A Killing on the Cape Episode 1: The Murder | ABC News Podcast (Transcript)
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Length: 29 mins
Gary Pelletier: Yeah, the Commonwealth District Attorney's office is right over there.
Mark Remillard: This is attorney Gary Pelletier. He and I are in Barnstable, Massachusetts, on the southern end of Cape Cod.
GP: I'm gonna go check.
RM: It's August 2, 2017, and Gary is waiting on what he hopes is new evidence that could, potentially, get his client a new trial.
GP: Well, the subpoenas have not come in yet. They were due last Thursday on the 27; they still have not arrived.
RM: His client his 45-year-old Christopher McCowen and he's been in prison for more than 10 years after being convicted of raping and murdering 46-year-old fashion writer and single mother Christa Worthington in 2002, something Gary says Chris didn't do.
Do you do feel that Chris is innocent or that is it just that he deserves a new trial?
GP: Both, I believe he deserves a new trial, but mostly I believe he's innocent. I believe that they convicted the wrong person here, that the real killer is out there, but I believe that Chris McCowen did not commit this murder, and I don't believe anybody who says there is overwhelming evidence against Chris McCowen. That's simply incorrect; it just wasn't there.
RM: But that's exactly what the state of Massachusetts says, that the evidence against Christopher McCowen in the rape and murder of Christa Worthington is overwhelming. Investigators got a DNA hit, an incriminating statement from Chris, and a guilty verdict. While the case might seem cut and dry, is it really that simple? Because now, even 10 years later, there is still those who believe the wrong man is behind bars.
Male Speaker 1: McCowen was an easy person to blame for the crime.
Female Speaker 1: Christopher McCowen, innocent man framed for murder.
Male Speaker 2: Well, I think there's a question as to whether they really did get the right person.
Male Speaker 3: It's very simple; McCowen was a bird in the hand.
RM: Christa's murder would shake up the affluent and peaceful Cape Cod, put the community on edge, and grab the nation's attention and, in this podcast, we'll get into the long list of possible suspects in the investigation, the evidence, controversial police steps, and look at what is now Chris' fourth attempt to get a new trial. This is A Killing on the Cape.
First, let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Remillard and I'm a radio correspondent with ABC News. About 6 months ago, 20/20 and I got together and started working on a podcast and documentary on the murder of Christa Worthington, and later, the conviction of Christopher McCowen. People still have really strong opinions about what happened in this case. In our reporting for this story, I've been glared at, hung up on, we've had producers yelled at for asking for interviews, but we've also been thanked for looking at the case again. So first, we need to start at the beginning. Truro, Massachusetts, a small town in Cape Cod, in 2002.
15 years ago, 46-year-old Christa Worthington lived here, 50 Depot Road, in Truro Massachusetts. On a Sunday evening, January 6, Christa's ex-boyfriend Tim Arnold and his father Robert went to 50 Depot Road to return a flashlight he'd borrowed from Christa. It was about 4:30; the sun had just set. At the end of the driveway, Tim says he saw two newspapers sitting there. He scooped them up and they drove up the long driveway that wraps around Christa's house.
Peter Manso: The driveway, I'm guessing, must be 150 yards, 100 yards long, and it's, as is the case with many Cape Cod driveways, clamshell driveway.
MR: Peter Manso is the author of Reasonable Doubt, the story of Christa's murder as well as the trial and conviction of Christopher McCowen. He's lived in Truro for much of his life and worked as a consultant on this story.
PM: You get up the top and there's a turnaround area, which leaves you right in front of the entrance to the house, and it's a small house.
MR: Tim says he was surprised to find Christa's car in the driveway. He had called a bit ago and there wasn't an answer, so he'd figured she wasn't home. Nevertheless, his dad parked the car while Tim walked up the steps to find the door that leads into the kitchen open slightly. He looked inside to find Christa Worthington on the ground, her two and a half-year-old daughter, Ava, beside her. He says he didn't notice the blood at first.
PM: He walked in, "Christa? Christa, are you here?" and he walks into the kitchen. In front of him slightly to the right, Christa's on the floor.
MR: Tim later said, at first, he thought it was simply an odd place to nurse Ava, but after calling for Christa and only Ava's head turning around, that's when he says he knew something was wrong.
