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Murder on the Cape: A tale of love and death

Day by day, the probe widens in Truro case

TRURO - That weekend, all was quiet on the frozen tip of the Cape. There was one person who knew what had happened, and she was too little to speak.

All of Saturday evening, through the night, and well into Sunday, 2 1/2-year-old Ava Gloria Sanders Worthington was keeping watch over her mother, who was lying on her back on the kitchen floor. The girl was getting hungry, and pulled boxes of cereal and cookies down from a shelf.

She tried to give her mother a drink of water out of a sippy cup, and took it away smeared with blood. She slipped a video into the VCR.

Late on Sunday afternoon, adult arms reached down and gathered Ava up, and from that moment the quiet left Truro, replaced by the bright lights and yellow tape of a murder investigation.

Over the last two weeks, the police have systematically examined the secret places in the life of 46-year-old Christa Worthington. They have found a web of connections that joins the high-gloss offices of a New York fashion magazine with the clam flats of Truro and the heroin dens of Roxbury. There has been no arrest, but day after day Worthington's neighbors wake up to revelations - all painful, some jaw-dropping - that echo up and down the Outer Cape.

First came the woman's two former lovers, eyeing each other from across town: one a soft-spoken, bespectacled author of children's books, the other a philandering shellfish constable. Then came the shellfish constable's family, who described for a growing crowd of cameramen their painful acceptance of his urbane mistress and curly-haired love child.

A week later, the cast of characters grew to include Christa Worthington's father, a 72-year-old former assistant attorney general, and the 29-year-old woman he supports in a dingy Quincy apartment building called Ritz Manor.

Surveying the whole drama is Truro's police chief, John Thomas.

The chief keeps his mother's ashes next to his desk, guarded by a miniature police car. If he suspects who killed Christa Worthington, he's not telling.

Starting a new life, relationships on the Cape

Truro changes and shrinks in the off-season. Rows of empty cottages stare with boarded-up windows toward the gray sea, with placards brightly promising to "See you May 1."

With the dunes hardened by frost, the 1,600 people who live here year-round find themselves tightly bound up with one another, sometimes beyond what is comfortable. Locals roll their eyes and simply say, "winter," as if it explained everything. Near the tip of the Cape, there's an old joke about it: sneeze on the west side and they'll say gesundheit on the east.

"In the summer, we have very little time for each other," said Michelle LaBocetta, 41, who tends bar in Provincetown. "In the winter, we pay too much attention to each other."

It was here that Christa Worthington came when New York had curdled. The daughter of a lawyer and a painter, she had pursued for 20 years the literary life she wanted: After Vassar, she had lived in a apartment in Paris and, as a reporter for Women's Wear Daily, interviewed Yves St. Laurent about his childhood in Algeria. She nabbed sketches of Catherine of Monaco's wedding dress and smuggled them across the Atlantic to her editor. For a time, in New York, she lived with a magician called The Amazing Tarquin, said a friend there.

"I accused her once of being a Dorothy Parker wannabe," said author Tim Arnold, who was Christa's boyfriend for a time last year. "There was a certain self-destructiveness."

By the time she turned 40, though, she felt an ache to have a baby. Her mother was dying of cancer in Hingham, so she moved to the shingled Truro house where she had spent so many summers.

Near a tiny harbor a short walk from her house, she found a dark-haired fisherman named Tony Jackett, the grandson of a harpooner from north of Lisbon. Jackett serves as shellfish constable for Provincetown and Truro, an office that requires "more endearing qualities than the average law enforcement" officer, said his cousin, Chris Snow, who is also his lawyer.

Jackett had married one of the prettiest girls to graduate from Provincetown High School, and even at age 51, having raised six children, he had an outsize appeal. He took the journalist Sebastian Junger fishing once and became a central character for local author Peter Manso, in an upcoming book called "P-Town: Art, Sex and Money on the Outer Cape."

In a community where Portuguese fishing families shear off from the avant-garde artists and summertime Yankees, Jackett could slip into any crowd, friends said. Christopher Busa describes driving him to a public television filming, he was making squid stew on a cooking show, and hearing Jackett ask the producers whether he would be allowed to swear.

"He said he felt more natural swearing and that people listen more when you swear," said Busa, editor of the journal Provincetown Arts.

He was magnetic to women, said one friend.

"Tony would stand out on the corner. I think it would take maybe four or five minutes and there would be a waiting line. He was charismic," said Robert Meads, 69, co-owner of a Provincetown plumbing company. "I think I would like to go through life again being like Tony."

At 40, Worthington longed for motherhood

The affair ended abruptly when Christa Worthington told Jackett she was pregnant, Jackett said. She had made no secret of her desire to have a child, with or without a husband; she had briefly joined an organization called Single Mothers By Choice, spoke of her decision on a daytime talk show, and mused about sperm donors in the pages of the Times of London.

But she had been told by a doctor she was no longer fertile, Jackett said.

"It was one of those things," Jackett said. "We became intimate. We kind of cultivated a friendship. I was a little naive. She got pregnant, and I was dumbfounded."

