FBI to exhume woman’s body from unsolved 1969 killing in Netflix’s ‘The Keepers’

Dec 12, 2023, 3:30 PM

BALTIMORE (AP) — FBI investigators are planning to exhume the body of a young woman whose unsolved 1969 killing has been a source of widespread speculation, especially since Netflix’s documentary series “The Keepers” examined the slaying of a Baltimore nun that unfolded days earlier under eerily similar circumstances.

Joyce Malecki went Christmas shopping in November 1969 at a suburban mall outside Baltimore and never came home. Her body was found on a nearby military base days later and an autopsy determined she had been strangled.

An advocate for the Malecki family confirmed Tuesday that the exhumation was tentatively planned for Thursday.

The case received renewed attention after “The Keepers” was released in 2017, raising questions about whether Malecki’s disappearance was linked to that of Sister Cathy Cesnik, who was found dead from blunt force trauma after she went shopping and never returned.

Also in 2017, investigators exhumed the body of a Catholic priest, Father Joseph Maskell, to see if his DNA matched evidence from the scene of Cesnik’s death. The documentary questioned whether Cesnik was killed because she knew Maskell was sexually abusing students at the Catholic high school where they both worked. But the DNA testing didn’t reveal a match and the case remains unsolved.

The latest source of speculation came earlier this year, when federal and local authorities announced they had solved the case of yet another young woman’s homicide: 16-year-old Pamela Conyers, who went missing in 1970 from the same shopping mall as Malecki and similarly died from strangulation.

Investigators used relatively new DNA technology and genealogy research to identify a suspect in Conyers’ death: Forrest Clyde Williams III, who died in 2018 of natural causes after spending most of his adult life in Virginia. He incurred nothing more than a couple minor criminal charges over the subsequent decades.

When they pinned Conyers’ killing on Williams, officials said they didn’t have evidence connecting him to either of the other unsolved homicides. They also said they didn’t believe Conyers knew Williams.

Kurt Wolfgang, executive director of the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center, said it appears investigators are now looking to extract DNA from Malecki’s body, although it’s unclear what they’re seeking to determine. He said the FBI has shared little information with the family about recent developments in the case, but the timing could suggest a link to Williams.

Wolfgang said relatives will be allowed to attend the exhumation, which will otherwise be closed to the public.

“They want justice out of this thing,” said Wolfgang, whose nonprofit has been working with the Malecki family. “Even though it was 54 years ago, it would certainly help them to know what happened.”

A spokesperson for the FBI’s Baltimore Field Office declined to comment, citing “respect for the ongoing investigation.” Federal investigators are in charge of the case because Malecki’s body was found on military property.

When Malecki was growing up, her family attended a Catholic church outside Baltimore where Maskell served as priest. They lived down the road while Maskell was living in the St. Clement Catholic Church rectory. He was later assigned to Archbishop Keough High School, where he was accused of abusing numerous girls.

Wolfgang said Malecki told her relatives “she did not like him one bit and told people to stay away from him.” But Wolfgang said the family doesn’t have any direct evidence suggesting she was one of Maskell’s abuse victims and they’re hesitant to jump to conclusions about linking the various cases.

A woman interviewed in “The Keepers” claimed Maskell showed her Cesnik’s body in the days after the nun disappeared. Cesnik was a teacher at Archbishop Keough High School when she was killed.

Earlier this year, the Maryland Attorney General’s Office released a report detailing decades of child sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of Baltimore that identified Maskell as one of its most prolific abusers, saying he targeted at least 39 victims. According to the report, Maskell was transferred to St. Clement after being accused of abuse at his prior assignment — one of several times the archdiocese turned a blind eye to his misconduct.

He denied the allegations before his death in 2001 and was never criminally charged.

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FBI to exhume woman’s body from unsolved 1969 killing in Netflix’s ‘The Keepers’