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December 20, 2021 24 mins

At a monastery in Miami, a nun is found dead in her room just before Sunday Mass. With more than 90 stab wounds, the search for her brutal killer begins.

Hosted by Paula Barros and Melanie Bartley 


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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:00):
On the last night of her life, Sister Michel Lewis
got permission to stay up late. Life at her home,
Miami's Monastery of the Exaltation of the Most Holy Cross,
moved to the hands of a clock. Waking, praying, eating,
and sleeping were all a daily routine. Anything outside that

schedule needed to be approved by the monastery's leader, father
Abbot Gregory. Went That Saturday night, March twenty fourth, two
thousand one, Sister Michele had the Abbot's o k to
watch the World Bigger Skating Championships playing out three time
zones away in Vancouver. Before the championships, the American Michel

Quan was under scrutiny. A year ago, she was focused
and flawless, but now the rain in champion was detached
and her form and fitness seemed to drop after taking
a break from the sport that summer. Now the twenty
year old was no longer the favorite. Maybe Sister Michelle
wanted to see if Quan was like her and could

transcend life's hardships, silence her doubters, and find glory in
winning her fourth World championship. Or maybe she just wanted
to have something to talk about. With teachers or parents
on Monday morning when they dropped their kids off at
holy Cross Academy, the monastery small k through twelfth school
where she ran the office, kept the books, and taught calculus.

In those final hours of her life, Sister Michelle said,
alone embroidering and watching us, her namesake skater, sliced her
blades deep into the ice, freeing herself from the days
before Kuang, let loose and went big. She hit a
clean triple triple jump and a late triple lutz, then

glided off and looked on as the remaining skaters failed
to cut down her scores. By ten o'clock, Michelle Kuan
was a world champion again. By ten o'clock, Sister Michelle
had turned off the TV and made her way to bed.
But the thirty nine year old wouldn't get to tell
any of those parents or teachers what she saw on
the ice that night. She wouldn't even make it to

Sunday Mass the next morning. Before then, Sister Michelle would
encounter another blade, one that would stab her more than
ninety times in an act of rage and violence that
would change the lives of everyone at Holy Cross, including me.

I'm Paula Burrows and I'm Melanie Bartley and this is
sacred scandal. Paula, remind me, how did you first learn

about the murder. It was Sunday, Um, Caroline. I walked
into my room. My little sister, sister Michelle, is dead.
I was in March two thousand one. I was a
senior in a class of about kids at Holy Cross Academy,
a private Byzantine Catholic school in the Miami suburbs. I

ended up at holy Cross Academy because my parents thought
that sending me to a Catholic school was going to
stop me from booty dancing to two Live Crew, which
it was like, guess what they thought I was learning
at my public middle school. So I said, get in
the car and I took my little sister to holy
Cross on that Sunday, just to see if it was
true or not. And as soon as we got there,

there was the police tape and like the news people
were outside. I hated that school, from kneeling on the
floor to show that my uniform skirts were long enough,
to the rules about having to pray every morning, and
the creepy priests who walked the halls and their long
black Robes. I could not wait to graduate and leave

that whole experience behind me forever. But like everyone who
was a part of holy Cross back then, the trauma
from sister Michelle's horrendous murder and everything that came after
meant that it stayed with us long after graduation. And
how did I get involved in all of this? This

is my friend Melanie Ei there. I met your sister
at a gas station. I'm going to call her mel
and she'll be telling the story with me, because even
though she didn't go to school there, the story of
holy Cross has also become a big part of her
life too. She brought me to your Emily's house and
then I think you were the one that immediately latched
onto this story, like you needed to get to the

bottom of it. I think I'm crazy. You were crazy.
You're out of your mind. When we met about fifteen
years ago, mel was a student well. I was studying
film at the University of Miami, and Paula said she
had a good idea for a true crime documentary, and
I told her about how sister Michelle, a teacher from
my school, was murdered on campus, and also about all

