The Single-Mom Murder

“Is this New York?”

It was a question that Ava had asked her mother every time they passed through another town on I-95 on the drive from Cape Cod to Manhattan. It was a long haul, one that Christa Worthington, a 46-year-old freelance journalist, single mother, and resident of New York on and off for twenty years, had rarely done in the few years since she had made the difficult choice to leave the city. But at 2 and 1/2, Ava seemed capable of making the trip without a total meltdown, and Worthington had wanted to get out of the drear of the wintertime Cape, so they’d packed toys and snacks into her Honda Civic and hit the road. Plus, Worthington had been invited to a Christmas party thrown by New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley, her close friend and former colleague, later in the week. It seemed like the perfect excuse.

“Is this New York?”

When they reached Manhattan, it was a great homecoming. Worthington’s friends were in town for the holidays, and Brantley’s party, a big, boozy gathering at an East Village theater, was like the old gang from fashion magazines like W and Elle. Everyone remarked at how terrific she looked: Though it had meant lots of nights working out to calisthenics tapes in her living room and going to Weight Watchers meetings in nearby Provincetown through the fall, Worthington had finally lost the twenty-odd pounds she’d put on during pregnancy – she called it her “mother pudge.” And Woody Allen and Soon Yi were at the party – that alone was worth the trip.

Three weeks later, on January 6, Worthington’s friends received shocking news: Back at her cottage in Truro, a “down-cape” town just ten minutes away from the curling sand-and-shrub end of Cape Cod, Worthington had been savagely beaten and stabbed in the chest. She’d bled to death on her kitchen floor. She was there more than 24 hours before she was found. Ava had been with her.

Detectives found Ava’s bloody handprints all over the house – on a Disney videotape Ava had tried to stick into the VCR, on her own sippy cup (from which she had apparently tried to feed her mother), on a box of Cheerios she’d managed to pull from the counter. She needed her diaper changed, badly; she’d explained to the man who found her that “Mommy fell down.” A precociously talkative child, Ava was nevertheless still nursing, though she had promised her mother over and over that she would stop. On that terrible night, she’d pulled aside the V of Worthington’s nightgown.

For Christa Worthington, Ava was the latest, happiest chapter in what had sometimes been a turbulent life. Told for years by doctors that she would not be able to have a child, she had conceived at 43. From the outside, her life could seem idyllic. Her family had deep roots in Truro – around the corner from her house, there’s a road called Worthington Way – and the first EMT on the scene was a cousin. Part of a clique of relocated parents who were struggling to bring up sophisticated kids in a rural environment, Worthington played French cartoons so Ava could pick up some of the language, and even sent her to a playgroup with a Spanish-speaking nanny in hopes that she might become trilingual. Ava had a real memory for songs, and Worthington had started to play classical music around the house to help develop her ear.

But in the days following Christa’s death, it became apparent that the drama and complications that often characterized Christa Worthington’s life had by no means ended with Ava’s birth. “Everyone always thought Christa played the victim,” laments a friend, “and now it turns out that she wasn’t exaggerating at all.” In no time, police assembled a roster of possible suspects out of Agatha Christie – the married ex-lover, a local “shellfish constable,” who was Ava’s father; the aristocratic father with a 29-year-old heroin-addict girlfriend; an old boyfriend with an angry streak, known to her friends simply as “the magician”; and the neighbor and former boyfriend with a rare brain condition who found her body – he told police he was “returning a flashlight.”

Worthington had complained to friends in the weeks before she died that she was a “pariah” in her family and among other townspeople up in Truro. She was angry at her father. She’d talked about moving back to the city, restarting her career, getting back in the game. It might have been safer.

Outside the clapboard funeral home in Worthington’s hometown of Hingham, Massachusetts, a hard-bitten female cop dispatched by Christopher “Toppy” Worthington, Christa’s father, was trying to keep order over the scrum of media: video teams from CNN and Fox News, People photographers brandishing telephoto lenses, large delegations from the Boston papers.

“I told yaa before,” the cop kept shouting, “not one foot of yaas on the property.”

