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2-Year-Old Caught in the Middle of a Cape Cod Murder Mystery

Crime: Her mother dead, the girl's supposed dad-- married with his own family--wants custody. There's also a sizable inheritance at stake.

January 18, 2002|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TRURO, Mass. — The little girl with curly hair placed a cloth on her mother's face, hoping it would make her feel better, hoping it would make her wake up.

But Christa Worthington, a 46-year-old fashion writer with an international reputation, was dead: stabbed early this month by an intruder so bent on entry that a deadbolt lock was ripped from Worthington's door.

And now Ava Gloria Worthington, the 2 1/2-year-old daughter whom Christa doted on--rearranged her life for, in fact--is at the center of a modern tale of motherhood and murder.

A custody battle over the little girl with what in this region is a substantial inheritance is the sad final chapter of a story of romance and adventure--a story Christa Worthington herself might have written. Instead she lived it: traveling the world, interviewing famous people.

An only child from the comfortable old Yankee enclave of Hingham, Mass., Worthington moved to Paris and wore designer tops with flea market jeans. Pink high-heeled pumps were her signature footwear.

But there was a blank spot in this tale of glamour and excitement. Worthington wanted a child. After she turned 40, she moved home to New England. An affair with a married local fisherman produced the daughter she had dreamed of.

Worthington's murder has local residents troubled. Until Worthington was slain, this seaside community near the tip of Cape Cod had not seen a killing in more than 30 years.

Said Judy Bartoswicz, an art gallery owner who also runs a video store where Worthington and her daughter rented movies: "We don't really know how to deal with this here."

Truro's year-round population is just 1,800, though the summer population surges to perhaps 10 times that.

Many are artists or writers, drawn to a town so insistently un-chic that it boasts not one single cappuccino bar or wine boutique.

Truro, Bartoswicz said, rests on a reputation of safety and serenity.

"I watch people locking their car doors when they come in here, and I just snicker," Bartoswicz said. "I know right away they're from out of town."

For Worthington, the sleepy pace could not have been more of a contrast from a life of glamour in Paris, London and New York.

After graduating from Vassar, Worthington plunged into a career covering art and fashion for Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Women's Wear Daily, the New York Times and other publications. She wrote several books, including "Chic Simple," in which she described shoes as "the libido of the wardrobe."

She hobnobbed with celebrities--visiting Yves Saint Laurent at his summer house, for instance, and then telling friends how the designer painted the walls to look like Monet's waterlilies. She had a closet full of evening gowns, but she also loved to wear outrageous clothes from thrift stores and flea markets.

Worthington was small, and so beautiful that her friend Alice Furleau, a former radio journalist in Paris, described her as "a woman with the oval face of a [John Singer] Sargent portrait."

She had plenty of boyfriends, scattered around the globe. But for much of her life she longed for what she didn't have: a child.

"There is, at the moment, no father for a child of mine, no husband for me, and what if there never is?" she wrote five years ago in the Times of London. She went to a fertility clinic to find a sperm donor, but her top two choices were sold out.

In 1998, Worthington's mother, Gloria, an artist, was found to have cancer. Her mother's illness gave Christa an incentive to return to Massachusetts.

She settled into a shingled house here near Mill Pond that her family had owned for years while generations of Worthingtons worked in the local fishnet industry. An aunt, designer Tiny Worthington, even is credited with turning fishnets into a fashion accessory in the 1960s when she launched a line of dresses, head wear and hosiery made from fishnet.

Four days after Christa Worthington's mother died, Ava was born. Interior decorator Margaret McNeil said that in Truro, Worthington picked the perfect spot for a single mother living on freelance writing checks and a trust fund that paid $1,700 per month.

"Down here, you can live pretty well on that," McNeil said.

As a mariner town where men went off to sea, Truro long has had a strong community of women. With its vibrant corps of artists, the town also has an international flavor: painters who each year follow the seasons--and the light--from Italy's Tuscany region to Truro and back.

McNeil described Truro people as introverted: "You don't get the 'Hey, how're you doing,' yet you know that if you have to call someone, they'll be there."

The low-key atmosphere, McNeil said, leads residents to let their guards down.

"You tend to be more open to people even if they're not living the perfect lifestyle themselves," McNeil said. "Even though everybody gossips, we try not to be judgmental."

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