PM: I've seen the crime scene photographs, they're very chilling. Blood has come out of her mouth, out of her nose, there is a pool of blood under her head and her body is bloody. This is truly horrible stuff. And he takes the child out to his father, the father's sitting in the father's van, and he turns to his father and says, "Christa is D-E-A-D," doesn't want to say it out loud.
MR: Tim later told the police that he searched for a phone inside the house and couldn't find one, so he ran back through the woods to his father's house next door to call 911.
911: 911, this line is recorded. What is your emergency?
Tim Arnold: Please send somebody to 50 Depot Road.
911: Okay, what's the problem?
TA: It's Christa Worthington; I don't know what happened to her. I think she fell down or something. I'm sure she's dead, I think she's dead.
911: Okay, is there somebody there?
TA: I'm a friend, I just was returning her flashlight to her and I saw a light on. Her two-year-old daughter was nursing on her body.
911: Okay, I'll send them right over.
TA: Thank you.
MR: Christa hadn't fallen, though. She'd been beaten and stabbed once in the chest.
Maria Flook: She was stabbed through the chest, through the trapezius muscle to where the blade nicked the floor. It went all the way through her body and nicked the plank floor underneath her body.
MR: That's Maria Flook. She wrote the book Invisible Eden, which is also about Christa's murder as well as Christa's life as a fashion writer in the years before her death.
MF: The kitchen door had been forced open, possibly kicked, there was two telephones involved. One was the cordless phone that disappeared, they could never find it, but her cellphone was left on the kitchen counter with just the digit 9 punched in, as if she might've been trying to dial 911.
So here's this murder scene, and Cheerios and a sippy cup and little footprints of Ava's through the blood on the floor.
RM: Christa's murder would be the first in Truro in roughly 30 years, shocking this typically tranquil summer tourism destination that attracts East Coast elites, artists, and those simply looking to get away from it all.
If you've never been to Cape Cod, it's an interesting place. On the southern end is Hyannis. So, if the Cape looks like a flexed arm jutting out of Massachusetts, Hyannis is right where the tricep would be. It's an affluent area‚Äö√Ñ√§‚Äö√Ñ√Æ‚Äö√Ñ√§picture million dollar beach homes with big, green grass front yards and flag poles in each one of them. You might even think of US presidents.
John F. Kennedy had a home here not far from where I'm walking right now, and just down the road, is where he would dock his 25-foot sloop, the Victura, and he would go walking on the dunes with his wife, Jackie Onassis. And on the night that he won the presidency, November 8, 1960, he was here in Hyannis Port. Then, if you go all the way to the very tip of Cape Cod, you reach what might be the biggest tourist destination of them all, the lively Provincetown, where there's no shortage of artists and street musicians.
It's a place where you can get your morning coffee, a lobster roll, and clam chowder all in one spot. It's a destination for tourists and a home for artists. At night, there's always food, drinks, and music, thousands of people walking down Commercial Street, which is where I am now, which is lined with Pride flags as P-town has a bustling LGBT community as well. And every year, Provincetown caps off the summer with carnival week, which culminates in a big parade down Commercial Street, which draws about 90,000 people.
There's a marching band, there's people in drag. This is a big Chevy truck with a trailer, a guy dressed up like Greek gods and Roman gladiators, and a boom box, and not a lot of clothing on anyone.
But if you get out of the tourist spots like Provincetown and head about 20 minutes south to Truro, that's where you get places like this. Hamid Harbor, just down the street from Christa's house in Truro, Massachusetts; seagulls, boat masts, sandy beaches, remarkable sunsets, it's just the kind of thing you would hear in a Patti Page songs like Old Cape Cod.
[Old Cape Cod Playing]
Nick Brown: For beauty, for beaches, for wonderful fishing, for shellfishing, for solitary walks, there's nothing like it anywhere that I've ever been.
MR: Nick Brown is a realtor in Cape Cod. He sold Christa's home a few years after her death.
NB: There just isn't a lot of violence in Truro, there isn't. 50% of our people don't even have keys to their front doors. It's a very open society; it's very friendly with very, very little crime.
PM: I wrote a book about Provincetown once; I did some research in this area.
