boston.com News your connection to The Boston Globe
A friend of Christopher M. McCowen covered her face in the lobby of Orleans District Court after McCowen was arraigned on charges of raping and murdering Christa Worthington.
A friend of Christopher M. McCowen covered her face in the lobby of Orleans District Court after McCowen was arraigned on charges of raping and murdering Christa Worthington. (Globe Staff Photo / John Tlumacki)

Man is held in Worthington slaying

Trash hauler is charged in '02 Truro case

TRURO -- After a three-year probe into fashion writer Christa Worthington's slaying, a wrenchingly public hunt that once targeted former boyfriends and exposed intimate details of her life, prosecutors yesterday charged a man they say barely knew her, a 33-year-old garbage collector with a violent past.

Christopher M. McCowen, a 6-foot-tall, muscular man who picked up garbage once a week from Worthington's Truro home, pleaded not guilty in Orleans District Court to raping and murdering Worthington, 46, in January 2002.

McCowen was arrested Thursday night, after at least a dozen state troopers swarmed his run-down rooming house in Hyannis. Investigators said they linked his DNA, from a sample they took more than a year ago, to evidence found on Worthington's body. His arrest could bring an end to one of the most high-profile and mysterious Massachusetts murder cases in recent years.

Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe said McCowen, whom authorities identified as a person of interest early in the investigation, worked for a private trash-collection company on Cape Cod and probably knew Worthington only from his job. The day of the slaying was not a regular trash day.

''The evidence would suggest it was a person who knew Christa only in the sense that they were familiar with her comings and goings," O'Keefe said during a press conference. ''They were not personal acquaintances. They were not friends in any way."

O'Keefe would not say why authorities believe that. Investigators, he said, ''certainly have a motive" for the murder, but he would not elaborate.

Jan Worthington came to Orleans District Court to see for herself the man authorities say killed her cousin.

''For my family, it's a sad day; it's also a good day," said Worthington, who lived up Depot Street from the weathered cottage where her cousin was killed.

Christa Worthington was found on her kitchen floor on the afternoon of Jan. 6, 2002. She was stripped from the waist down, a single stab wound in her chest. Her daughter, Ava, then 2½, is believed to have been alone with her mother's body for up to two days.

Worthington's dark, unlikely story attracted national attention: a world-traveled fashion journalist, killed in the quiet Cape town where she had gone to escape the hurly-burly of New York. And the characters in her orbit only added to the intrigue.

There was Tony Jackett, the dashing, married shellfish constable who had fathered the daughter Worthington was raising on her own. And Tim Arnold, the children's book author and former boyfriend who discovered her body when he went to return a flashlight.

State Police detectives also interviewed a 29-year-old former prostitute who had had a relationship with Worthington's father, a former state assistant attorney general. Ultimately, though, police seemed to have no solid suspect. As months passed, police and Worthington's family resorted to other means.

In January 2003, her family and friends offered a $25,000 reward for information that would help solve the slaying. In January, investigators sought voluntary DNA samples from men in Truro, drawing criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.

O'Keefe said police first became interested in McCowen in April 2002, three months after the slaying, when they were investigating ''everyone in the orbit" of Worthington's life, including not just trash collectors but handymen, mailmen, or repairmen.

At that time, McCowen agreed to give investigators a sample of his DNA, O'Keefe said. But it wasn't until March 18, 2004, that investigators took a swab of his saliva. O'Keefe blamed the delay on McCowen's frequent moves.

More than a year later, on April 7, McCowen's DNA was matched to that recovered from Worthington's body. O'Keefe blamed that delay on a high volume of cases and limited resources at the State Police crime lab.

McCowen was ordered held without bail yesterday. His court-appointed lawyer, Francis M. O'Boy, described him as ''somber."

In Florida, where he lived before moving to Cape Cod, McCowen served prison time for burglary and theft charges.

On Cape Cod, McCowen has had at least four restraining orders issued against him, including one in February 2004, after he allegedly threatened to kill the mother of one of his children, a daughter who was then less than 2 years old. In her affidavit asking for the order, the Hyannis woman said McCowen ordered her to be quiet or he would ''snap her neck."

McCowen was also arrested on May 6, 1999, in Wellfleet on charges of trying to break into a former girlfriend's car and pulling open her car door as she drove past him, shattering a window. He was ordered to attend a counseling program and abstain from drugs and alcohol, according to court records.

But a housemate of McCowen's in Hyannis said yesterday that he was surprised at his arrest in Worthington's murder.

''I was wondering if they had the right guy," said the man, a landscaper who would not give his name. ''He didn't seem the type."

Some of Worthington's friends and relatives expressed some relief that an arrest had finally been made.

''Today has been such a rollercoaster ride of emotions in facing the reality of what happened and mourning my lost friend," said Francie Randolph, a close friend from Truro. ''It feels like I can start to move forward."

Still, some Cape residents questioned why the investigation took so long. And some friends of Worthington's criticized O'Keefe for suggesting in the past that her relationships with men may have somehow led to her death.

The arrest of a man with no apparent close ties to Worthington proved that ''it had nothing to do with Christa's character," said Steve Radlauer, a friend from New York. ''He said some very nasty things about her."

O'Keefe yesterday declined to comment on his past remarks about the case.

As they did at various points during the long investigation, news crews and reporters descended on Truro and Provincetown yesterday to film the cottage and talk to the players again. From his Provincetown home, Jackett fielded calls from CBS, NBC, and CNN, and said he was glad that his name seemed officially cleared.

''I never got the impression that I was someone they were seriously looking at," he said. ''The media built that up. I was a married man, I'd had an affair."

Jackett, who once sought custody of Ava Worthington, now sees her every other weekend. Friends of Worthington's in Cohasset have custody of the girl.

Truro Police Chief John Thomas said he believes the arrest and prosecution will bring tranquility back to a town that has lived with unease for more than three years.

''Now we can rest in the night," he said. ''It's probably another relief that it wasn't just a stranger that ran into the house. It's a relief that it wasn't somebody who's been living in town."

But some Cape residents said that, after an initial buzz, the fascination with the case had waned -- and that people were not generally afraid that there was a murderer at large.

''I don't think people were living in fear that there was some murderer out there that other people would be in danger of," said Christopher Busa, a friend of Jackett's who is founder and editor of Provincetown Arts magazine. ''It seems to be the kind of relief you want when you go through a long five-act tragedy and you finally get to the conclusion."

Globe correspondent Connie Paige, and Sarah Schweitzer and Ralph Ranalli of the Globe staff contributed to this report; Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com; Weiss can be reached at weiss@globe.com.


SEARCH GLOBE ARCHIVES
   
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months