true crime

‘Jane Roe’ Speaks: Teresa Lancaster on The Keepers, Father Joseph Maskell’s Abuse, and Her Search for Justice

Photo: Netflix

For decades, Teresa Lancaster talked about the rape and sexual abuse she endured at the hands of a local Catholic priest, police officers, and other men in her Baltimore community. She even told her husband, Randy, about it the night they met at a party. “I had a habit of doing that,” Lancaster told Vulture in an interview. “I think it was my own way of therapy.”

Nevertheless, Lancaster’s participation in The Keepers — Netflix’s unflinching documentary series about the horror she and others endured at the all-girls Archbishop Keough High School — followed years of silence. The 1972 graduate never told her parents that Father Joseph Maskell, the chaplain at Keough, raped her over a period of two years and arranged for other men to assault her as well, including a gynecologist she was forced to visit. Maskell, who died in 2001 and was never criminally charged, showed her a loaded handgun he kept in his desk and threatened her with expulsion if she shared their secret.

“I just want people to realize that they don’t have to hide in the corner anymore,” Lancaster said. In 1994, she and another victim, Jean Hargadon Wehner, filed a $40 million lawsuit against Maskell and the Archdiocese of Baltimore under the pseudonyms of Jane Roe and Jane Doe respectively. Although the suit was thrown out because the statue of limitations had passed, more victims have come forward and the Archdiocese has paid $472,000 toward 16 settlements as well as $97,000 for counseling assistance.

“I decided to use Jane Roe because my children were a lot younger and I was afraid because at that time there were people that really didn’t believe us,” Lancaster said. “In the ’90s, it was really tough because the lawyers for the church were calling me promiscuous, asking me about relations with my boyfriend and smoking pot and drinking wine. They were making me out to be a real sleaze ball. But it’s not that way so much anymore.”

That’s due, in large part, to the doggedness of Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Schaub, two Keough alums who took it upon themselves to spend their retirement days spearheading a social-media campaign and investigation into what really happened at their high school. Sparking it all was the unsolved murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik, a 26-year-old beloved teacher who went missing on November 7, 1969, and whose dead body was found two months later at a remote garbage dump less than ten miles away.

The Keepers begins with the mystery surrounding Sister Cathy’s murder, but evolves into a complicated web of church and government cover-ups that strongly suggest Maskell’s involvement, though there are other suspects. At the heart of the series are the crusaders who refuse to take no for an answer and refuse to keep quiet — all of them women in their 60s.

Ryan White, director of The Keepers, met Lancaster for the first time when Hoskins drove all of them through the Baltimore neighborhood where Keough and the church were located. “It was obviously a very emotional experience for her because she was going back to the high school or the rectory where she was abused,” he said. “I didn’t know her that well at that point, so in hindsight it was an emotional time for her. But Teresa is very, very reserved with her emotions and I learned that over the course of many years. I think that’s one of the reasons she is so tough and probably a good lawyer, because she is reserved with those emotions.”

During an interview with Vulture, Lancaster was calm and collected as she opened up about the horrors of her past, what drives her to keep fighting, and how she feels about the Catholic Church’s apology.

What has it been like since The Keepers was released? You kept quiet for so long and people weren’t always kind to you.
Surprisingly, pretty good. I get hugged. When I went to the Keough farewell, everyone kept coming up and hugging me and shaking my hand. I have not gotten a negative response yet. It’s really been pretty cool.

The documentary covers horrifying things that happened to you and many other women, but it also stands out because it’s so empowering to see Gemma and Abbie take control after the system let you all down. Did you have a sense that this documentary would be so much bigger than yourself?
I’ve been wanting to tell my story since it happened. When I met with the group at Gemma’s house and I met with [former Baltimore Sun reporter] Tom Nugent and some of the other people — at that time, Jean had not decided to come out publicly — I think we were just starting to feel stronger. And social media, that’s what did it. That’s what brought us together and made everybody strong enough. I did think it would be big, but I didn’t think it would be this big.