MR: Peter Manso, again. He's lived on the Cape since he was a kid and he says the Cape once had a bustling fishing industry, but that's since moved on now and it's a one season economy.
PM: At least 80% of the homes in Provincetown are empty eight months of the year, 80%. Truro is a town of approximately 1400 year-round people, but this is misleading because, during the summer months, Truro, like Provincetown, like Wellfleet, like all of the outer Cape, grows exponentially.
MR: So, while the summers draw tens of thousands of people, the harsh winters on the Cape send most of them away.
PM: The weather can get real harsh. This is a black world during the winter. It is a dark, moody world. I think, in my book, I have a line to the effect there are three wintertime colors on Cape Cod‚Äö√Ñ√§‚Äö√Ñ√Æ‚Äö√Ñ√§dark green, darker green, and gray.
MR: And for all its affluence, it's a place propped up by the service industry and blue collar workers. Nick Brown, again.
NB: Young people, if they are going to stay here, if they are going to live here year round, typically have to be in the construction trades. They come out of high school, they do not go to college; they immediately go into the trades‚Äö√Ñ√§‚Äö√Ñ√Æ‚Äö√Ñ√§carpenters, plumbers, electricians‚Äö√Ñ√§‚Äö√Ñ√Æ‚Äö√Ñ√§and they do very well here.
MR: And like any community in America, no matter how nice it is, it's not immune to crime.
George Malloy: We would get toned out for somebody that was having a drug overdose.
MR: That's George Malloy. He was an EMT and one of the first responders who arrived on scene at 50 Depot Road the night they found Christa's body.
GM: And we would have to go in and we would have to secure the patient.
MR: He says, during his years as an EMT, he'd been to numerous drug overdoses and suicides; but a murder, that was something else.
GM: Lots of drugs, lots of alcohol, which all ends up‚Äö√Ñ¬∂ I mean, I can give you a list of people that some of the most beautiful women in the world, when I first landed in Wellfleet, that just ruin themselves in drugs. In my involvement with the rescue squad, we would get called into the stabbings in Provincetown, all drug related. At least the people were alive.
RM: On January 6, though, Malloy would arrive at the first murder scene he'd ever been called to. He was part of the Truro rescue squad and was in his office when the call came in.
GM: I'm looking out and I saw the ambulance go by and then, just as it went by, the pager that I had, we get toned out, we get paged out, went off and said that we had a rescue call for an unresponsive female. They don't dispatch a name where the house is; they just tell you what the address is. So when I get up to leave, I started to put it together and I thought, "Gee, I think that's the Worthington residence."
RM: Malloy says he immediately followed the ambulance to Christa's house and knew right away that we're dealing with a crime scene.
GM: The crew that had pulled up the driveway had just come out and they were somewhat distraught and I asked them what they had and they told me they had a deceased female. So I went in and just looked and Christa was naked from the waist down, lying on her back and I turned and came out just as the first officer was coming up the road, Meredith.
MR: The first officer on scene was Meredith Allan of the Truro Police Department. An incident report from her says she got the call and ended up right behind another ambulance as it was heading to the scene. As she pulled up and parked on Depot Road, she says she heard a call on the radio that they were dealing with a dead body. She ran up the driveway and entered the home. There, she saw Christa on the floor. The paramedics told her Christa had been there for a while because she was already stiff. Officer Allen noted that the body was covered by a brown blanket, something we'll discuss later, as well as a yellow cover from one of the rescue trucks. She says she saw a "large amount of brownish, stale blood that had collected around Christa's head" and that's when she told everyone to get out of the house. Police would search the rest of the house to make sure that no one else was inside, and then, as customary to do in Truro for any dead body found under suspicious circumstances, they called state police.
Already, though, several people had entered the home, which was now a crime scene. Tim Arnold who, remember, ran back through the woods to call 911, well, that was because he couldn't find a phone inside the house, so he had walked through the scene looking for one. Tim's dad, Robert, went in after Tim to look for the phone and couldn't find one either; there were paramedics, Officer Meredith Allen, there was also Christa's cousin, Jan Worthington.
PM: Jan had worked not only as a member of the Truro rescue squad, but she had, as a part-time job, working as dispatcher in the police station. She manned the switchboard.
