On March 24th, 2001, in Sister Michelle Lewis’ final hours, she requested permission from the head priest of Holy Cross Academy to watch the 2001 World Figure Skating Championships. She wanted to watch American Michelle Kwan silence her doubters after she had slipped from her spot as favorite to win the championship. In her brilliance, Kwan skated to victory that night, securing her fourth world championship.
Sister Michelle watched her namesake-skater win before turning off the television around 10 PM and heading to bed. But she would not be able to celebrate with anyone over the woman’s victory the next day. Because in the early morning hours of March 25th, 2001, Sister Michelle Lewis was stabbed over 90 times in her bed at the convent in a shocking act of overkill and rage.
“Sacred Scandal” is a true crime podcast investigating this violent case. Hosted by Chilean comedian and voice actress Paula Barros, who attended Holy Cross Academy in her adolescent years, and documentary filmmaker Melanie Bartley, “Sacred Scandal” sheds entirely new light on the crime that shocked the nation.
Sister Michelle Lewis ran the office, kept the books, and taught calculus at the small K-12 private school in Miami-Dade County, Florida. The 39-year-old’s brutal murder was pinned on 18-year-old Mykhaylo Kofel, a teenage monk-in-training from Ukraine.
Nearly 15 years ago, Barros and Bartley met, and the two decided to make a short documentary about the case. They interviewed police, detectives, and lawyers from both sides who had spent years investigating the crime and traveling the world for more clues. Neither one expected to end up journalists or make a break in the case.
Barros had been sent to Holy Cross because her parents believed it was the only way to keep her in line; before she became a comedian and voice actor, she was everything from a semi-professional poker player to professional clown for birthday parties. She was a student at the school at the time of Sister Michelle’s murder. She remembers the creepy priests with their long, flowing Professor Snape-esque robes, the strange but quiet Ukrainian students, and Sister Michelle herself.
When she met Bartley, Bartley was a film student at the University of Miami and was completely enthralled by the story Barros told her about her time at Holy Cross. That’s when they began to make their original documentary. Eventually, they shelved it as their lives moved on, but now they’ve returned to the story. In “Sacred Scandal,” they’ve been speaking to many of those same people again that they had initially interviewed 15 years ago. And shockingly, much of what they have to say about the case has changed.
In the 20 years since the murder, many things have changed, including the students, teachers, and investigators who were originally involved in this case. Even Kofel himself is interviewed in this podcast.
The case appeared to be open-and-shut, and it’s anything but. Bartley and Barros dig into how the bogus priest/founder of Holy Cross Academy, Father Abbott Gregory Wendt, and his right hand man, Father Damian, were able to walk away from the case without any punishment after the investigation closed abruptly.
“Sacred Scandal” pieces together an extremely complicated narrative about abusive priests, a Ukrainian teenager tricked into attending the Academy, and a crime too shocking for it’s anticlimactic and abrupt end in 2005.