Women say ‘Keepers’ figure was unnamed rapist in Catholic abuse report

(left) A historical picture of Gerry Koob; (right) Gerry Koob, as featured in the Netflix documentary “The Keepers”

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The women spent hours recounting painful memories to investigators with the Maryland Office of the Attorney General. They told of the priests who pulled them out of class at Archbishop Keough High School 50 years ago, then brutally raped and sexually assaulted them.

But when the attorney general’s office released its massive report on sex abuse in Baltimore’s Catholic archdiocese in April, the two women were shocked. Their stories were there on page 258, but a key detail was missing: the name of one of the men who they say raped them.

The report names more than 150 clergy and archdiocesan personnel accused of perpetrating or covering up abuse, with 15 names redacted. But this man’s name was not in the report. He was described only as “the Jesuit intern.”

The women, who asked to remain anonymous, shared their story with The Baltimore Banner. They allege that the young Jesuit is a man familiar to the viewers of “The Keepers,” the popular 2017 Netflix documentary that delved into abuse at Keough and the killing of a popular young nun, Sister Cathy Cesnik.

The Jesuit intern, they say, is the priest who was dating the slain nun at the time of her disappearance: Gerry Koob.

When two Baltimore Banner reporters arrived at Koob’s New Jersey home unannounced last month, the 85-year-old emphatically denied the accusations, saying it was a case of mistaken identity. For nearly two hours, Koob detailed why he was innocent. For one thing, he only taught at Keough during the 1966-67 academic year, before either woman attended the school. He said he was stationed in other parts of the state and said he did not own a car when the women say they were repeatedly raped — an account backed up by contemporaneous newspaper articles.

Gerry Koob, as featured in the Netflix documentary “The Keepers.”

Koob said he did not know Father A. Joseph Maskell, who is accused of abusing and raping nearly 40 children and teens, including at least 16 Keough students. He expressed sympathy for the abuse survivors and said he signed onto “The Keepers” to help them. He has not been charged with a crime, and the documentary did not mention allegations of sexual assault against him. Koob said law enforcement officials, including the attorney general’s investigators, have never questioned him about abuse allegations.

“My conscience is clear,” he said. “I never abused a young woman in my life.”

Though the alleged abuse occurred five decades ago and the women were only able to identify Koob in the past decade, both are adamant that he is the perpetrator. The second woman said she spent hours this summer detailing her allegations to a Baltimore Police investigator and shared emails she had exchanged with the detective.

“I can tell you that I remember him raping me,” the first woman said of Koob. “I remember him.”

Abuse allegations

The first of Koob’s accusers is accustomed to not being believed. It’s been more than three decades since her long-repressed memories of being raped by Maskell and another priest, Neil Magnus, began to resurface. She approached archdiocesan officials in 1992 to tell them about the abuse, according to the attorney general’s report. They said she was the first to raise concerns about the priest. They were lying.

As detailed in the attorney general’s report, in 1966, a year after Maskell was ordained, numerous parents complained that Maskell was asking Boys Scouts to describe their sexual fantasies and practices while he filmed them.

That same year, parishioners at Sacred Heart of Mary, where Maskell was stationed, wrote a letter to the archdiocese about Maskell taking “young girls” to the rectory under “suspicious circumstances,” according to the report.

Father Joseph Maskell
Father Joseph Maskell

Despite these alarming accusations, Maskell was assigned to the now-shuttered Keough in 1967 and served as chaplain and counselor, roles that provided unfettered access to girls.

According to the report, Maskell would listen to girls’ confessions, identify those who were vulnerable and target them for abuse. He summoned girls from class, then took them in his private office where he would drug, rape, photograph and humiliate them. He forced some girls to give themselves enemas while he watched. He took several of them to see a Towson gynecologist, Christian Richter, who examined and raped them, according to the report. Magnus often took part in raping the girls as well.

