The grisly story of a young Catholic nun’s murder—still unsolved—took a shocking new twist Monday night when a Baltimore television station quoted both witnesses and a police spokesperson in a news telecast which suggested that five additional murders (four of them involving teenagers) were linked to rampant sex abuse by both Catholic priests and local police during an 11-year period that began in 1970.
The story on WJZ-TV—the CBS outlet in Baltimore—marked the first time ever that a mainstream news organization has reported on a current police investigation of apparent connections between six different unsolved murders and Catholic Church/police sexual assaults in Baltimore.
While confirming the fact that Baltimore County cold case detectives are currently looking for connections between the unsolved killings and the sexual abuse, county police spokesperson Corporal Shawn Vinson told WJZ: “We’ll continue to try to look for any leads, any additional evidence that we can find.”
The groundbreaking news program on the six unsolved murders stemmed from recent disclosures unearthed during a local, 22-year-long reporting effort. Those findings were published in Inside Baltimore, an independent online newspaper last August.
The independent paper reported then that law enforcement officials in Maryland were studying the six murders in search of possible links that might connect them to sex abuse by priests and cops at a former girls’ Catholic high school in the city of Baltimore.
But last night’s report by WJZ broke new ground on the story, while quoting a childhood friend of a Catholic altar boy, 14-year-old Danny Crocetti, who was found stabbed to death near a Catholic church in Baltimore County in March of 1975.
The friend of the victim, a classmate of the altar boy, explained how “Danny was found in a stream,” not far from Our Lady of Victory Church. She then described a brutal murder in which the child had been “stabbed in the throat” and was later found dead “behind the Catholic school.”
The startling WJZ newscast came in the wake of an Emmy-nominated Netflix true-crime documentary, The Keepers, which last May drew millions of viewers to its tragic story of how a 26-year-old teaching nun had been found murdered in 1970, after reportedly trying to blow the whistle on widespread sexual abuse at her Catholic high school in Baltimore.
See also: Cracking the Stonewall on a Nun’s Murder: A Reporter’s Story (TCR Nov 8, 2017).
As they continue to try to solve the murder of Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik and the other five young people slain between 1970 and 1981, cold case investigators in Maryland point out that they believe there are disturbing links between the murders, and that the later victims may have been killed because they too had been threatening to report the rapes by priests and cops.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore (AOB), meanwhile, has responded to the reports of abuse and murder by awarding cash “settlements” to more than a dozen abuse victims in recent years. Those awards, usually accompanied by “apologies” from Archdiocesan officials, now total more than $500,000, according to the AOB.
Tom Nugent is the author of Death at Buffalo Creek (W.W. Norton), a book of investigative journalism about a coal mining-related disaster that killed 125 people and left thousands homeless in Appalachia. He is also the publisher of an online newspaper, Inside Baltimore. Tom welcomes comments from readers.