Inside, the scene was far more sedate; continually arriving Worthingtons bent by Christa’s flower-laden casket and tried not to weep while viewing the cardboard collages of snapshots Worthington’s cousins had assembled. There were 60 or so photos: Christa leaning back on a veranda overlooking the Italian seashore, Christa with three friends in HAPPY BIRTHDAY tiaras, Christa pensive on the windswept Vineyard ferry. “She looks just like Greta Garbo,” sighed one of Worthington’s aunts, gazing at a black-and-white shot of her niece in Paris.

Toppy himself remained backed into one corner of the home for nearly the entire four hours of visitation, looking as though he wished he could disappear into the garish floral wallpaper. Soft-spoken and rail-thin from riding his mountain bike nearly every day, Toppy was offered condolences by a continual round of family and friends, but he didn’t seem to have much to do with the wake’s main attraction, Ava.

Parading about in a green velvet dress topped by a Peter Pan collar, Ava smiled a wide Worthington smile as she navigated the crowd. Ava is now living with Cliff and Amyra Chase, the Cohasset couple designated as her guardians in Worthington’s will, which bequeaths $700,000 to the child.

“Yesterday,” clucked one of her old baby-sitters, watching her, “Ava went into the corner of the room and said six times, loud and clear, ‘Get out of my house, I’m not afraid of you.’ Six times she said it.”

Ava was there because a child psychologist had advised relatives it was in her future best interest. She held court in a circle of adults – “no more monkeys jumping on the bed!” – until one of her teenage cousins scooped her up and took her to see the collages.

They stopped first in front of a photo of Worthington in her mother’s old studio – Gloria Worthington painted until her death, from cancer, three years ago.

“Where’s Ava?” asked Ava.

“I don’t know, honey,” said the cousin, hiking her up on her hip. “Maybe you weren’t born yet.”The next photo was of Ava. It was a summer day on the beach and she was squinting up into the camera, knee-deep in the water, alone.

Ava extended a chubby finger at it. “Where’s Mommy?” she asked.

Even at 46, Worthington had the lineaments of an appealing girlishness, with pillowy lips, perpetually pink cheeks, and bright, frank eyes. The part of her personality she showed most people was reserved and maybe even a bit shy. “Christa had the innocence of a girl from a small town who thought the world was just such a sweet place,” says Knight Landesman, publisher of Artforum. “But she was far too sophisticated for that, so you knew it had to be slightly faux.”

Christa was like that, layered. “She was such an odd combination of personality traits,” says a friend. “She never drank and had long ago quit smoking, wasn’t a party girl at all, and was so protective of her daughter you almost wanted to tell her to back off. Yet she would do things to hurt herself. She could really fly to the flame.”

If there was one aspect of Worthington’s character that commanded the respect of her peers and in which she herself took the most pride, it was that she was brave enough to take the road less traveled.

By moving to Truro, Worthington chose solidity, family, and rootedness over the glitz and excitement of Manhattan. In addition to tracing her roots to the one of the most prominent old families in the Hamptons, the Halseys, Christa Halsey Worthington was granddaughter to perhaps the most respected couple in Truro history: John Worthington and his wife, Elizabeth “Tiny” Worthington, so named because she stood nearly six feet and wore a size 10 combat shoe when driving ambulances in World War I, are credited with saving the area from the ravages of the Depression. John employed the male half of the town at his fish-processing plant, and Tiny the female at her fishnet-making business; in fact, she invented the fashion of fishnet.

“Christa was very connected to Truro,” says a friend. “In a good – and bad – way.”

Though Worthington cultivated a deep connection with the stark beachscape – “However fancy the Hamptons become, there is still God in this country, a Puritan God of straight and narrow instincts who demands a degree of awe,” she wrote in Hamptons Country magazine in 1998 – there was much about Truro that upset her. She had long had a difficult relationship with Toppy, a former Massachusetts assistant D.A., who later practiced private law. He, in turn, had problems with the rest of the family, a land-poor clan that lived in Worthington ancestral homes in Truro. There were arguments about whose land was whose; most recently, Worthington felt slighted by an aunt in Florida who sold two parcels she believed to be half hers. In a drastic move, Worthington had even hired a private investigator to look into the situation.