Maskell’s office sat near a door to the outside from which he ordered disheveled rape survivors to leave the school, according to survivors interviewed in “The Keepers.” Survivors, including the first woman The Banner interviewed, said that Maskell used that door to usher in other men, including police and politicians, who also raped them.

Sixteen women have reported being raped or sexually abused by Maskell at Keough in the late 1960s and early ’70s, according to the attorney general’s report. More than 20 other men and women reported being drugged, raped or sexually assaulted by Maskell at churches, camps and schools.

The first woman reported to investigators that Maskell and Magnus sexually assaulted her every two or three weeks for most of her four years of high school. In the fall of 1969, the first woman said, Sister Cathy pulled her aside and asked her if anybody was hurting her or making her do something she did not want to do, according to the report. Soon after, on Nov. 7, Cesnik disappeared. The woman told the attorney general’s office that Maskell later took her to a remote area and showed her the nun’s body. (The report states that “some victims” said they were taken to see the body.)

As more memories began to surface, the woman said that the name “GERARD” — Koob’s given name — flashed across her closed eyes.

“Three times,” she recalled in an interview. “I can still see it.”

Around 2014, the woman said, she looked at a photo of Koob and began to remember him raping her. “When I looked at a picture, I knew that he was in that room, he was someone who had abused me,” she said.

The woman said she could clearly recall two incidents in which Koob raped her, but she believes there could be more that are still repressed. Although she described the rapes at length to investigators, the attorney general’s report inaccurately characterizes one of the assaults, she said.

The attorney general’s office declined to state why Koob’s name was not included in the report, and Koob said that investigators from the office had not contacted him.

But Kurt Wolfgang, the executive director of Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center, who is representing the two former Keough students, said officials told him that they were investigating Koob.

“We believe that the Attorney General’s Office is investigating Gerry Koob,” he said. “It’s an active investigation and it’s absolutely critical that if anyone has any information or stories to add, that they come forward.”

Archbishop Keough High School
Archbishop Keough High School

‘That’s the guy’

Unlike the first woman, the second woman said she never repressed the memories of the sexual assaults that she said Maskell, Magnus and a third man inflicted upon her. She had long puzzled over the identity of the third man, she said. Then she heard Koob speak in the “Keepers” documentary.

“I heard the voice … and my body just shook like crazy,” she recalled. “I was a mess. And then when I looked and I saw his eyes, I was like, ‘That’s him. That’s the guy.’ ”

The second woman said she did not know that other Keough students had been abused until “The Keepers” came out; she said she was not aware of the decades of news coverage of the case. She attended Keough for just one year, ninth grade, from 1971 to 1972 before transferring to a public high school, she said.

Father Joseph Maskell and Father Neil Magnus in the 1969 Keough yearbook.

The woman said that Magnus would show up at her math class and order her to come with him. He would take her to his own office or to Maskell’s office, she said. Koob would be there wearing street clothes — not priestly vestments, she said. He and the other priests raped her many times, she said. “It was all year, from September until the end of the year, at least two or three times a week,” she said.

“He had piercing blue eyes. He would look at you and you would already feel like you didn’t have any clothes on,” she said of Koob. “He was very, very forceful in that way.”

The woman said that the priests raped her with a nightstick and an aspergillum, a metal stick used to sprinkle holy water, that she described as being studded with points. The assaults left her with permanent damage, she said. “It has affected me permanently, anatomically, physically,” she said.

The woman said she believed that Maskell gave her sodas laced with a sedative before some of the attacks. She would periodically wake up at the school nurse’s office with no memory of how she arrived there. “When I looked up, Father Maskell was standing over me,” she recalled. “The curtain was over and the room was dark and he was just standing, staring down at me, asking me if I remember anything, calling me ‘filthy’ or ‘dirty whore’ or saying, ‘If your father only knew.’ ”

In fact, the woman said, she kept quiet out of fear how her father, a devout Catholic and a local politician, would respond. Would he believe his daughter’s account that priests had inflicted hideous abuse upon her? Would his political career end if others found out?

