The Keepers, Netflix’s latest documentary series, tells the story of Catholic nun Sister Catherine Cesnik’s murder and the deep pool of potential systemic corruption in the church that attempted to cover it up. The story follows several priests, including Father Joseph Maskell, and a shadowy figure known only as “Brother Bob.” The series’ primary source of tension is discovering who Bob was, and what role he had in Sister Cesnik’s death.
Throughout the series, Jean Hargadon Wehner, a former student at the school where Maskell worked, and several other potential victims, describe years of manipulation, sexual abuse, and rape that they experienced under Maskell’s control. Several other men are described as being involved in Maskell’s sex ring, including Keough’s director of religious services, Father Neil Magnus, and several men who were referred to with pseudonyms, like “Brother Bob.”
According to Wehner, Brother Bob was a violent member of the alleged sex ring, and had to be “reined in” by Maskell several times. At one point, Wehner claims Brother Bob confessed to killing Cesnik after she’d confronted Maskell about the abuse going on at the school. When Maskell asked Brother Bob if he’d “taken care of everything,” Brother Bob assured him that Wehner would remain silent, after he had reportedly raped her again.
Wehner says she has entirely repressed the memory of Brother Bob’s face, though he raped her repeatedly. She’s also unsure whether he was the one who killed Cesnik, or whether he told her as much in order to threaten her into silence. Wehner does remember, though, that Bob wore a priest robe, had a birthmark or mole on the left side of his torso, and a scar on his lower right abdomen.
“To this day, I’m more terrified of Brother Bob than I have ever been of Joseph Maskell, because I don’t know who this Brother Bob is,” Wehner says in the series. “I don’t remember the man’s face, and I have no idea if he’s still out there.”
While The Keepers doesn’t provide a definitive identity for Brother Bob, several potential suspects are explored in the series. By far the biggest suspect posed by The Keepers is Edgar Davidson, the only suspect still alive during the time of filming. In Episode 5, “The Suspects,” the filmmakers interview Debbie Yohn, Davidson’s niece, who tells the story of her mother saying, while drunk one night, some interesting things about Davidson.
“She starts talking about my uncle, and she went on and on about a trunk and bloody clothes, and had this whole story about her brother,” Yohn says. “I waited until the next day, and I brought it up to her in the kitchen and she looked at me, panicked, and said, ‘I never said that.’ I didn’t hear anything else about it for years.”
Years later, Davidson’s first wife, only called “Margaret” in the documentary, got a hold of Yohn on Facebook and revealed her version of the story.
Apparently, Davidson’s sister didn’t want Margaret to marry Davidson from the beginning, saying that there were things about Davidson that Margeret didn’t know. Eventually, Margaret claims, Davidson attacked her, saying, “Do you realize I could kill you right now and tell myself someone else did this and believe it?”
Later, Davidson came home one day with his “white shirt filled with blood.” Upon being asked what happened, he said that he’d gotten into a fight with his boss. But Margaret remembers that it “came out on the news that Sunday that Sister Cesnik had disappeared.” Margaret says she remembers the date of Cesnik’s disappearance — November 7 — was the night Davidson came home with a bloody shirt. “So I looked at him, and his reaction was rocking back in the chair and getting a smirk and kind of laughing. He said, ‘By the time they find her body, it’s going to be winter time; she’s going to be buried under the snow.’”
After Margaret and Davidson separated, he was arrested for stealing a car and loitering outside the local middle school, trying to pick up middle school girls.
The doc makers actually got the chance to interview Davidson, but he seemed too senile to be a reliable source, becoming easily confused and taking long pauses. What results is a disheartening, suspicious conversation, but nothing that’s damning without a police investigation.
As The Keepers explains, Davidson is further connected to Cesnik through a necklace that Davidson gave Margaret for Christmas one year — a silver wedding bell with a green stone. That necklace is suspected to be the same necklace Cesnik was out buying for her sister and future brother-in-law as an engagement gift on the night of her disappearance. The wedding bell would have signified their engagement, while the green stone would have symbolized the brother-in-law’s birthstone, a peridot, for Cesnik’s sister to wear.
Upon being interviewed, Davidson confirmed (as much as he could) that he didn’t know why he would have given a green birthstone to Margaret, as hers was red. He said he never saw Cathy that night, but many fans online are taking his pregnant pauses accompanied with sad facial expressions as proof that, on some level, he knows something.