There were other issues, less financial in nature. Toppy had a girlfriend. He was 72. She was 29. Toppy said he was in love, but let it slip at some point that the woman had been in jail. Worthington hit the roof. She told friends she thought her dad had been “hypnotized.”

“Toppy’s girlfriend was Christa’s obsession of the moment,” says a friend. “We told her to forget it: Write a book. Go to Paris. Do anything but sit in Truro and bite your nails over this woman.”

She’d moved to Truro to live a simpler life, but from the beginning, Christa being Christa, there was plenty of drama. The first year, she lived in Tiny’s unheated, two-room cottage on Truro’s town harbor – which the family called “Tiny’s hut.” She met a guy, Tony Jackett, a married commercial fisherman who now holds the job of local “shellfish constable” – people sometimes joke that he has the last job in the fishing business on the famously over-fished Cape these days. Back then, Jackett had been fishing for flounder every day on his 45-foot dragger, Josephine, which he anchored in Provincetown. But he’d taken refuge in Truro’s Pamet Harbor during a storm and Jo had sunk. He’d raised her, but it was going to take some time to get her back into fighting shape, so the harbormaster had helped him out with part-time work.

Jackett and Worthington began a torrid two-summer-long affair. She told him she was unable to have a child. They didn’t use protection. She got pregnant. She informed him that she was definitely having the baby, but he didn’t need to be part of the family unit.

“Let’s put it this way: Christa had me by the nuts,” Jackett says in his thick Massachusetts accent. He pantomimes grabbing something the size of a nectarine. “But she didn’t squeeze hard.”

As dramatic as Worthington’s personal life could be, she was realistic about her career, which had started off promising but turned sour. “Christa would have laughed at the headline about her death in the Times: A MURDER IN CAPE COD jolts the fashion world,” says a friend. “She had no illusions that the fashion world would be jolted by anything she did at this point.” Adds her best friend, Melik Kaylan: “She was … disgusted over the feral New York media scene and its interest in trashy culture and celebrity and so on. She was trying to point her life in a more serious intellectual direction in a personal and professional way.”

After graduating from Vassar in 1977, Worthington worked briefly as a paralegal before rising through the magazine ranks at Cosmopolitan and then Fairchild Publishing, where she landed a job as Women’s Wear Daily’s accessories editor – “getting showered with invitations to the best parties and, of course, free fancy sunglasses,” recalls a friend. “She was doing a lot better than the rest of us from Vassar at that time,” says Brides managing editor Sally Kilbridge, who remembers brown-bagging with Worthington at the World Trade Center fountain during their pre-magazine days. “I could tell she was proud of herself, and we all thought it was incredibly cool – and were incredibly jealous.”

In 1983, Worthington made her friends more jealous when she was sent to Paris by Fairchild at the age of 26. “Working at the Paris W bureau was a kind of baptism by fire, a sort of graduate school for fashion,” says Kate Betts, former editor of Harper’s Bazaar. “In writing, you learn by mimicking others, and even before I met Christa I knew her byline. She was the perfect Joan Buck-style writer that I tried to emulate.”

Worthington interviewed legends like Yves Saint Laurent and Thierry Mugler and went to her share of polo matches and grand balls, though she felt the glamour factor was overrated. She was once assigned to a party given by Baroness Helene de Rothschild for the engagement of her son to a Belgian princess; Worthington wasn’t allowed into the party itself – only the W photographer was invited – but was summoned to the baroness’s home afterward for photo captions. She described it to a friend who wrote a profile of her for the Cape Cod Times: “There she is, in bed with lace-embroidered pillows around her tapestry-draped bed overlooking the Seine with her dachshund at her feet and a pink ribbon in her hair matching her pink-and-white nightie. It’s 3 in the afternoon and she’s still in bed; and she works very, very hard at giving me the right names, and she’s eating champagne truffles… . “

“Christa had this great, wry bemusement about that whole world, a kind of ‘Isn’t it odd that all these people find fashion and money so important?’ ” says author and friend Jay Mulvaney, who visited her often at her tiny “but fabulous” apartment on the Left Bank and remembers, not without some glee, that she had a discount at Chanel. “But she wasn’t taken in by that world – she had that Waspy disconnect: She was already there, so she didn’t understand why people had to try so hard.”

