FBI exhumes body of murdered woman featured in Netflix’s ‘The Keepers’

Joyce Malecki was found dead in November 1969 days after she vanished while Christmas shopping. Now just ahead of the holidays — and just over 54 years later — the FBI has taken a new step in its continued search for her killer: conducting an exhumation of Malecki’s body.

The federal agency successfully completed the removal in Baltimore Thursday morning, saying in a statement, “We remain committed to bringing justice for Joyce and her family.”

Malecki’s unsolved murder has been subject to widespread public speculation, particularly after the case was featured in Netflix’s 2017 docuseries “The Keepers.” 

The seven-episode series examined the unsolved murder of nun Catherine Cesnik, whose killing became linked to that of Malecki due to an array of similarities.

Both had gone shopping the night they disappeared, with Sister Cesnik last seen on Nov. 7, 1969 and Malecki disappearing four days later. 

Hours after Cesnik disappeared, her car was seen parked partly in the road on a driveway across from her apartment complex. It was in a muddy condition, with sticks in its interior and the keys still in the ignition. And the day after Malecki disappeared, her car was found in a gas station parking lot, unlocked with the keys in the ignition.

Malecki was found dead two days after she disappeared, on Nov. 13, 1969. Two hunters discovered her body facedown on the bank of the Little Patuxent River. Her hands were tied behind her back, and there was a single deep knife wound in her throat. Scratches and bruises indicated a struggle occurred, and her brother, who identified her, said she was covered with mud and sticks.

An autopsy determined that the 20-year-old died by strangulation or drowning.

“The Keepers” / Catherine Cesnik

A hunter found Cesnik on Jan. 3, 1970, in an informal landfill. She had died of blunt force trauma to the head, and her case also remains unsolved.

Despite “The Keepers” and the similarities, the FBI couldn’t conclusively link the two cases. But the women’s deaths are often still seen as related, alongside the murders of 16-year-old Pamela Lynn Conyers and 16-year-old Grace Elizabeth “Gay” Montanye. Both victims also disappeared while shopping — with Conyers disappearing from the same mall as Malecki — and were found days later in the Baltimore area. Conyers died of strangulation, like Malecki.

Renewed speculation about the murders came in 2017 when investigators exhumed the body of Father Joseph Maskell, a Catholic priest who allegedly sexually abused students at the Archbishop high school where Cesnik worked and who lived two blocks from where the Malecki lived. His DNA didn’t match Cesnik’s profile.

Then another wave of interest came earlier this year, when authorities announced they had found the man who killed Conyers using genetic testing and forensic genealogy. The suspect, Forrest Clyde Williams III, died in 2018 of natural causes.

While it’s unclear why the FBI has just exhumed Malecki’s body — and the bureau won’t give any information, as the investigation is ongoing — some, including Malecki’s brother, believe it may be to extract her DNA.

“With modern forensics and everything they have, we’re hoping that maybe this will bring some resolve,” Darryl Malecki told Scripps News Baltimore.