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Netflix’s ‘Keepers’ stars keep fighting for abuse survivors Documentary series looks in depth at murder mystery and sex scandal at Keough ‘Buried in Baltimore’

OC Today – By Greg Ellison – Aug 03, 2017

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Photo: Ocean City residents and super sleuths, from left, Abbie Schaub and Gemma Hoskins have been amazed at the global reaction to the Netflix documentary series, “The Keepers,” which recently garnered an Emmy nomination. Photo by: Greg Ellison.

(Aug. 4, 2017) Since the Emmy-nominated Netflix documentary series, “The Keepers,” debuted in May, Ocean City residents Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Schaub’s campaign to solve a nearly half-century-old murder and sexual abuse scandal has gained a global audience.

The seven-part series delves into the November 1969 murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik an instructor at Archbishop Keough High School, a private all-girls Roman Catholic school in Southwest Baltimore. Two months later on Jan. 3, 1970, her body was discovered in a nearby wooded area.

Although still unsolved, former Keough alumni, including Hoskins and Schaub, have connected the Cesnik’s murder to alleged sexual abuse by Father Joseph Maskell.

Victims and others have theorized that Maskell killed Cesnik because she was about to reveal information about the abuse. He was removed from the ministry in 1994 and went to his grave in 2001 denying having any knowledge of abuse at the school. Keough was officially closed this June.

The Netflix documentary series, which was released in 200 countries and translated into more than 120 languages, has inspired a worldwide network of sleuths intent on uncovering the truth behind the death of their beloved former instructor, Hoskins said.

“It’s like the world’s biggest Clue game,” she said. “I think a lot of people are so obsessed with it they’ve lost track of the fact that’s it real.”

Extensive media coverage began after the series was released, including a recent appearance on “The View” and the PBS NewsHour, in addition to articles in major newspapers coast to coast.

Ironically, in 2005 veteran journalist Tom Nugent, who interviewed a number of Maskell’s alleged victims during the 1990s, had an article about Cesnik’s murder rejected by The Washington Post, The New York Times and the Baltimore Sun. Eventually, the City Paper in Baltimore published Nugent’s piece, “Who Killed Sister Cathy.”

Although the article solicited regional interest, the curiosity eventually faded until Hoskins contacted Nugent in 2012, and, along with Schaub, took another stab at unraveling the mystery.

Schaub explained that the campaign embraced social media as a means to network and gather facts.

“We had our own Facebook site and then a Keough friend started a site,” she said. “We wanted to try and lure in people who might have information.”

After “The Keepers” was released worldwide on May 19, Schaub said the social media participation grew from hundreds to more than a hundred thousand members.

“People are still joining the Facebook group,” she said. “I think it’s up to 104,000 members.”

The duo was initially unprepared for the explosion of interest that resulted from the documentary series.

“It was just she and I,” Schaub said. “We were adding like 600 members one at a time.”

In short order the women received assistance from fellow Keough alumni to help manage the social media presence.

“We brought in some help to be moderators,” she said. “We added like 12,000-15,000 members in three days.”

The membership boom also exposed negative aspects of the anonymous nature of social media commentary, Schaub said.

“Facebook is the wild wild west,” she said. “Social media has helped us, especially before the story came out, but there are really ugly sides to it that we had been a little bit protected from.”

Nevertheless, Hoskins got through the inevitable name-calling and disagreements over religious tenets and managed to harness the positive energy of the new throng of followers.

The retired schoolteacher realized others would amplify her efforts to contact various church and state officials.

“I would say, ‘OK, today we’re all going to write a letter,” she said. “It worked.”

Hoskins, who didn’t view the documentary until its release date, was surprised the murder mystery and abuse scandal became a sensation.

“For me, it went from I’m sitting here by myself with my dog and within a weekend everybody in the world knows who I am,” she said. “That was so bizarre and the only word I can think of is surreal. On the other hand, and I’m not religious, but I really feel this is why I’m here.”

Hoskins also began getting recognized in public.

“In the grocery store they’re taking selfies,” she said. “They stop their cars, ‘are you Gemma? It’s like, yeah.”

Despite the attention, Hoskins doesn’t feel her life has been impinged upon.

“I did not feel like I was invaded because everyone was positive and respectful,” she said. “Every single Ocean City person has been gracious, kind, supportive and generous. This town has been awesome.”

For her part, Schaub has been happy to retain some anonymity.

“I sort of fly under the radar, which I’m real pleased with,” she said. “The social media response was too overwhelming for me.”

Regardless of the impact on their lives, both Hoskins and Schaub appreciate that increased attention from a global audience may help achieve their goals of identifying Cesnik’s killer and providing resources for survivors of sexual abuse by Maskell or others.

“[Maskell] was going from 1960 to 1992 when they caught up with him finally… so he had over 30 years of this,” Schaub said.

The pair knew the story was beginning to take on a life of its own and would likely gain major media exposure prior to being contacted by director Ryan White and Tripod Media.

“There was a Huffington Post story about two years ago and that got more media attention,” Schaub said. “When Ryan came to us, we had been approached by different media people and we did not like the idea that somebody was just going to use the story to make money off of it.”

Despite an initial leeriness, Schaub said the documentary approach was less sensationalistic than other development deals discussed.

“We liked the concept that people could tell their own stories,” she said. “We were particularly concerned that some of these vulnerable survivors would be portrayed in unpredictable ways in a script that we have no control over.”

It turned out that White has his own connection to the Maskell abuse scandal, as his grandfather owned a summer camp where Maskell allegedly began sexually abusing children in the early 1960s.

“When Ryan said his family had run this church camp where Maskell is first known to abuse, and they had the records showing that Maskell was there, it was sort of a sign that this is the right man,” Schaub said.

In the end, Schaub was impressed that White shot more than 750 hours of film and interviewed more than two-dozen people who accuse Maskell of sexual misconduct.

“When they got to the production side of it, they said it’s too confusing,” she said. “You can’t have all these different faces and names.

You have to have somebody to tell the story.”

Schaub also takes exception with misperceptions surrounding the financial details of the production.

“Nobody got paid to do the documentary,” she said. “That’s another untruth that’s out in the world. They wanted the story told.”

Although Tripod Media was eventually able to ink a deal with Netflix for an undisclosed sum, Schaub said the relatively small production company took a gamble with the project.

“They could have lost their shirts on this,” she said. “They spent years flying around, hiring cameramen, paying a production staff and it could not have sold.”

Both Hoskins and Schaub were relieved after viewing the finished project.

“It was so well crafted to me it’s like a piece of artwork,” Hoskins said.

Schaub said the completed documentary alleviated her initial concerns.

“Most of us were holding our breath when it came out because we were concerned what’s the world going to do to these people who have already been harmed,” she said. “There was a sense of relief after I saw the story so beautifully told.”

Although appreciative of White’s storytelling approach, Schaub said the history of Maskell’s abuse is ugly to the core.

“I think the story reflected the ugliness and pain that the behavior caused,” she said. “It’s not just that it was Maskell, it’s that there’s this whole system in place with the church and the state. The Archdiocese of Baltimore still claims, ‘we didn’t know anything was happening,’ and we know they knew it was happening.”

Moving forward, both Hoskins and Schaub hope further truths are unearthed about the murder of Cesnik. They said their cohort Alan Horn, who is featured briefly in the documentary, is also continuing the fight for justice and continues to uncover further information from past victims of Maskell.

Read entire article here

Posted by Teri Perticone

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