What was it like to meet Gemma and Abbie?
It was interesting. I didn’t know them when I was in Keough. I didn’t have many friends because of all the abuse, but they were so kind and friendly and they were really, really proud of my coming out in the ’90s. I did say a few times, you know, this group would have been very helpful in the ’90s, but then I laughed it off because I feel like everyone was in the midst of raising little kids and stuff. One thing I should probably say is that when I was a student at Keough, I freely told all of my friends that Maskell was a pervert. My whole lunch table knew what was going on, but nobody knew what to do about it. I ended up being married, actually, while I was a senior. I was married secretly. I just started having children and putting it out of my mind as much as I could.

What about Jean? Did you feel an immediate bond with her?
I didn’t meet her until about a year into the interviewing. Ryan said, “What do you think about going and meeting Jean?” And I said, “Well, it’s a long time coming.” I’d only talked to her once in ’95. I filed a writ with the Supreme Court and I asked her if she wanted to go in with me. She didn’t want anything to do with that, so it was a very short conversation. I never saw her until I met her in the house during the filming of the documentary.

Jean’s memories were repressed for a long time, but yours weren’t. Did talking with Ryan bring back even more details?
It was pretty good because they took me to the school and the area along with Donna Von Den Bosch [another Maskell victim who has a received a settlement from the Archdiocese], whom I had never even known about, and the three of us hugged, trekked down, and started talking like we’d known each other all our lives. Donna would say something horrible that Father Neil Magnus did to her, and I’d chime in about Maskell and the douche bags. My husband was in the background shaking his head, almost crying because he couldn’t believe the stories coming out of our mouths.

In the series, your husband spoke of how one night in the ’90s you woke up screaming from a nightmare.
I always had a memory of the first couple times with Maskell and what he did with the douche bags and enema bottles and the raping. But yes, at the time, in ’94, I woke up in the middle of the night screaming because I remembered the rape at the rector’s office. I started remembering other things then, too.

When this started happening to you, were you aware that it had happened with other girls? Were there stories or rumors?
No, I didn’t — except for when he started abusing my friend, Linda Whitney. That’s when I realized I wasn’t the only one. I went to him maybe three, four times before he started abusing us simultaneously. My parents were told by Maskell that I was a hopeless case, that I was possibly schizophrenic. He told them that I could have Linda over because she was a good kid. Linda and I were pretty much stuck with it. I was in a cage and she was in there too. He made her do an anatomy lesson on me with my clothes off and stuff like that. We didn’t know whom to tell.

But you mentioned that you did talk about it with other girls?
To the extent that I would tell people that Maskell was a pervert and to stay away from Maskell. He smacked me with a gun, and I did tell people he had a gun and [that] he was crazy. I didn’t sit down and tell the story.
There was one girl I became friends with whose first name is Cathy. She told me that he used to give her gynecological exams in the chapel.

Why did you start visiting Father Maskell in his office?
I started hanging around him when I was dating a guy with long hair who was in a band. My mom went through my purse and found some paraphernalia and she freaked out totally. My mother was screaming and crying. My father was crying, lying down, telling me he was having a heart attack. That was so horrible. The very next day, my dad took me to school and I found Linda and I was crying with her. We came up with the idea to see Maskell, to ask him to call my dad. That’s how it all started. I’ve been in Catholic school since I was in the first grade and we were told that if there was any problem, you can go to the priest. The good Father will take care of you and make it right. That was embedded in my head.

You mentioned that you got married senior year and it was a secret. Was it a secret from your family?
I found out I was pregnant in May of ’72 and I ran off with my current boyfriend. We got married at a Methodist church and moved into an apartment with a bunch of hippies.

And you were still going to school?
I was still in school. I called my mother and told her I was married. She screamed and cried and begged me to at least finish school. I kept going to school as though I wasn’t married. Fortunately, nobody told on me.

Is that your husband now?
No, he died when he was 34 years old from cancer. We were married for 16 years. We had four kids. He got cancer when he was 28 years old and he was gone by 34. It was a strange marriage. I really didn’t know him. That’s the way it is. Actually, my hospice worker who was taking care of me toward the end of my first husband’s life, I was invited to her birthday party. I ended up marrying her brother. [Laughs.]