“When it comes down to it, I know that none of this matters,” Worthington remarked in the Cape Cod Times interview. “The Yankee no-nonsense approach to life is in my blood. The idea of fashion to most Bostonians is very silly, and they’re quick to assess what is silly and what is important, especially in my family.”

In 1988, Worthington, who by that point had worked her way up to the prominent position of W’s acting bureau chief, was passed over for the job in favor of Dennis Thim, a promotions executive at Fairchild’s now-defunct men’s magazine M. “Christa was devastated, but that was just the way it was at W,” says a colleague. “It’s always been a boys’ club.” Counters Fairchild chairman and editorial director Patrick McCarthy: “Christa didn’t like being bureau chief – there were too many administrative duties. She just didn’t want anyone else to be bureau chief.” Though it’s unclear exactly how Worthington came to leave the company, it is part of Fairchild lore that she was fired by John Fairchild most unceremoniously: In the elevator on the way to lunch with Worthington and Thim, Fairchild simply remarked, “Christa, you know Dennis, right? He’s replacing you.”

January in Truro holds a special kind of cold. There’s nothing to stop the wind blowing off the ocean, and the memory of summer somehow sharpens the chill. The population, 20,000 in August, shrinks to less than 1,600, and with that the taffy shops close down and restaurants with names like Terra Luna cover their windows with plywood. At the local deli, the only customers are handymen renovating summer cottages for their seasonal owners, which gives the blonde behind the counter more time to read. Today she’s immersed in Leo Damore’s In His Garden, a chronicle of the last murder to occur in Truro, back in 1968, when carpenter Tony “Chop Chop” Costa killed four young vacationing women and buried their dismembered remains in graves only three feet deep, in a patch of the Truro woods where he used to grow marijuana. The graves were found less than a mile from Worthington’s house.

“I’m reading this so I can understand the way people are acting now,” says the blonde, closing the book. “The fear. The panic. It’s effing nuts.” She speaks in a staccato because this is her second job; she’s also a night police officer. “Tim Arnold. Questioned him myself that night. He didn’t do it. Don’t know who did it. Don’t have an effing clue.”

Arnold is the guy who found Worthington – the one with the unusual brain problem, cavernous malformation (the blood vessels in his brain are abnormally enlarged). A children’s-book illustrator, he lived right behind Worthington for a year without meeting her before one of Ava’s nannies set them up on a date, which basically meant that he joined Worthington and Ava on their daily walk. He lived at her house for four months; after a breakup, he moved back home, or, rather, into the home of his aging father, who has just sat down to the newspaper and some breakfast. The newspaper with an article about his son as a possible murder suspect.

A mug of coffee in his hand, Arnold slowly makes his way over to join his father at the kitchen table. He is a big man, but his tiny voice makes him smaller. He keeps pushing his horn-rimmed glasses up and down the bridge of his nose, but they don’t seem to serve much purpose: Since an operation in the early summer on his brain stem, Arnold has had double vision, and he keeps his left eye closed for long periods – the effect is slightly spooky.

Arnold has said that he cannot speak about the night that he found Christa on the advice of his lawyer, who would probably rather that we didn’t get into the intricacies of why he drove over to her house to return the flashlight when she lives so close by, and why he didn’t have a flashlight himself on the Cape in the wintertime, and in any case he doesn’t want to relive the experience of telling his father (who had driven over with him) that he thought Christa was “d-e-a-d” so as not to upset Ava, and then walking back through the woods to call 911 from his phone since he couldn’t find Worthington’s. So I ask him about his relationship with Christa.