It was another man who helped Worthington through her difficult first year of motherhood.

Tim Arnold, 45, is a sandy-haired illustrator of children's books: soft-spoken, sensitive, and, like her, a faithful reader of the New Yorker. A divorced father of two, he was suffering from an unusual brain condition and had more and more trouble keeping his balance. He worked for a while driving a van for the Truro Council on Aging, but volunteered his resignation after a senior citizen said he seemed "spacey," Mary Cassel, former director of the council, told the Cape Codder.

He got along beautifully with Ava. In early 2000, the three of them made up a household, but the arrangement lasted only four months, he said.

"We drove each other crazy. I think in the end she decided I wouldn't come back," Arnold said. Since a May operation on his brain stem, he has such double-vision that he has to squint through one eye to see faces clearly.

In recent months, the breakup had mellowed into a friendship, and she still confided in him, he said. (She also made him an heir to 20 percent of her estate in her will in the event of Ava's death, something he said he was not aware of until several days after Worthington's slaying. As it stands, Ava will inherit her mother's entire $700,000 estate.)

In the first few days, when Jackett began appearing on local television news programs stating his intention to adopt Ava, Arnold fumed openly about it. In the weeks before the slaying, Arnold said, Christa Worthington was pressing Jackett for child support.

"I dislike him, and I don't trust him at all," he said. During the period when he was living in the Depot Road house with Christa and Ava, he said, "I kept thinking, Why am I taking care of this child when he doesn't even acknowledge it?"

By the end of the first week of the investigation, Arnold and Jackett were still the only high-profile figures in the case. Both men were cooperating with police and denied involvement. People murmured, with more hope than certainty, that the killer could not be among them still.

"They're over the bridge," said Tony Prokop, a tuna fisherman. "You don't do nothing here without getting caught."

Father's relationship to ex-prostitute a mystery

A new line of inquiry began then, and it was stranger than anything that had come before it. A little over a week ago, State Police drove to Quincy and pulled up before the Ritz Manor, a dingy building with a history of overdose deaths.

There, they knocked on the door of an apartment that has been rented for the last year by Christopher Worthington, Christa's 72-year-old father. Inside was a 29-year-old woman named Elizabeth J. Porter.

She was auburn-haired, and her long list of heroin charges had started when she was 20. Perhaps most startling, she had testified in a previous murder case: the trial of Wellesley allergist Dirk Greineder for stabbing his wife, Mabel, to death.

The prosecution said Greineder killed his wife after she found out about his secret sex life. Porter testified before a grand jury that Greineder had contacted her through an escort service to hire her to have sex with him.

She had also identified herself as Christopher Worthington's stepdaughter. In the days after the slaying, Porter had seemed distraught, and once, passing her building manager in the stairway, she had asked whether he "made the connection" between her and the dead woman, said Rocco Vasile, the building manager.

"As far as I'm concerned, that girl that lives here is Christopher Worthington's stepdaughter," Vasile said.

Meanwhile, friends and family members denied flatly that Christopher Worthington could have a second daughter. He had not married again since Christa's mother died in 1999.

To Arnold, and to friends of Christa's in New York, pieces seemed to be falling into place. When Worthington visited during the weeks before Christmas, she had been talking about her father's young girlfriend and the money he was spending on her.

Another friend thought Christa was preparing to take action to stop the relationship, worried that her father was going to spend money that was her child's potential inheritance.

Christopher Worthington has refused to comment on any aspect of the case. A former civil prosecutor for the state attorney general's office, he helped found the Dedham law firm Parasco, Worthington and Chase before retiring in 1993. His wife, Gloria Sanders Worthington, died in 1999, and Worthington sold the Hingham home Christa grew up in, a transaction that had troubled Christa, according to Patricia Worthington Bartlett, her aunt and Christopher Worthington's sister.

At a memorial service last weekend, Worthington's colleagues attended in suit jackets and camel's hair coats, brushing off suggestions that he could have kept secret a second daughter.

"It's a big mystery to everyone who knows Chris Worthington," said Charles Chase, who practices at the Dedham law firm. "I've met him, I know him. It's a total mystery."

Christa Worthington has been dead for more than two weeks now, and police will not say whether the answer lies among the tangle of relationships that have already been laid bare or in some new, undiscovered direction.

Meanwhile, Truro is gripped by an open question.

Friends of the dead woman gathered Friday night in a candlelit meetinghouse, where a pianist played a Bach prelude and the Delfonics' "La La Means I Love You."

On a trip to the post office yesterday, Tim Arnold walked by a parked car and heard through an open window a woman he had never met accuse him of the murder.

After appearances on a long series of network affiliates, Tony Jackett has refused to comment further on the case, refering all inquiries to his lawyer.

Christopher Worthington was spotted taking Elizabeth Porter to a Boston emergency room yesterday, apparently for symptoms of pneumonia.

And Ava Worthington, newly motherless, is trying to learn to turn the pages of a picture book.

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