Did any of your siblings know what you had gone through?
No. At the time, my brothers were all nerds and I was a hippie and I didn’t really have much in common with them. They had their books and I had my coffee houses and what have you. So they didn’t know. I never told them. I did confide in my brother, Mark, when we were into adulthood, and of course they all knew when I filed suit.

And your parents never knew?
No, my parents never knew. My mother actually had an untimely death from a botched biopsy. She died in 1993. I don’t think I would have come forward. I wouldn’t have done anything to hurt her, she was such a saint, you know?

Was Father Maskell still abusing you after you were married in your senior year?
Yes, yes.

Did you talk about that with your husband?
Yeah, he wanted to shoot him. Of course, he didn’t.

It’s believed that some of the girls told Sister Cathy what was happening and this possibly led to her murder. Did you ever speak to her about it?
I never talked to her. I did try out for the drama club freshman year and I did see her, but I never really knew her.

Do you think her murder will be solved?
I think Maskell did it. I think we are closer than we ever have been. I am not keeping tabs on the new tips that are coming in with Gemma and Abbie. I’m pretty much focusing on victims that are coming forward. There are a lot of people who can’t remember a lot.

Your brain tries to protect you, I think.
Yes. I always tell them that if they don’t remember, it’s probably a blessing.

It was so infuriating and disheartening to learn that all of these other people participated in the crimes with Maskell.
I know. My friend Linda, who just died this month, was with me on Halloween night 1970 when Maskell took us to a police run in a remote area where I remember being raped by two policemen. She remembered more than that. She said it was a lot more than that, but I don’t remember. She did put a rant on Facebook shortly before she died. We took it down because it was really personal.

You became a lawyer at 49. Why did you want to be a lawyer?Well, I always wanted to be either a doctor or a lawyer. My dad is a lawyer. I have three brothers and two of them are doctors and the other one is a lawyer. In my family, you really aren’t educated unless you are a professional and I always had an interest in the law. I just wanted to do that so I figured when the kids got older, I slowly chiseled at it and got my social-work degree and then ended up in law school.

How do you feel about the apology that the Church gave you and the other victims of Father Maskell? Did you accept it?
I thanked them for their apology, but after being called names — they tried to break me in the depositions of the ’90s — it’s really hard for me to accept anything from the Church. I know they are apologizing so they can save face and their money. I don’t think they would have ever said they were sorry if they didn’t get caught red-handed. I mean, they called me a liar. They said I was a confused, mixed-up person, like a mental case.

I can’t imagine what you felt when you learned what happened to Charles Franz, the dentist who was abused by Maskell at another school. That’s the reason why he was transferred to your school.
I was always under the impression that he had abused a boy at Our Lady of Victory, which is why he was sent to Keough. When the dentist came out, I was surprised, but in a way I wasn’t. I had known he was doing boys and had a history and that’s why they sent him to an all-girls school.

If the Archdiocese had done the right thing, he would have never hurt all of you at Keough. That is infuriating.
When I saw the movie Spotlight and they said they knew — they knew, and they let it happen — I almost broke down and cried because they did know. If they had listened to the dentist Charles, I wouldn’t have been abused.

You work with victims of abuse. What advice do you give them?
I tell them, “You’re not alone, stay strong.” And I thank them for contacting me.

How do you think you’ve been able to stay strong yourself?
I would just say that I’m lucky. I’ve always had drive and determination, and I’m just lucky that it made me more angry than anything else. And determined. You know what’s interesting? This made me tougher. When my husband died and my mother died, there were a lot of horrors in my life. It made me able to tough it out, and I was determined to go back to school and make something of myself. I wasn’t giving into it. It was always there. There isn’t one day that goes by where I don’t hear Maskell’s name, and it’s haunting. I just try to look for life in other places.

Teresa Lancaster on The Keepers and Her Search for Justice