“I think Ava’s presence had a lot to do with it, in retrospect,” says Arnold. “Ava is beautiful. She’s so sensitive. She can be very sensitive to what people’s agenda is, for good or ill. She can get easily hurt.” His eye flicks open. “That’s what I can tell you most about Christa – about her relationship with her daughter.”

In recent months, Arnold says, he’d visit Worthington with the sole purpose of seeing Ava. And Worthington? “She was very … complicated,” Arnold says. “We had lots of quarrels, just low-level quarrels. She could be very caustic, and her comments had a destructive quality to them. Angry. I used to chide her for being a Dorothy Parker wannabe. She’d just laugh.”

He sips the coffee. “You know, I just saw Ava yesterday,” he says. “And when I left, she really didn’t want me to go. It was heartbreaking.”

I suggest that maybe he should be the one who takes care of her now.

Arnold’s eye snaps closed, and he rubs it with a knuckle. “Well,” he says finally, “I can’t make that argument to anybody.”

Shell-shocked after losing out on one of the best jobs in Paris, Worthington decided to follow her British “painter-slash-librarian” boyfriend to London, where she began to freelance in earnest. Some of her writing seems phoned in – “The world’s top fashion designers make fantastic clothes; for most of us, reality bites painfully at the cash register” – but the majority of it is well researched and vibrant. Worthington turned her passion for antiques and flea markets into a new specialty, writing on such topics as antique snuffboxes, modern book collectors, and refurbished ship’s compasses.

Then there was another typical “Christa drama,” as one friend describes it: In the summer of 1989, a Con Edison steam pipe blew up outside the apartment she owned on Gramercy Park and was renting out to one of her editors, Deborah Kirk: It killed two workers and a building resident, injured 24 others, and seriously damaged her apartment. Soon Worthington became involved in a suit against Con Ed; when things fizzled out with her man in London, she decided to go back to New York and deal with the legal hassle there. She was surprised at how happy she was to be back in the city, and once she was allowed to move back into the apartment, she made it a real home, decorating it with her mix of funky tapestries and flea-market knickknacks as well as a huge antique mirror that she had shipped over from Paris – “the only thing of any value Christa ever owned,” says a friend.

While Worthington did get steady work at Elle and later Elle Décor during the tenure of friend and confidante Marian McEvoy, she found it hard to establish herself as a writer outside the fashion world, and even there she was seen as someone who was talented but out of the game. Most of her income came from a commission to write copy for three “Chic Simple” books – on scarves, accessories, and clothes. “Flirtatious or functional, gloves are the hats of the hand,” she wrote in the accessories guide’s hand-wear chapter. “They dramatize instantly: they can’t help it. They’re all about movement, so they tend to provoke. The dropped glove is a mating cry; the gauntlet, the call to combat.”

Not particularly challenged by writing these haiku, Worthington began an obsessive romance with a quiet, moody, yet handsome guy whom friends remember only as “the magician.” Their stormy relationship was par for the course. “There was always this or that drama with this or that guy, and they seemed to reach the soap-opera stage very quickly,” says friend and television producer Billy Kimball. “Christa liked to see herself as the heroine of her own nineteenth-century novel.”

Worthington herself wrote on the topic. “Pain addicts are perhaps the real fans of Wuthering Heights, preferring the fix of unrequited love. For it is about a love that prefers the bell jar of bliss, the cocoon of torment to the inglorious reality of ‘he’s just a guy with a mother problem.’ “

“The magician” was in fact a magician, who did the occasional children’s party and nightclub gig, but mostly he hung out at a Third Avenue dive near Worthington’s house, where he would “do his card-floating-in-the-air-level tricks and then sucker people into buying him beers,” according to the bar’s owner. “Problem was that when he was done, watches and wallets would sometimes be missing.” The magician lived with Worthington in her studio apartment for a while, though friends say she eventually got sick of his unpredictability and temper tantrums. When she called it quits, friends say, he smashed in her front door. She talked about getting a restraining order.