The other piece of evidence connecting Davidson to the disappearance and murder of Cesnik is that investigators suspected the person who drove Cesnik’s car back to her apartment after she’d disappeared drove with two feet, due to mud being on the brake pedal but not the gas pedal. The filmmakers questioned Davidson about whether or not he drives with two feet (a decidedly unconventional way to drive).
“What that got to do with anything?” Davidson asked. Upon further prompting, Davidson admits with a nod that, yes, back in the day when he could drive, he drove with two feet.
“I had nothing to do with her disappearance, her murder, or anything,” Davidson added.
Next is a group of suspects made up of Billy Schmidt, Ronnie Schmidt, and a man named “Skippy.” Barbara Schmidt, Ronnie’s ex-wife, described Billy as a “kind, gentle soul, but strange. He had very weird ways.” Barbara was friends with Billy (her brother-in-law), and said that due to his family’s aversion to Billy being gay, Billy went out and got an apartment — an apartment that just so happened to be right across the hall from Cesnik’s.
Barbara says she finds it an odd coincidence that Cesnik’s body was found by the Schmidt family home and by the family business, halfway between the two in the woods.
One night, Barbara says, her then-husband Ronnie came home covered in blood. He told her to not worry about it and that he was in a bar fight, though he wasn’t harmed at all. “He just had blood on his hands, his forearms, and his shirt,” Barbara says. “So I knew he’d been into something, but it wasn’t a fight.”
Supposedly, “after the nun died,” Ronnie changed. “He started drinking, doing drugs, acting crazy,” Barbara says. “It changed our lives. Just like with Bill. Bill became a hermit, he did not go to work anymore, stayed in the house, didn’t drive his car, didn’t see any family or friends, started talking about ‘the woman in the attic.’” Billy would apparently talk about Cesnik’s death all the time.
And then there was Skippy, who Barbara thinks was Billy’s “lover.” Apparently, one night, Barbara was followed by a man in a car dressed in a nun costume, who tried to follow her home. “To this day, I believe it was Skippy,” Barbara says. “That guy Skippy. Maybe he thought I knew something. Maybe he thought I knew too much.”
Eventually, Billy moved home because he was so distraught. He’d pace, take pills, drink, and babble about “the woman in the attic.” One day, Barbara went up there to prove there was nothing in the attic. She was wrong.
She found a mannequin dressed in a nun’s habit and dress. “He’d say she was after him, that she was chasing him,” Barbara says. “She would talk to him. The whole thing was very bizarre. Once the murder happened, he became a very tortured soul. I think he couldn’t live with his conscience anymore.”
Months after Cesnik’s death, Billy tried to commit suicide five times before doing so on the sixth, taking 49 sleeping pills and chasing it with alcohol.
Also implicating Ronnie, Billy, and Skippy are Ronnie’s children, Sharon and Brian Schmidt. Sharon tells the filmmakers that her father once said to her mother: “You want to know why I drink? Because I killed a woman. We put her behind the shop.”
But it’s Brian that has the story that sounds damning:
I was in [Cesnik’s] apartment, and my Uncle Billy was there,” Brian told interviewers at one point. Billy apparently made Brian leave and go back to his own apartment. “When I went looking for my uncle, he rushed me back to the apartment and shut her door. What I can tell you is, my Uncle Bill called a guy named Skippy. Black hair, mustache. He came. They both went over to her apartment. They came back with what looked like something rolled up, a rug or a blanket. They said, ‘We’ve got to load this in the car, and we’ll be right back.’ Then my Uncle Bill and Skippy went and picked up my Uncle Bobby [assumed to be Ronnie]. And my Uncle Bobby took me and a .22 over there behind my grandma’s place, behind the big house back there in the woods. And while Bobby was shooting the gun in the woods to keep me occupied, I’m watching the two of them load this out of the trunk … As I grew up, I realized my Uncle Bill did it, Skippy covered it up, and Uncle Bobby kept me occupied. My Uncle Bill said if I told anybody he would beat me to death and he would hurt me bad, and I was not to ever tell anybody about anything, or I would be killed.
But, despite anecdotal evidence, none of that is enough to implicate the men. But as The Keepers points out, the investigation is still ongoing.
The Keepers is now available to stream on Netflix.
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