects based on a crime or a murder.

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