Among the locals in the outer Cape, Tony Jackett is a legend. Born and bred in Provincetown, the grandson of a Portuguese harpooner, the 51-year-old Jackett has the looks of an aging George Clooney and the sex appeal to go with them. A fixture at selectmen meetings and weekly art openings, he’s fished with Sebastian Junger and is a main character in Peter Manso’s upcoming book P-Town: Art, Sex, and Money on the Outer Cape. With a wife described as having “the best heart on the Cape,” and four grown kids who’ve always been the most popular in town, Jackett is the local good old boy, everyone’s best friend. But he had a secret.

“There I am working a second job cleaning cottages so we can pay the car insurance,” says his wife, Susan, an upbeat blonde with luminous blue eyes behind long bangs. “I’m pressing his shirts before he goes up to Pamet, and little do I know what he’s doing when he gets there.”

It’s the week after Worthington was murdered, and the couple are sipping tea at the kitchen counter of their Sunshine home in the less affluent corner of Truro. Every bit of wall space is covered with family photos and oil portraits of their kids when they were young; their Persians, Fang and Emerson, nap at their feet, and three candles burn near the stove. “One is for my Native American adopted son, who died of aids,” explains Susan. “Another is for my mother, who also passed away. And this one – this one is for Christa.”

Unlike Worthington’s family, who have refused to speak to any member of the press – before banging down the phone, one aunt informed me that they were “united in their quest for privacy” – the Jacketts were initially open after Worthington’s death, though their lawyer later turned off the spigot. Part of it was because they’re trying to win custody of Ava and seem to think that the media might help them do so, although all the tabloids have done is point out the discrepancy between Jackett’s shellfish-constable salary and Ava’s substantial inheritance, and part of it was because they’ve been through therapy over Jackett’s affair with Christa – a lot of therapy.

“I never wanted to be a fisherman,” explains Jackett, who has a tough, deliberate way of moving and speaking that’s bit De Niro-esque. “My dad was a fisherman. I hated fishing! But Susan got pregnant when I was 22: I was fucked. I think I felt like my life had passed me by. I think that’s why I had this affair.”

“You think,” sighs Susan, “after 30 years, you know a person. But I guess we had just drifted in separate directions.”

“I was having a midlife crisis,” protests Jackett.

Possibly as a result of all this therapy, the Jacketts were able to forge a relationship with Worthington, who had asked Jackett to tell his wife about Ava by the time Ava turned 2 – she wanted to be ready with an answer when Ava asked who her dad was. “I guess in Europe or somewhere, that kind of request would be normal,” says Jackett. “For me, it took some getting used to. But somehow my wife, an amazing woman, was able to transcend the emotions of hurt and betrayal, and take her feelings in a direction of focusing on the child.” He says this often, like a mantra: “The child is innocent.”

Worthington asked Jackett to put Ava on his health insurance, and he complied; Jackett, at the urging of his very understanding daughter, asked Worthington over for tortillas and baby-sat once in a while when she ran errands. Worthington had given the Jacketts a car seat so they could take Ava to their home in their car. Ava was supposed to come over for a visit the day Worthington was murdered, but at the last minute, Worthington heard about a play group that had invited over a music teacher to tutor the kids, so she asked to reschedule. “Yeah,” says Jackett, smirking a little, “Christa was always trying to introduce Ava to cult-cha.

“Well, we were disappointed, because we wanted to see the baby,” says Susan, and then, much more emotionally: “Honestly, we were becoming friends! Christa just loved that child so much, it was infectious.” The Jacketts insist they are ready for the challenge of raising this citified woman’s daughter: First, of course, they have to break the news to Ava that Jackett is her father. Worthington never had the chance.

In the last year of her life, Worthington added another complaint to her long list of woes: money. Though she cared little about what money could buy her, she became obsessed with the freedom it would afford both her and Ava in the future. How was she supposed to write fiction, she complained to friends, if she always had to worry about the next paycheck? “It wasn’t that Christa felt that the world owed her a living,” says friend Steve Radlauer, “but she did feel that there was enough money around with her name on it that she didn’t need to struggle with stupid articles that she didn’t want to write.”