For decades, she said, she never told anyone what she had endured. She found other ways to channel her grief, including helping fight for victims’ rights legislation in Annapolis.

After “The Keepers” came out, in 2017, a mutual contact connected the two women. The second emailed the first.

“NONE of my family knows and I do not want them to know anything. I do NOT want to go public. I want all of this kept between us,” she wrote, according to a copy she provided. “My family would be ashamed to know all of this.”

She said she wanted to talk about Koob, spelling his last name in all caps, and the two met up in the back room of a Catonsville restaurant, although it took at least a year before the second woman felt comfortable to meet up.

Last month, the second woman filed complaints with city police, the archdiocese and the northeast province of the Jesuits. She emailed copies of her correspondence with each organization to The Banner.

The first woman said she became aware of three others, not Keough students, who said Koob had acted inappropriately around them as well.

Among them was Ronnie Norpel. Her mother was a childhood friend of Koob’s, and he brought Cesnik to her home twice the summer before she went missing. “Gerry was in my life since I was 13 months old,” Norpel says.

After watching “The Keepers,” Norpel said an uncomfortable memory came back to her of Koob teaching her how to use a hair dryer while talking about a “sexy” Hollywood star.

Later, as a young adult, she consulted with Koob about premarital sex, she said. She said he asked her some questions, then said: “ ’OK, go ahead.’ Then he added, ‘And let me know how it goes.’ ” Coming from her family priest, she said, she considered it a directive.

For the first of Koob’s accusers, hearing the stories of others was validating. But, she said, it was also terrifying.

“To tell you the truth, I would have preferred to think that I had made it up, I was crazy,” she said. “Then for these people to start saying they also knew that man, and the behaviors that I have remembered, I would rather have been crazy. Because that means it’s not over.”

‘The allegations are completely false’

Koob lives in a modest ranch home in a town near the Jersey Shore. He shared the home with his wife of 40 years, Diane Koob, who died in 2021. Both the Koobs were Methodist ministers until they retired; the tidy home is decorated with photos of the couple, their adult daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren.

Koob shuffled to the front door and stood blinking in the bright July sun when reporters knocked on his door last week. “Let me get my glasses,” he said, before returning with a pair of gold-rimmed bifocals.

While surprised to see reporters at his door, he was not startled by the allegations, although he vehemently denies them. He has been mulling over the accusations since last fall, when he received letters from women who alleged he either raped them or acted inappropriately around them when they were girls.

Koob said he believed the bulk of the former Keough students’ allegations and had great sympathy for the horrors that they had experienced. But the accusations against him are a case of mistaken identity, he said. He pinned the confusion on a retired Baltimore Sun reporter, Tom Nugent, who has written at length on the case and was interviewed in “The Keepers.” Koob said he believes questions raised by Nugent about Koob’s role in the case — in newspaper articles and online discussions— “planted” the idea with the women that he was a bad actor who was involved in Cesnik’s disappearance.

Koob was attending a Jesuit seminary when Keough opened its doors in 1965. The newly created all-girls school hired several Jesuits, including Koob, to teach religion to the girls in 1966, he said. It was there that Koob met Cesnik, a pretty young English teacher who was beloved by the girls. Koob was drawn to her as well, and the two became friends and then slowly fell in love.

In the spring of 1967, Keough’s administrators announced that they no longer wanted the Jesuits to teach religion, Koob said, adding that they thought the Jesuits were “too liberal.”

Meanwhile, Cesnik was preparing to make her final vows to become a nun. Koob said he proposed to her that spring, but she turned him down. However, he said, the two maintained a close, romantic friendship.