the crazy stuff we started to find out about what
was happening behind the scenes and maybe even behind closed
doors at Holy Cross, because her death opened up so
many secrets about the school, about the priest who ran it,
and the quiet kids from Ukraine who we sat next
to in class. When Paula told me about everything, my

jaw hit the floor, and so a little more than
a decade ago, we started making our own movie to
tell that story and look at the unanswered questions around
this case. It was thought to be on the POLP
Defender's office first got the case to be a very involved,
very complicated case. We talked to the police and lawyers
from both sides who spent years investigating it and who

traveled halfway across the world digging fun the truth. But
we were young and total amateurs back then, doing interviews
next to airports, and I mean neither of us ever
planned on becoming journalists. I've been everywhere from a semi

professional poker player to a clown for kids birthday parties,
and now I work as a stand up comedian and
a voice actress. And I worked in TV and movies
and now run a small business and a small family.
As our lives started to change some things about this
case and Holy Cross have deeply, deeply stayed with us,

but our documentary was put on the shelf, that is
until now. That is right, we'll be telling this story
using those original interviews, but all of these years later,
they don't cover the full story. So we've gone back
and spoken to many of those people again, and some
of the things that they had to say this time
surprised us. That's because in the over ten years since

we started and the twenty years since the murder, so
much has changed to the parents and former students, to
the teachers and investigators, and especially to us. But before
we get there, we need to take you back to
two thousand one, to the moment it all started to unravel. First, though,

we have to take a break. When we come back,
the search for sister Michelle's murderer begins. Stay with us, probably,
but before we get there, we need to take you
back to two thousand one, to the moment it all

started to unravel. Kind of police and fire. Where's your emergency? Um,
this is a holy Cross Economy one to four to
five Southwest seventy second Street. Once the emergency there, Uh,
the emergency is that Uh? One of the uh sisters

didn't show up this morning for a leturgy, and you
sent so and over to look, and they said that, uh,
that there's a n new body on the floor with blood.
March One. Like every other Sunday at Holy Cross Monastery,
a pair of priests, a handful of student monks, and

two nuns would gather in the morning and prepare to
celebrate the liturgy, a traditional Byzantine Catholic mass performed in Greek.
But this week someone was missing female. It was the female, okay,
And no one ever saw her over or anything like that. No,

we know. The person that we sent over was one
of the brothers to see what was wrong. And he
found that and ran away right away, with scared grand
back here to tell me. When that young monk patro
Tarenta opened the door to Sister Michelle Lewis's bedroom, he
discovered a brutal scene. Her lifeless body lay on the

floor in a dark red pool, close torn, almost naked.
Blood seemed to speckle every surface. Her body was bruised
and beaten and with stab wounds all over. An autopsy
would later tell you them up to it was a

school's founder and leader father Abbott Gregory went who calls
w E N D crossed right coming in at that
particular time, all I knew was at a at a

church or school called Holy Cross. Actually I was on
the road. I was handling another call. Uh. One of
the detects are called me and said, you've got one
out off of a Sunset drive which is West Miami
Dade County. This is Art Nanny, a retired homicide detective
with the Miami Dade Police Department and lead investigator of

this murder. As Detective Nanny pulled up to the school
around eleven AM, one of the first things he started
to realize was the huge scale of the search ahead
of his team. This was a massive complex. There was
a a school, church, the convent, and then it was
surrounded by a lot of nurseries on different sizes and

then some residents on the backsideing we knew that we're
gonna need more than just one crime scene unit and
it was gonna take several to cover this whole school yard.
A matter of fact, the whole campus. I think we
locked down well over twenty four hours because there was
just there was an extensive seeing the cover, not only

because of the common, but other places on the campus.
The school itself rose from suburban Sunset Drive like a
Renaissance castle, complete with crosses on every spire, and the
rest of the schoolyard spread out across a lot besides
of at least six football fields. Far from the school's

