HYANNIS, Mass. (AP) - More than 15 years after 2-year-old Ava Worthington was found clinging to her mother’s body on the floor of their Truro home, a Provincetown artist’s film inspired by one of the Cape’s most high-profile murder cases will premiere at the Boston International Film Festival in April.
On Jan. 6, 2002, Christa Worthington, a 46-year-old fashion writer and member of a long-standing Truro family, was found stabbed to death. Ava had been alone with her dead mother for two days and had been trying to nurse from the woman and feed her. In 2006, trash collector Christopher McCowen was convicted in Barnstable Superior Court of the rape and murder of Worthington and is now serving a life sentence in prison.
“When we made the story, I was really conscious of having respect for Christa’s character, thinking that one day that Ava may see the story,” said filmmaker Arthur Egeli, who has been working on the movie “Murder on Cape Cod” since the early 2000s. “Essentially, the story is fiction, it’s a made-up story with made-up characters.”
Though Egeli changed the names of the characters in his story and cast a young boy as the child who finds his mother’s body, his film, which was shot entirely in Provincetown, chronicles the affair between a fashion writer, played by Jade Harlow of “Passions,” and a shellfish warden, played by Brewster welder and first-time actor Josh Walther.
Ava is the child of an affair between Worthington and Anthony “Tony” Jackett, the former shellfish constable in Provincetown and Truro. Jackett and his wife, Susan, still live in Provincetown.
Jackett, who was considered a suspect in the crime before being cleared by DNA results, tried to get custody of Ava after her mother’s death, but a judge awarded custody to Worthington’s friend Amira Chase, as stipulated in the fashion writer’s will.
Early in the murder investigation, Jackett spoke out in the press to make it known that he was not responsible for Worthington’s murder.
“The affair was long before; we had a good relationship,” said Jackett, referring to Worthington. “I was thrilled that my wife and I … that we all got along. Why would I want to kill her?”
Jackett, who had visitation rights with his daughter at Chase’s home in Cohasset, said Ava grew up in a strong relationship with her custodial family as well as his family on the Cape.
Now 17, the high school senior has visited colleges and plans to study communications and broadcast journalism, Jackett said. The custody agreement kept Ava out of the media until she was old enough to decide for herself whether she wanted to talk to the press, her father said.
“She’s kind of not thrilled that this is all coming up again,” Jackett said of the film. “She’s aware of everything because of the internet and all the stories.”
Egeli met Jackett in the 1990s during the production of his film “Unconditional Love,” in which the shellfish constable played a ballroom dancer. When Egeli, who was living in Los Angeles at the time, saw Jackett on TV nearly a decade later speaking about Worthington’s murder, he contacted him. Soon after, Egeli purchased the rights to Jackett’s story.
When Egeli and his wife, Heather, moved to Provincetown and opened an art gallery, they got to know Jackett and his wife better. Heather Egeli plays Susan Jackett’s character in the movie.
“The real-life Susan is really funny. She’s really hysterical,” the actress said. “She just has a good sense of everything.”
In discussing her close relationship with Ava, Susan Jackett once asked Egeli, “How could I be mad at a little girl?” That line stuck with Heather Egeli.
Arthur Egeli said he made an effort to develop Susan’s character in the film because in previous books and press coverage, she was portrayed as “flat,” and mostly ignored.
“She’s very easy to live with, I must say,” Jackett said of his wife. “She’s very open and engaging and fun.”
Susan had two adopted children when she met Jackett and thought she wasn’t able to conceive. “Miraculously,” Jackett said, the couple had four of their own children.
Worthington also thought she was unable to conceive a child until she became pregnant with Ava, who quickly became the center of her life.
“Christa so badly wanted to have a baby and be a mother and she didn’t really have a chance,” Jackett said.
Even during the intense media coverage that followed Worthington’s death, Jackett said he never felt that the residents of Provincetown treated him any differently when they saw him around town.
“There was a lot of controversy about Christopher McCowen and him being the one who did it even though he was convicted. I don’t think that if they hadn’t ultimately come up with the DNA that there would have been an arrest,” Jackett said. “From what I hear, (Provincetown residents) were all kind of surprised because he was sort of a well-liked guy.”
Egeli didn’t include the long police investigation in his movie, deciding to end the story shortly after the fashion writer’s death.
“The murder itself, it is a really difficult case,” Egeli said, referring to McCowen’s involvement. “That narrative never really added up for me. There was never enough story there to really grab onto.”
Information from: Cape Cod (Mass.) Times, https://www.capecodtimes.com
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