Photo of Sister Catherine Cesnik
Photo of Sister Catherine Cesnik

The pair stayed in touch when the Jesuits transferred Koob to a retreat house in Frederick in 1967 and then while he pursued a master’s degree at Temple University in Philadelphia the following year. In 1969, Koob was assigned to the Manresa Jesuit retreat house in Annapolis overseeing youth retreats four days a week. He and Cesnik, who had left the convent and was living in an apartment with another young nun, continued to spend time together. In September 1969, they attempted – unsuccessfully – to have sex, he said. Soon after, she was laid up with a painful kidney stone. When she recovered, she asked Koob to meet with her on Saturday, Nov. 8, to have a “serious conversation,” he said. He hoped it meant that she was reconsidering his offer of marriage.

But that conversation never happened. According to Koob, on Friday, Nov. 7, he went out to eat and watch a movie with Peter McKeon, a member of the Christian Brothers order. The two were back at Manresa having a nightcap when Cesnik’s roommate, Sister Russell Phillips, called to say that she had not returned after running errands. Koob and McKeon drove up to the Carriage House apartments, the Catonsville complex where the nuns lived. The priest, brother and nun prayed and talked before calling police. Later, the two men walked around the complex and discovered Cesnik’s car sloppily parked.

Two months after Cesnik disappeared, hunters found her body in a nearby wooded area. Although her body was decomposed, investigators determined that she died after suffering blunt force trauma to the head.

As Cesnik’s boyfriend, Koob was an early suspect in the case. Investigators questioned him at length but never pressed charges. McKeon, who died in 2020, consistently provided an alibi for Koob. In one memorable moment in “The Keepers,” Koob recounted that investigators placed in front of him a bundle of newspaper containing flesh and said that it was Cesnik’s vagina.

Still reeling with grief over Cesnik’s killing, Koob faced another loss: the death of his father, in February 1970. Koob said he underwent counseling with A. W. Richard Sipe, a psychotherapist who specialized in treating troubled priests. Sipe, who died in 2018, later gained renown as an expert in clergy sexual abuse.

Koob asked to be moved from Manresa and was assigned to a Christian Brothers retreat house near Frederick, he said. Starting in the summer of 1971 — and continuing through the time that the second woman said he was raping her at Keough — he was living at Catholic University and working in Beltsville, he said. He had limited access to a car that he shared with other priests, he said.

A former Christian Brother who worked with Koob at the time, but asked for anonymity to avoid publicity, recalled Koob as being “really intense.” But he did not recall hearing complaints about Koob or observing peculiar behaviors. “I mean, he was there the whole time. You don’t disappear from a retreat. You’re needed there,” he said. But, he added: “I wasn’t with him all the time.”

Later, Koob moved to Minneapolis, got married to a Methodist minister, became ordained as a Methodist minister himself, and moved to New Jersey where they raised two daughters.

Occasionally, detectives and reporters would find Koob and ask him about Cesnik’s death. It was in the mid-1990s, Koob said, that he first learned that girls had been sexually abused at Keough. It was then that he first saw a photo of Maskell, the priest accused of being the mastermind of the abuse, he said.

“That was the first time I discovered what this person looked like and realized I had never met him at all and would not have had occasion to meet him,” Koob said. As a Jesuit, Koob said, he attended a different seminary and lived in different housing than diocesan priests such as Maskell and Magnus.

The Koobs were enjoying a quiet retirement in their home near the Jersey Shore when “The Keepers” producers reached out to them in the middle of the last decade. Koob said he took part in the documentary to help the abuse survivors find healing. He now regrets that he decision.

“Opening my gut up in that whole business of making ‘The Keepers,’ and watching nothing come of it. That’s a very difficult chapter in my life,” he said.

Last fall, Koob received letters from Norpel and the two former Keough students interviewed by The Banner. He held up the letters and read short passages from them, but did not allow reporters to read them in their entirety, describing them as “repulsive.” He said he also received a letter alleging abuse from a fourth woman whose parents had been friends of his. That letter included a snapshot of a note he wrote to her when she was a girl. Koob acknowledged the note appeared to be “inappropriate” but said it was taken out of context. Banner reporters were unable to make contact with this accuser.