front doors, on the southeast edge of the property was
the murder scene, the convent, which butted against the neighboring
plant nursery. A few hundred yards away from the nun's house.
On the northwest side of campus, there was a small
cluster of buildings, including the monastery, a house, and an office.
As Detective Nanny and his team searched the grounds, they

soon found something strange. Connecting these two distant areas of campus.
We had these weird footprints that sort of lent from
the convent down some hallways to the school office and
then they kind of tapered off out towards the church
and then disappeared. And these footprints, when I say footprints,

they were not shoot prints. They were like bare feet
and I don't want to say they're flat footed, but
they had a high arch, so it was just weird
in shape. And the other thing too, that there was
like no toes, so we're not sure where they're wearing.
But it was just weird in itself, and that trail

of tallest footprints would lead Detective Nanny to a second scene.
So when we, you know, looked at the office, we
had glass broken on the on the window to get in,
and Sister Michelle's desk was I don't want to say ransack,
but there was items that were askew on the desk,
which now kind of maybe tied back to a reason

why Sister Michelle was killed. But what was taken, if
anything was taken, no one knows. It just didn't make sense.
Why is the nun killed in her and the convent
which could be a few hundred yards from where the
office is at and then we got these weird footprints.
Did two things occur that night? The initial thought was

that because there was nurseries surrounding the church, that maybe
we had a farm worker. They could have been the killer.
So we want to do at least identify all the
employees that worked at these nurseries. And you gotta remember too,

and homicide, we kind of worked from the inside out.
So the priest, the monks, there was another elderly nun.
Everyone when you get there as a suspect coming up

after the break, a speck of evidence takes detectives straight
to the killer's door. Stay with us, Welcome back to
Sacred Scandal. I'm Paula Burrows and I'm Melanie Bartley. When

the police arrived at Holy Cross Academy on the day
that Sister Michelle was found dead, one of the first
things that they learned was that despite appearances, the school
and the group who ran it, we're not a part
of the Roman Catholic Church. They were Byzantine or they
also call them Greek Catholics, which is a faith with

some different beliefs and structures than their cousins in Rome,
but who still shared the pope at the top of
their hierarchy. Detective Nanny also started to discover more about
the circumstances of the people living on the grounds. So
they layout scenario of Sister Michelle is she's not really
or ordained none. She's training to become a full fledged none.

So you know how she not ordained if they're calling
or or none. But again, they told us about the
different monks that were living ear and there was I
think five months in training to go to school. You
know that they were hand picked from the Ukraine, brought
over here to train, and they would eventually return and teach,

and you know, all their education was being paid for.
To get all of this information, Detective Nanny needed to
speak with my high school's head master, Father Abbott. Went.
His first sight of the priest in his long black
robe and highmighter hat made as much of an impression
on the veteran officer as it did on a teenage me.

I do remember. I'm sure I was a school office
or the church office, but there was this one big,
asked picture on the wall and I think it was
Father Abbott. I think he was the head priest. He
looked like a pope dressed up and I'm looking at it,
and you gotta remember my background, as I'm a Catholic,

were taught from grade school to have this respect for priests,
nuns and things in that nature. So when we in there,
we were also a little bit of awe because this
painting on the wall now became real as this guy
came walking out of the door. He was a tall,
tall guy and he had to be over six ft.

You go from the picture to now the real person
walks out, and it's like, damn, you know this. I
was like taken back because of his presence. You might
expect the headmaster of a school to be cooperative and
offer up as much help as possible to catch a
killer on their campus, but when the detective in the

abbot began speaking, the conversation started to take a strange turn. Okay,
they came out and they're sitting there talking and we're
trying to get information from them, and it's not like
they were stone wall on us, but they were giving
us nothing but basics. There's one thing that he said
that kind of took us by surprise, that this was

his church, and not that he told us to tread lightly.
But I kind of read it as don't make a
move on my turf without letting me know what was
gonna happen. First, as Detective Art Nanny and his investigators
spoke with the priests and teenage monks of Holy Cross Academy,

