by Marianne O'Donnell, Dateline Producer
The murder of Christa Worthington had been national news for more than four years by the time I stepped inside the Barnstable County Superior Court on Cape Cod.
It was October of 2006 and the state of Massachusetts was about to present its case against Christopher McCowen, a 34-year-old garbage man accused of raping and murdering Worthington inside her Truro home one winter night.
After reading reams of news copy on the case I felt pretty well versed in the broad strokes and adjectives of the victim's life: attractive; cultured; bohemian; sharp-witted; Vassar-educated; accomplished fashion journalist. But like most of my colleagues I had no idea who the real woman was, and that was by design.
Since they'd found her body sprawled inside the hallway of her bungalow, the relatives of Christa Worthington had refused to speak publicly about her life or death. It was a news blackout on all things Worthington, and the father, aunts and cousins of the victim had, with only a few exceptions, managed for years to keep the details of Christa's life all to themselves. I always thought this rather surprising, given that the victim, Christa Worthington, had created a name for herself in the world of fashion journalism, writing, sometimes with stinging wit, about the foibles and quirks of fashion's elite.
That's not to say that I, and more notably, my colleague Marianne Haggerty, didn't try to approach the Worthingtons and encourage them to share their memories of Christa. Like her, we were trying to make the subject we were covering seem very real to the public. In this case, that subject was Christa -- and all that she and her family had lost on one horrible night.
But the family never seemed interested in journalism's agenda, no matter how important 'covering the story' had once been to their fallen relative. Oh sure, at times we managed to glean a few humorous anecdotes about the Christa of the 1980s and 1970s here and there from a cousin or friend. But nothing was for attribution. No one who would agree to sit down for a taped interview. The unspoken message to those of us in the media was clear enough: Christa may have been among you -- once. But our memories of her are just that – ours.
So instead, we settled for body language, as the Worthingtons listened to Christa's old lover describe the moment he found her body and her baby, still alive, cowering beside her; how emergency technicians accidentally tainted the crime scene; or how the lead detective grilled the defendant just after his arrest.
As they sat in the front pew, we could see the profiles of Christa's cousins and friends as they leaned in to whisper animatedly to each other about what a witness had just said. Other times we would notice the backs of their necks reddening in reaction to a claim made by the defense. Once, Christa's father, Christopher "Poppy" Worthington, clearly angered by McCowen's attorney, muttered loudly behind the prosecutor, 'Object. Object. Object.' The judge promptly interrupted the proceedings and ordered the former lawyer to keep quiet or leave the courtroom. I never heard another syllable from Mr. Worthington.
In fact, the family's polite but tense standoff with the media was interrupted only once: the day the verdicts came in. We watched as the Worthingtons lined into their reserved pew. Only Mr. Worthington was absent, for some reason. As the foreman read the verdict, Christa's surviving blood, lowered their heads, laughed, smiled and cried. Afterwards, outside the courthouse, a cousin and friend read victim impact statements and explained they would say nothing more about the woman whose death had been so publicized.
Christa Worthington, who once covered the world of fashion and design for glossy magazines and papers would, for now and the foreseeable future, remains a closed book to the rest of us.