Koob dismissed Norpel’s accusations of inappropriate behavior, saying her father, who is now deceased, was in the room at the time. Norpel disputed this account.

Koob pointed out that others in the Keough orbit had similar names. A 1971 yearbook from the neighboring Cardinal Gibbons High School, a now-shuttered boys’ Catholic school, shows a teacher with a similar first and last name. A 1970 Keough yearbook includes a teacher who is also named “Gerard.”

Koob rolled his eyes when asked about the second Keough student’s claims. When “The Keepers” was filmed, he weighed 50 pounds more than he did during the era the attacks occurred at Keough. His voice and face have changed during the past five decades. Could she have recognized his eyes, surrounded by wrinkles and obscured by bifocals?

“The allegations are completely false,” he said.

Promotional image for The Keepers on Netflix
Promotional image for The Keepers on Netflix

Changing perceptions of Koob

Koob blames Nugent, the retired Sun reporter, for disseminating the theory that he killed Cesnik.

“What got me furious about all that was how they made a connection between the person who raped them and my name,” Koob said. “He planted this idea in people’s heads, and now they’re coming up with theories that aren’t true to support this,” he said.

Contacted in Michigan, where he now resides, Nugent said that he stands by his reporting and that Koob hadn’t initially been forthcoming about his relationship with Cesnik, only admitting it once Nugent obtained a copy of a letter Koob says Cesnik wrote to him days before her disappearance.

As the allegations of sexual misconduct have spread through the close-knit community of Keough alums, some have questioned their impressions of Koob.

Chris Centofanti, a member of the class of 1969, had long thought of Koob as one of her favorite teachers. Unlike her grade school religion instructors, Koob played Simon and Garfunkel records and invited students to share their thoughts about God.

“His classes were very much about talking about life,” she recalled. “We would walk out of there thinking, ‘there’s more to all of this religion thing.’ ”

Centofanti said she was also close to Cesnik, and confided in the young nun throughout high school about her mother’s terminal illness. Although Centofanti was not abused while at Keough, she has clear memories of Maskell losing his temper at girls and yelling that they were going to hell.

Her perceptions of Koob have changed over time. She’s kept in touch with him over the decades, she said, but after their most recent meeting, a few years ago, she started to see him as overly authoritative.

The two women who reported Koob to the attorney general’s investigators wonder if he has power or connections that have enabled him to escape scrutiny.

The first woman said she reported Koob to county police, city police and the city state’s attorney’s office multiple times, beginning in 2014.

The second did not contact police until recently. City police said they would not confirm the identities of people who reported sexual assault, but the second woman provided documentation of her interactions with a detective.

She has since filed a complaint with the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Jesuits, she said. She also made a report with Baltimore Police and met with a detective in recent weeks. An archdiocesan spokesman did not confirm or deny that the institution was investigating Koob. A spokesman for the USA East Province of the Society of Jesus, the organization overseeing area Jesuits, said the organization “is aware of a recent allegation of sexual abuse against a minor by one of its former members, Gerard Koob.”

“Civil authorities have been alerted,” said the spokesman, Mike Gabriele.

Told Koob’s remark that he looks different than he did in 1971, the second woman addressed Koob rhetorically: “Your voice didn’t change, and neither did your eyeballs.”

The first woman said she was dismayed by the portrayal of Koob in the “The Keepers.” “He looks like a nice guy. He’s got a little family,” she said, adding that she found it hard to watch him in the documentary. “Anything that was going to have him, I left the room. I couldn’t even hear his voice.”

She said she was shocked that the report identified Koob only as a Jesuit intern. She said she referred to him by his full name in her interviews with investigators. “I don’t have any recollection of calling him the Jesuit priest or intern,” the woman said.

The woman said she reached out to The Banner due to her frustration that Koob was not named in the report.

She’s terrified, she said, of Koob, but also to once again find her accusations met with disbelief.

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