MR: Peter Manso, again. Jan says she was at home that Sunday reading a newspaper when she heard the call come over the radio. She lived on Pamet Rd, just a few minutes from Christa's. This is from her testimony, years later, at Chris McCowen's trial.
JW: I put my hand on her left carotid artery, she had no pulse. I knew she was dead. I was frightened because I didn't know what had happened, but I thought that she had been murdered.
MR: A crime scene log in sheet from that night shows 14 names, but that doesn't include some of the EMTs, paramedics, or police officers who were first on scene. And I bring all this up because integrity of the crime scene would later become a major issue for the defense. Here's Christopher McCowen's former attorney, Bob George.
Bob George: No less than 19 to 25 people were on that crime scene in the initial stages of this investigation, many of whom were there before the body was removed. I mean, you've got to understand, if you've ever seen a clown car at the circus and all the people getting out of the Volkswagen, that was like this small‚Äö√Ñ¬∂ We're talking about a shoe box of a house.
RM: A few hours after Christa's body was found, the first state troopers would show up on scene. That included investigators as well as crime scene techs, who began collecting evidence. Outside on the ground, near Christa's car, they found her keys, eyeglasses, and a sock. They also found what appeared to be two parallel drag marks on the ground not far from Christa's car. In the flower bed near the house, they found another sock, and closer to the door, they found what's described as a red wrapper they assumed from a granola bar, as well as a barrette. Inside the house, however, police had their hands full.
NB: I'll never forget picking up a scatter rug and seeing a blood stain the size of about two basketballs still on the linoleum floor of the kitchen.
MR: Nick Brown is the realtor who sold Christa's house. He also helped clean it up.
NB: When I entered the house, the house was a mess. There were clothes strewn over two or three of the bedrooms, there were children's toys everywhere, there was the results of the murder in terms of blood stains.
PM: When Christa's body was found, the sink, and she was found just off the kitchen, the kitchen sink was overflowing with dirty dishes. She loved to buy, and she insisted upon buying organic milk for little Ava, she bought LL Bean boots, but she weren't no housekeeper.
MR: Despite Christa's house being a mess, police never thought it was ransacked. Author Maria Flook, a single mother herself, says when she saw the crime scene photos of the house, it reminded her of her own life.
MF: I felt so connected to Christa, female to female, mother to mother, even writer to writer. I just had this real awakening of a transformative connection to Christa when he showed me these photographs.
MR: Working around the mess and the blood, chemist Robert Martin with the state crime lab and Kenneth Martin with Crime Scene Services, no relation, processed the crime scene. Kenneth Martin later testified that he saw a large pool of blood near Christa's head and what appeared to be grass in Christa's matted hair. He also noted that Christa's feet were clean; something that would be curious later as prosecutors speculated that the drag marks outside may have been made by Christa being pulled into the house. But if that were the case, the defense would question why her feet had no dirt, gravel, cuts, or bruises on them from the clamshell driveway. They took samples of blood from the bathroom where a children's step stool was in front of the sink, because police believed Ava tried to clean her mother. They also collected fingerprints from the house and Christa's car, finding a total of nine prints near her body. They collected other items for evidence as well, including that brown blanket that someone had thrown over Christa, a cutting board that had blood on it in the kitchen, a bloody washcloth, and a child's broom that appeared to have blood on it. But one thing that was never found at the scene, the knife believed to be the murder weapon.
It was about midnight, January 7, by the time Christa's body left 50 Depot Road and she was taken to chief medical examiner's office on Albany Street, in Boston. She arrived about 1:40 in the morning. There, clippings of her fingernails were taken; they photographed her body and found blue and white fibers in her pubic area. They also took swabs of her breasts and vagina, where they collected the two most important pieces of forensic evidence in this case, the semen and saliva of an unknown male. Along with the body, there were the clothes she had on, a fleece jacket, fleece vest, and black, long-sleeved shirt. All of those would be examined at the lab for evidence as well. Interestingly, though, a green bathrobe that both Christa's cousin, Jan Worthington, and her ex-boyfriend, Tim Arnold, later testified they saw on Christa at the crime scene wasn't with her when she arrived in Boston and it didn't show up in any crime scene photographs either.
PM: Well, it was said that Christa had a bathrobe. The details of the bathrobe are still fuzzy to me, but the bathrobe, this green bathrobe, disappeared, which is indication of just how this crime scene was treated.
