Early each morning, local fishing constable Tony Jackett patrols the waterways around tiny Truro, Mass., on the tip of Cape Cod.
Jackett, who comes from a long line of Portuguese fishermen, has been married nearly 30 years. At 52, he has five grown children and is already a grandfather.
He should be enjoying this time of his life. But lately that’s been impossible. What happened here on Jan. 6, 2002, changed not only Jackett's life, but the town of Truro as well. Correspondent Susan Spencer reports on a mysterious murder case.
In January 2002, Christa Worthington, a glamorous former fashion writer, was murdered in her home, stabbed in the chest.
Worthington was from a prominent local family. She had worked as a fashion journalist, writing for Women's Wear Daily, Elle and The New York Times. But she thought she might write a play. So in 1997, around her 40th birthday, she left the big city for Truro, where her family had spent summers.
Her death was the first homicide in Truro in more than 30 years. Police say she was dead at least 24 hours before they arrived.
They found her two-and-half-year-old daughter, Ava, alone with the body. Spilled cereal revealed that Ava had tried to feed herself after her mother was killed. There were also signs that the door had been forced open.
However, the quiet she sought in Truro contrasts sharply with the pool of suspicion swirling around her murder - which has a list of possible suspects worthy of Agatha Christie.
On the list is a 29-year-old heroin addict and former prostitute, who was allegedly having an affair with Christa’s 73-year-old father, a former Massachussetts assistant district attorney.
Worthington told friends that she wanted her father to end his relationship both with the woman and her friends.
Then there’s an ex-boyfriend, Tim Arnold, who says he discovered her body when he went to return a flashlight. There are also conflicting reports as to how well they got along.
And finally, there’s Tony Jackett, who had an affair with Worthington and fathered her daughter, Ava.
Truro is a small town. During the affair, people began to talk. Finally, Jackett decided to end the relationship. But Worthington told him she was pregnant.
For almost two years, Jackett managed to keep his affair with Worthington secret. But in December 2000, Christa demanded that Jackett tell his wife about the affair, by then long over, and about their child, Ava.
“I think she became alarmingly aware of the likeness that Ava was taking on," says Jackett. "And she was concerned that Ava would be asking questions."
Finally, Jackett told his wife, Susan, about the affair. “I thought she was gonna have a huge breakdown at one point,” says Luke, the Jacketts' son. Their daughter, Bronwyn, thought the damage was beyond repair.
But Susan Jackett did something extraordinary. “I have to make up mind if I’m gonna make my marriage work," she says. "It’s been too many years and he’s a nice man. People make mistakes. He’s only human. I don’t want this anger in me. I want to make this all work."
Susan Jackett also decided that she wanted a real relationship with her husband’s former lover and Ava.
“I don’t think a lot of women can relate to what my mother is doing," says Beau, the Jacketts’ oldest son. “My mother is probably the biggest hero in this whole story. She’s an angel.”
Eventually, the Jacketts got to know Christa, and became very close to Ava. "We just tried to make it work," says Susan Jackett.
In January, everything changed when Worthington was murdered - and Tony Jackett found himself on the list of possible suspects.
“My father did not kill Christa. And could not harm a fly,” says Jackett's son, Beau. Tony, too, claims he's innocent, and he passed a lie detector test to prove it.
"I passed. I hope that they can at least have the confidence to say we don't know who did it, but we know that he didn't do it," says Jackett.
After Worthington's death, the Jacketts assumed they would raise Ava. “Where else would she go? Who would love her more than biological family, her father," asks Susan Jackett. "We had already fallen madly in love with her. It was easy to think that we would raise her."
The Jacketts say they thought, for the most part, that Worthington was happy that they were involved with Ava. But others aren’t so sure.
Two months before her death, Worthington wrote a will naming longtime friends Amyra and Cliff Chase, not the Jacketts, as Ava's guardians. Ava is now living with the couple in an upscale Boston suburb. The Jacketts have said they will fight for custody.
Aug. 2002 Update
Since 48 Hours reported on this story in April, the Jacketts have decided to give up the fight for sole custody of Ava.
"My wife and I had grown to really love this little girl," says Jackett. "And it just seemed to be the most natural and instinctive thing to do -- to raise her like I raised all my other children."
But six months have passed since the murder of Ava's mother. Police have cleared no one -- including Tony. Ava has been living with the Chases.
A court-appointed psychologist told the judge that Ava had bonded so well with the couple that it might harm Ava to move her. And the media began reporting about his past, and his involvement nearly 20 years ago in a marijuana smuggling ring. Tony cut a deal with investigators and avoided prosecution. Tired of the questions about his character, and overwhelmed by the potential cost of a full-blown custody trial, Jackett agreed to officially share custody.
In the best of both worlds, Jackett says, Ava will have two loving families.