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This Page Last Updated:

November 26, 2003

St. Helena, Catholic Empress

Flowers for Sister Helena Maria

rose1.gif (3279 bytes)

September 1, 2002

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. A traditional Catholic missionary nun became the first homicide victim in Klamath County this year when she was attacked while reciting the Rosary, as she and her companion strolled down a bicycle path early Sunday morning. Shocked by the brutality of her death, locals marked her murder site with flowers.

An autopsy showed that the tiny nun was beaten, raped, and then strangled to death with her very own Rosary beads, which became embedded in her neck. Her fellow Sister, who was also beaten and assaulted, was hospitalized for treatment, but was able to assist police in constructing a composite sketch of their assailant.

Police moved quickly, and within a few hours Maximiliano Cilerio Esparza, 32, was arrested and charged with aggravated murder, kidnapping, assault, sexual abuse, and possession and delivery of a controlled substance. He was being held without bail at the Klamath County Jail.

Esparza, who is in the United States illegally, apparently arrived in Klamath Falls aboard a freight train from Portland, and had spent the previous night drinking at a local strip joint.

Both Nuns are members of a traditional Catholic Religious Order, dedicated to promoting the message of the Immaculate Heart of Our Lady of Fatima, teaching, work for the poor and underprivileged. They were in Klamath Falls doing missionary work, an apostolate to which Sister Helena Maria had given the last 20 years of her life.

"Why would anyone attack a Nun?" said her brother during in an interview from his North Dakota home. "They certainly didn’t have any money, and my sister probably would have offered this man anything that she did have just to help him in some way."

The alleged murderer: Maximiliano Esparza, 32

Esparza gets life term
after entering guilty plea


KLAMATH FALLS, Ore.   Maximiliano Cilerio Esparza pleaded guilty yesterday to charges that he raped two nuns and killed one of them as they walked and prayed on a popular path last September.

Esparza, 33, was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the murder of Sister Helena Maria Chaska, 53. He got 10 more years for the attempted murder of the surviving nun, and 15 years for raping the women. In return for his guilty plea, Esparza avoided a possible death sentence.

Edwin Caleb, the Klamath County district attorney, said he offered the plea for several reasons, including the surviving nun’s religious convictions. Caleb said he didn’t want to force the nun to testify. "The most obvious reason is the certainty that this monster will be in jail for the rest of his life and never get the opportunity to offend again," he said.

Police say Esparza attacked the nuns early on a Sunday morning on a downtown bicycle path. He viciously beat them both, then assaulted both while controlling them with the rosary beads around around their necks, police said. Sister Helena Maria was strangled by her own beads. She was a missionary nun serving the apostolate of the Immaculate Heart of Our Lady of Fatima.

Vandals deface cemetery headstones

  ISSAQUAH PRESS -- April 23, 2003

LEFT: Paula Ralph, city cemetery board chairwoman, kneels by Sister Helena Maria's recently vandalized grave.

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