TRURO - In a Cape Cod neighborhood where she was nestled among her extended family, a freelance fashion writer and single mother was killed last weekend, possibly in front of her 2 1/2-year-old daugher.
The body of Christa Worthington, 46, was found inside her Depot Road home about 4:30 p.m. Sunday when a friend stopped by to return an item he had borrowed, said Michael O'Keefe, Barnstable first assistant district attorney.
The rear door had been kicked in, the deadbolt knocked out of the wall, O'Keefe said.
Alongside the body, authorities found curly-haired Ava, who had severe diaper rash, suggesting that she had been alone for many hours, said Tony Jackett, a local fisherman and Ava's father.
"No one knows," what Ava saw, although police summoned a child psychologist to the scene, Jackett said.
The toddler has been placed in the custody of a family friend.
O'Keefe would not disclose autopsy results, except to say that Worthington's death was by "violent means." Investigators also said that her home was in order when her body was discovered.
Police dogs roamed the wooded area around the house yesterday, searching for "several articles" which could help solve the crime, said Jim Plath, a State Police official supervising detectives at the scene.
O'Keefe said a Truro man, who had an off-again, on-again relationship with Worthington, has been speaking with police. He would not describe the man as a suspect.
O'Keefe said of the investigation, "Police are not ruling in, or out, any possibility."
A world traveler when she moved to Truro seven years ago, Worthington became pregnant during an affair with Jackett, he said. A local shellfish constable who was serving as Truro's harbormaster, Jackett, 51, is married with six other children.
Four years ago, Worthington wrote wistfully of "wrestling my biological time limit to the ground," and talked about potential sperm donors in a column for the Times of London. A member of a support group called Single Mothers by Choice, she appeared on a talk show discussing her decision, Jackett said.
"She was basically a city girl. She spent a good part of her life abroad. And then she reached a point in her life when she revisited her goals and became somewhat obsessed with having children," he said. "Now her life has been taken from her, and her daughter will never know how lucky she was."
When Worthington told Jackett she was pregnant, "she was ecstatic, and I was speechless," Jackett said. The two reached an agreement that Ava would often visit her father's family, an arrangement Jackett and his wife say has worked well.
Last year, though, he and Worthington hired lawyers to negotiate custody terms, because Worthington wanted a legal acknowledgement of paternity, Jackett said.
"There wasn't any of the animosity," he said.
Worthington was the first person slain in Truro since 1969 when Anthony Costa, who claimed he was deranged by drugs, killed two women who were vacationing on Cape Cod. Costa hung himself in prison in 1974.
Worthington's death was especially shocking to Truro residents because it took place in a neighborhood where she had nearby relatives. A cousin lives across the street, and another relative lives next door.
One of the first emergency medical technicians on the scene was Jan Worthington, a first cousin of the victim, who tried to revive the woman.
Along Depot Road, where Worthington often walked with her daughter in a stroller, neighbors and family members comforted each other behind closed doors, sometimes refusing to answer strangers' knocks.
"Here, this kind of crime happens every 30 years," said Pauline Richmond, who works at the Truro package store.
The Worthingtons have deep roots in this outer Cape community, with family members having lived here for several generations.
Christa Worthington au thored, or co-wrote, three books on fashion accessories in the early 1990s. More recently, she had written about the collectibles trend for the New York Times News Service. She also wrote an article in Harper's Magazine on her choice to become a single mother.
Globe staff writer Douglas Belkin contributed to this article.