PROVINCETOWN >> A feature film inspired by details of the Christa Worthington murder is planned for release this summer following a month of filming this fall in Provincetown.
Worthington, 46, a fashion writer and a member of a long-standing Truro family, was found murdered Jan. 6, 2002, in her home in Truro, where her then-2 1/2 year-old daughter, Ava, had been alone with her mother's body for two days. In 2006, Christopher McCowen, Worthington's trash collector, was convicted in Barnstable Superior Court of the rape and murder of Worthington. McCowen is serving a life sentence in prison.
"Denton Harbor" will follow one of the subplots of the 2002 incident, the connection between Worthington and her daughter's father, Tony Jackett of Provincetown. In a 2006 interview with the Times, Jackett said that when Worthington's body was discovered, he was called to the house to take the little girl from the scene. He was considered a suspect for a time. Jackett and his wife also fought to gain custody of the girl, but a judge awarded custody to Worthington's friends as she had requested in her will.
Jackett and Worthington had a relationship that had ended by the time of her death.
"It has such basic drama," said Arthur Egeli, the film's producer and director. Egeli is an artist and filmmaker with ties to Provincetown.
"In a way, the tragedy is part of an entire story about how Cape Cod is changing, and how traditional families are adapting to the new culture of tourism. So Tony's story is kind of symbolic of the time we live in."
The film is locally financed, and was shot entirely in Provincetown, Egeli said. He said he made a deal with purchasing the rights to Jackett's story and that he sold the rights but then regained them three years ago. During that time, Egeli said, two books had been written but no movie. In 2011, "Reasonable Doubt: The Fashion Writer, Cape Cod, and the Trial of Chris McCowen," by Peter Manso, was released, and in 2004, "Invisible Eden: A Story of Love and Murder on Cape Cod" by Maria Flook was released. "I thought, 'Wow, I could make a movie,"' Egeli said.
In recent days, Jackett has distanced himself from the film and said he is trying to move on with his life. "I'd prefer to stay out of it," he said by phone.
A member of the Worthington family did not return a call for comment on Saturday.
Egeli said the names have been changed in the film, but one of the characters is a fashion writer and the other is a shellfish warden.
"Those who know the basic story will certainly recognize it," he wrote in an email. "The movie ends shortly after the murder and a suspect is identified in our story, so that is certainly different from the real events. To me, that part of the events is almost another movie in itself."
Among the professional actors in the film are Jade Harlow of the "Passions" soap opera, who will play the character meant to resemble Worthington, and Chris Lazzaro of "Blue Bloods" on CBS, who plays a fictionalized murder suspect.
Brewster welder and first-time actor Josh Walther will play the character that is a fictionalized version of Jackett.
"It's just a tragic story," Walther said. "I hope I did a good job. I wouldn't want to offend anybody. I hope that the people who see it can appreciate it for what it is."
Walther said he stayed away from the theater as a student at Nauset Regional High School in Eastham and instead hung out with surfers, woodworkers and welders. It was through his welding career, though, on a rare Saturday job in Provincetown, that "Denton Harbor" co-producer Judith Richland happened to meet him and ask if he'd ever done any acting.
"No, I can assure you, I've never done any acting," Walther said of his response.
A few days later he read through five or six scenes for Egeli, then he didn't hear from the filmmaker for a while. "I told some buddies of mine, and I told my family that I was assuming they went to New York City to find some real actors," Walther said with a laugh.
Then, Walther got a call back.
"It has kind of ruined me," said Walther, who is married with a young daughter. "I'd rather do more acting than welding."
He added that the scenes had taken more of an emotional toll on him than he expected. Walther was on the Cape, and around Truro and Provincetown, when the murder occurred and in the years that followed.
"There were some days (during the filming) when I thought, 'I'm acting this part but this stuff really happened. It really went down."'
The director said the film will try to flesh out some of the characters that emerged because of the Worthington murder.
"As far as movies go that are inspired by real events, our movie is right in the middle of truth and fiction, where I think it should be to show the underlining humanity of a tragic event like this— and show viewers the depth of characters that they thought so one dimensional from news accounts," Egeli said.
Information from: Cape Cod (Mass.) Times, http://www.capecodonline.com