MR: So while state police were still collecting evidence from the scene, investigators were hoping they could get something out of the only person who may have witnessed the murder, Christa's two and a half-year-old daughter, Ava. It was EMT George Malloy who had taken Ava away from the crime scene on the night they found Christa's body and over to Christa's uncle's house, John Worthington's, who lived just down Depot Road from Christa.
GM: But I had the baby under my jacket and you couldn't see the child. And at the time, I really didn't know the houses around there, so I just got out there and looked and I went to the first house that I saw lights on and that happened to be Christa's uncle's house. Within a fairly short period of time, one of the officers, one of the local police officers, showed up there and I had been trying to communicate with the little girl and it was obvious that this little girl had a death grip on me; she did not want to let go. My involvement with her, at that point, was to try to make her feel secure so that she could open up. Two-year-olds have communication abilities here, it's not like you're an infant, so I was asking her whether did mommy change you, when was the last time you were changed, when was the last time you had anything to eat. There was no response really.
MR: A friend of Christa's, named Francie, soon showed up and brought a change of clothes for Ava. George says Ava wasn't covered in blood, but she did have some of it on her and that her clothes were also soiled.
GM: She had blood on her, but she was not covered in blood. You could see that she had rolled in what was on the floor and whatever else, poor little bottom was blistered. I mean, it must've had urine blisters, it must've had a hundred urine blisters and I told Francie, because I thought that the diaper was full, to make sure she brought some Desitin or something up there. So we changed her diaper, slathered her with Desitin, and then I bought her back and she was starting to get comfortable with me.
MR: George Malloy looked after Ava, along with Christa's friend, while Massachusetts State Trooper Kimberly Squire had been called to speak with Ava and see if she'd seen anything. I spoke with former federal prosecutor Sunny Hostin, who's reviewed the case and is a senior legal correspondent for ABC news, about the interview and Trooper Squire's report.
RM: So, the night that they found Christa's body, they took Ava away from the scene, and eventually, the state police come down, Trooper Kimberly Squire talks to Ava to try and see if she can get any information from her and there's some really shocking moments that are quoted in this report of Ava describing her time there.
Sunny Hostin: Yeah, Ava did say some things that are so chilling because we know that she spent hours and hours and hours with her mother's dead body. She stated, "Mommy lying down, Mommy won't get up, Mommy lying down." She also says, "Mommy won't get up, tried to get Mommy up, Mommy dirty, tried to clean Mommy. Those are my paints, not Mommy's paints," and we know that Ava appeared to try to feed her mother, she tried to clean up her mother, and it did give you an indication of what this little girl went through. It's so traumatic and such a tragedy.
GM: She was definitely traumatized. I hope, for her sake, that she did not witness the murder, all right? I hope she was sound asleep, climbed out of that crib, found her mother, and did not witness this, but I don't know that.
MR: George Malloy again. Squire noted the rash on Ava and then wrote that she became tired, so they decided to take her to the hospital to be checked out. There, doctors told Squire that Ava appeared in good health and didn't have any signs of trauma on her. Police would interview Ava again the next day, but Squire once again noted that they weren't able to get any more information from her.
As the evening went on, Christa's uncle, John Worthington's, house became a meeting point for the Worthington family. Christa's father, Christopher Worthington, who goes by Toppy, arrived about 9 pm. Christa's cousins, Pamela and Jan, were there, as well as her uncle, John Worthington, and his wife. The police were there as well. Sergeant William Burke and Trooper Christopher Mason came down to the house. Those are two names to remember, as they would lead the budding investigation into Christa's murder and suspicions about who might be involved began rising on the very first night. And as the days and weeks would wear on, the list of potential suspects would become numerous, and so would the dead ends.
Next time on A Killing on the Cape.
Male: There are many different investigative methodologies and we're gonna employ every single one of them until this case is resolved.
Male: There was so much talk about who did it and who had the motive of it.
Male: The initial group of people they considered possible suspects were the right people to focus on.
MR: And to know who police would look at first, we need to know Christa.
Female: She was very bright in a kind of an academic way. She really was very smart.
Female: I couldn't imagine who could have killed her, I couldn't even think of it.
RM: That's next week.