February 29th, 2024

Family hopeful after FBI exhumes body from unsolved 1969 killing featured in Netflix’s ‘The Keepers’

By Lea Skene, The Associated Press on December 15, 2023.

CENTREVILLE, Md. (AP) – Darryl Malecki’s last memory of his older sister is a routine interaction between siblings: A teenager at the time, he was working at a fast food restaurant outside Baltimore when she stopped by to switch cars before heading to the mall.

Joyce Malecki, 20, never returned home. Her body was found on a nearby military base with signs of severe trauma. An autopsy determined she had been strangled to death.

More than a half-century later, the case remains unsolved. But the Malecki family received a spark of hope this week when FBI investigators exhumed Joyce Malecki’s body as they continue working to identify her killer.

The case has been a subject of widespread speculation, especially since Netflix’s documentary series “The Keepers” examined the slaying of a Baltimore nun that unfolded days earlier under eerily similar circumstances.

“We’re hoping and praying that the FBI does have something,” Darryl Malecki said at a news conference Friday morning near his home on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. “Lord knows, time just keeps clicking on.”

He attended the exhumation Thursday along with other family members, including his oldest brother who identified their sister’s body in 1969. When investigators gave the family a few minutes with the casket, Darryl Malecki told Joyce he hoped she was spending time with their parents in heaven.

“Your mind starts really spinning,” he said. “When you think about it – what she could have done, where she would be “¦ it’s very emotional.”

Kurt Wolfgang, executive director of the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center, said it appears investigators were looking to extract DNA from Joyce Malecki’s body, although it’s unclear what they’re seeking to determine.

Wolfgang, whose organization is working with the Malecki family, credits an investigator on their staff for reviving law enforcement’s interest in the case, which is being handled by the FBI because the victim was found on military property.

He said the exhumation suggests investigators are pursuing potentially promising leads.

“They’re simply not going to exhume someone after 54 years unless they have some dots they think they need to connect,” he said. “And that is our sincere hope and desire.”

Darryl Malecki said his sister was a beautiful person who treated even her youngest brother with kindness and respect. He said she was strong, so he wasn’t surprised when law enforcement told the family that evidence indicated she put up a fight. He recalled family dinners and winter snowstorms when they would go sledding together.

He said the whole family went to Fort Meade to identify his sister’s body, which was recovered from a training area on the military base. The night of her disappearance, Joyce Malecki had plans to meet up with her boyfriend who was stationed there. He was apparently ruled out as a suspect early on in the investigation, Darryl Malecki said.

Joyce Malecki’s death received widespread attention after “The Keepers” was released in 2017, raising questions about whether her disappearance was linked to that of Sister Cathy Cesnik, who was found dead from blunt force trauma after she also went shopping in Baltimore and never returned.

Also in 2017, investigators exhumed the body of a Catholic priest, Father Joseph Maskell, to see if his DNA matched evidence from the scene of Cesnik’s death. The documentary questioned whether Cesnik was killed because she knew Maskell was sexually abusing students at the Catholic high school where they both worked. DNA testing didn’t reveal a match and the case remains unsolved.

The latest speculation came earlier this year, when federal and local authorities announced they had solved the case of another young woman’s homicide: 16-year-old Pamela Conyers, who went missing in 1970 from the same shopping mall as Joyce Malecki and similarly died from strangulation.

Investigators used relatively new DNA technology and genealogy research to identify a suspect in Conyers’ death: Forrest Clyde Williams III, who died in 2018 of natural causes after spending most of his adult life in Virginia. Officials said then that they didn’t have evidence connecting him to either of the other unsolved homicides.

Darryl Malecki said he doesn’t have a clue who killed his sister.

“We’d just like to have some answers,” he said. “The big answer: What happened? Who did this?”

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