Police get several tips in 1969 slaying of nun

July 10, 1994|By Robert A. Erlandson and Joe Nawrozki | Robert A. Erlandson and Joe Nawrozki,Sun Staff Writers

Baltimore County police continue to receive telephone calls with information about the unsolved 1969 slaying of Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik, "and there is some substance to the calls," said Capt. Rustin E. Price, head of the homicide squad.

Some of the calls have taken investigators to other states because people have moved in the intervening years. "It's tedious work, but we are diligently following up every piece of information we get," Captain Price said.

Sister Catherine, a popular teaching nun, disappeared Nov. 7, 1969, after she left on an evening shopping trip from her residence at the Carriage House Apartments on North Bend Road, in Southwest Baltimore. Two hunters found the 26-year-old nun's body Jan. 3, 1970, in a frozen field off the 2100 block of Monumental Ave. in Lansdowne.

Captain Price said clothing and other physical evidence gathered during the investigation has been sent to the Maryland State Police crime laboratory for forensic analysis.

The testing includes such techniques as DNA genetic fingerprinting, which was not available at the time of the slaying.

L Captain Price would not disclose the results of the testing.

"Anything that could have been evidence has been sent off, everything that we had," he said.

Among items police recovered were Sister Catherine's navy-blue suit, her underclothing, an aqua-colored overcoat and her pocketbook.

Dr. Werner U. Spitz, then deputy state medical examiner, said he could not determine whether she had been raped, but that the disarray of her clothing suggested a sexual motive.

Sister Catherine was killed a few months after she and Sister Helen Russell Phillips left the convent at Archbishop Keough High School, a Catholic girls' school in Southwest Baltimore, in June 1969 to share an apartment and to become teachers in city public schools.

Captain Price said police continue to receive telephone calls about the Cesnik slaying from people who have read in The Sun about the reopening of the investigation this spring.

The articles included a criminal profile of the possible killer compiled by Lt. Sam Bowerman, an FBI-trained profiler who suggested that Sister Catherine was killed by a stranger who lived near the nun's apartment and may have been familiar with her movements.

Lieutenant Bowerman said he thinks the killer's curiosity would have led him to talk about the slaying at times over the years and that he might have undergone noticeable behavior and physical changes.

Captain Price asked anyone with information that might help solve the case to call Baltimore County police communications at 887-2198.

The Sun articles also have prompted telephone calls to three Towson lawyers researching allegations by former Archbishop Keough students that they were sexually abused by a priest in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The two matters are linked because one of the alleged abuse victims claims that a priest took her to see Sister Catherine's body long before the hunters found it and reported it to authorities.

The woman, who has been interviewed by county detectives and The Sun, said a man she met in the priest's office told her that he had killed the nun because Sister Catherine knew about the sexual abuse.

Beverly A. Wallace and James Maggio, two of the lawyers, said Friday that more than 20 men and women have called since the first article appeared about the Cesnik case June 19.

"We have met with some of the victims and have planned more meetings," Ms. Wallace said. Several calls came from New York state, she said.

In addition to potential plaintiffs, the lawyers said many women have provided corroborative details.

More than 60 people have called with information about the alleged sexual abuse at Archbishop Keough and elsewhere since the lawyers placed an ad in The Sun in August asking anyone with knowledge of sexual abuse to contact them.

While county detectives focus on Sister Catherine's death, Baltimore detectives attached to the city state's attorney's office are investigating the sexual abuse complaints and have interviewed several of the alleged victims to determine whether there are grounds for criminal charges.

Baltimore County police are also investigating a possible link to another slaying.

Four days after Sister Catherine disappeared, Joyce Helen Malecki, 20, of Lansdowne, vanished on a Christmas shopping trip in Glen Burnie. On Nov. 13, 1969, two hunters found her body in the Soldier Park training area of Fort Meade. Her hands had been tied behind her back, and she had been choked and stabbed in the throat.

Baltimore County police and FBI agents conferred last week to determine whether they could find similarities between the two unsolved slayings. They plan to continue meeting as the investigations proceed. The Malecki killing came under FBI jurisdiction because Fort Meade is a federal reservation.

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