he charged the smaller group with gathering evidence at the
scene of the murder. Well, here's the thing about the
crime scene. We only have one shot scene, so not
a lot of people go into the scene. And John King,
who was probably one of the finest homicide detectives. After
that day, I assigned him in that particular lead. Kay,

my name is John King. I was a homicide detective
with the Miami Dade Police Department and I was part
of the team that was assigned this investigation. Kind of
walked me through the building where the crime scene was
had like a little kitchen whose two bedrooms. The other
bedroom was actually occupied by an older on that lived

there as well. Did you notice anything out of the
ordinary or anything strange the scene? Really? I mean, it
was a mess in there. It was a model blood.
My observations of the scene itself, as I recall, seems
like she was pretty neat. Clothing was hung up. She, however,
was new it on the floor with numerous stab wounds

and bruises an deeceased. You don't think she had on
was like a rolled up T shirt that was pulled
up pretty much. Ye. And so what is a typical
process for analyzing or investigating a homicide in general? Well,
if you have a scene like that, then you have
to really take your time. I don't even know how

long it took before we moved the body, because everything
has to be documented everything everything, everything is documented in place.
Before you actually touch anything on a crime scene, you
actually photograph it first, just so that you know exactly
how it looked when you got there. And what I say,
can you go back to the to the other photos

of the room, Okay, let me do that. Look at
these there's hand handprints everywhere. How can bloody handprints full
screen this? It's just like a spattered over that trash.
Can it looks like Halloween blood? I was going to say,
it looks like a horror movie. It doesn't look real

like from the eighties, you know what I mean? Like,
how does somebody this is really bad? It's so much blood.
As Detective King and the others in the room took
photographs of sister Michelle's body, one of them noticed something
small that appeared out of place. I remember looking at it.

I'm not sure which leg it was on, but there
was a blood stain that really didn't look like it
belonged there. I mean, it looked different than the rest
of the samearing on her body made finally look different
than the rest of the blood. I mean it was
probably because it was dripping down from as opposed to
be ensmeared, you know, so it was a dark spot.
What would that tell you? Quite often when a person

has a knife, unless it has a hilt on it,
which will prevent the hands sliding down off the handle.
Quite often a person stabbing someone will actually cut themselves
and thereby buzza bleeding. So this would basically tell you
that the suspect would have hurt hands. Well. Yeah, As

the search went on, night brought darkness back over the
grounds of Holy cost Academy, but aside from the footprints
and the drop of blood suggesting the killer had been injured,
there wasn't much to follow in any direction. With both
the murder and the breaking at the office, investigators started
to check on other buildings on campus, including the monastery

and the us where the teenage monastic candidates lived. Now
eight or nine hours in, a new clue was about
to turn their search for a suspect into unexpected territory.
So we didn't really focus in on the inner circle
just yet, but we had to document everyone that was there.

It wasn't until later, and I would say it's probably
it was in the evening now when people are at
the house. I saw some blood on a door knob.
When the approaching officers saw the door knob, they had
already been informed about the suspicious drop of blood on

sister Michelle. After knocking on that door, a small, thin
monk with dark hair opened up and greeted them. His
voice was soft with the tinge of an Eastern European accent.
The monk's eyes were tired, and there were marks and
scratches around his bearded face. As police started asking questions
about Sister Michelle, he slowly slid a pair of bandaged

hands into his pockets. Sacred Scandal is a production of
Exile Content Studio in partnership with I Heart Radio's Michael
Dura podcast Network. Sacred Scandal was created and produced by

Melanie Bartley and me Paula Barrows. Our senior producer is
Dennis Funk of Written and Air. The executive producers are
Rose Red and Nando Villa. Our production assistant is Imani Leonard.
Story editing by Rachel Ward. The show is fact checked
by Kimberly Winston. Original music was composed by Patrick Hart,

audio editing by Jibert Quinones, with final audio mixing from
Dixo and Special Well. Thanks on this episode to Arielle
Stevenson and Corey Tchaikowski h
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