ORLEANS, Mass. — After a three-year investigation that included taking random DNA samples from men in one Cape Cod town, authorities have charged a man in the stabbing death of fashion writer Christa Worthington.
Worthington was found dead in January 2002 in her home on the outer edge of Cape Cod. Her then-2-year-old daughter was clutching her corpse, but was unharmed.
The slaying made national headlines, inspired a best-selling book and stirred a civil liberties controversy when police began collecting random, voluntary DNA samples from men in the small town where Worthington lived.
The long hunt for a suspect ended Thursday with the arrest of 33-year-old Christopher M. McCowen, who was the slain woman's trash collector. McCowen was charged Friday with murder and rape. He pleaded innocent and was ordered held without bail.Video: 'Good police work'
McCowen was linked to the crime by a DNA sample he voluntarily gave investigators last year. The sample was matched to semen recovered from Worthington's body after the rape, prosecutors said.
Worthington's family hopes the arrest signals an end to their quest for justice.
"It was hard to stay hopeful as the time went by," Worthington's cousin, Jan Worthington, said Friday.
Cape & Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe said investigators "certainly have a motive" for the killing, but he would not describe it. He said there was "no evidence whatsoever" to suggest any relationship between Worthington and her alleged assailant "other than him walking up her driveway to collect her trash."
Worthington, 46, had moved in 1998 to the tiny Cape town, where she had spent summers as a child. She became a single mother, leaving behind the fashion runways of Paris and New York, where she had built a successful career as a fashion writer.
A year after Worthington's murder, author and fellow Truro resident Maria Flook published "Invisible Eden: A Story of Love and Murder on Cape Cod," which became a New York Times and Amazon.com best seller.
But the book outraged those close to Worthington for its portrayal of her as sexually promiscuous and her family as aloof and remote.
In the book, O'Keefe makes disparaging remarks about Worthington, prompting her family and friends to demand he remove himself from the case. He refused, but apologized to the family and appointed an assistant district attorney from neighboring Plymouth County to play a lead role in the investigation.
Prosecutor has no regrets
In January, investigators began randomly collecting DNA evidence from men in Truro, a town with a year-round population of fewer than 2,000. They gathered more than 175 samples, outraging civil liberties groups that called the practice an intrusion on personal privacy.
O'Keefe said Friday he had no regrets about the process.
McCowen had been asked to contribute DNA earlier, in April 2002, along with the mail carrier and other people who were regular visitors to her home.
Because he moved frequently over the next two years, investigators did not collect McCowen's DNA swab until March 18, 2004. It was sent to the state police crime lab along with five other samples, but it took more than a year to be processed.
On April 7, McCowen's DNA was matched to the semen recovered from Worthington's body. O'Keefe blamed the delay on a high volume of cases and limited resources at the crime lab.
McCowen is being held without bail after pleading innocent in Orleans District Court to first-degree murder, aggravated rape and armed assault. His lawyer, Francis O'Boy, described McCowen's mood as "somber."
A woman who identified herself as McCowen's longtime girlfriend said he was not capable of murder. "He's a very nice man," she said.
According to the Cape Cod Times, McCowen has a lengthy criminal history in Florida including burglary, trafficking in stolen property, grand theft and motor vehicle theft.
Truro Police Chief John Thomas said residents of the town were relieved to learn Worthington's alleged killer was not someone who lived among them.
"We never viewed it as a cold case," he said.
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