Though Worthington reportedly received $1,700 from her trust each month, the big money was still controlled by Toppy (Worthington had no siblings, so presumably it was all to pass onto her upon his death). She didn’t quite know how much there was there, but she did know that he had cash on hand: After her mother died, he’d sold their waterfront Hingham home and moved into a small two-bedroom near a busy intersection in Weymouth – the difference between the two properties was almost half a million. “I don’t know if it was because Christa felt her dad didn’t pay enough attention to Ava,” says a friend, “or because she had some lingering anger at him for withholding love from her when she was a child, but all I can say is that she became consumed with figuring out what he was doing with that money.”

After much browbeating by Worthington, Toppy finally confessed that some of the money was going to pay for an apartment he had rented for his girlfriend in a Boston suburb, Quincy, and to pay her “medical bills,” he explained cryptically. As it turns out, Elizabeth Porter is a heroin addict with arrests dating back to 1992. A beat-up brunette with her curly hair dyed red, she has at times been a prostitute – and oddly enough, she was involved in another high-profile murder case last year, as she once “escorted” Dr. Dirk Greineder, the Boston allergist convicted of murdering his wife. She’s also HIV-positive.

This was too much. On Worthington’s recent trip to New York, for Brantley’s party, Worthington said that she was looking into having Toppy declared legally incompetent, effectively putting herself in charge of his finances. “Porter,” says a friend of Christa’s, “was about to get her oil well unhooked.”

The story has moved quickly since Worthington died: That week, Porter was hauled into the police station for a lie-detector test, along with Ed Hall, the man who lived with her in the apartment where Toppy paid the bills. Hall passed; Porter’s results were reportedly inconclusive – possibly affected by heroin. Two mornings later, Porter and Hall were arrested on a stoop in nearby Roxbury while shooting up, and the Quincy landlord took advantage of this arrest to evict them. Hall remains in custody, perhaps because he’s unable to come up with the $500 bail; Porter was last seen at a Boston emergency room with Toppy. He had taken her in because he was afraid she had pneumonia.

Toppy is also being asked to take a lie-detector test. And there is no indication that the police have stopped entertaining alternative scenarios: Late last week, they were working the phones again, asking Worthington’s New York friends to “rack their brains” about anyone who might’ve wanted to do such a horrific thing to their friend. “We’re working around the clock, and we’re optimistic – this is in no way a cold case,” says Jim Plath, the supervising detective on the case at the Yarmouth state-police barracks. “But this is a tough one. It’s a really, really tough one.”

They’re not talking about what Ava might have seen.

The yellow police tape at the end of Christa Worthington’s driveway is garlanded with bouquets. Candles in glass jars, left by well-wishers in the days following Christa’s death, are still stuck in the muddy dirt.

The yard is a chaotic jumble of stoves and refrigerators, wheelbarrows, and baby carriages – they’re toys. Inside the gray-shingled bungalow, every available surface is covered with toys or boxes of cereal or pastel pacifiers; children’s books are stacked on each step of the main stairway, a stairway whose banister is covered over with fishnet, perhaps one use of the material Tiny Worthington never considered. Even the Christmas tree is still up. This was Ava’s place, the world Christa made for Ava.

A few days before Christmas, Worthington went to a dinner at a friend’s in the Village. The adults chatted as Ava frolicked. Christa’s friend Terry Reed remembers Christa stopping in mid-sentence. “I can’t stand it, she’s too adorable,” Worthington said. “I was supposed to wait for Christmas, but I can’t.” She brought out a shopping bag and presented Ava with her present, a pink tulle tutu, in which Ava continued her happy dance. “Isn’t she amazing?” said Christa. In her life, Ava was the one relationship that stayed perfect.

Susan Jackett, the woman who may well end up acting as mother to Ava, couldn’t be more different from Christa. “Since my mom died,” she said, sitting in her kitchen, “I’ve been on this spiritual path, reading books about life after life, and I think that Christa’s spirit didn’t leave the house till the police got there: I think she just stayed there that night, to look over her baby. She just hovered.”

For Ava, no doubt, she’ll hover for a lifetime.

Additional reporting by Rebecca Gobur, Luisa Ehrich, and Jada Yuan.

The Single-Mom Murder