NEW YORK — Family members of former fashion journalist Christa Worthington, who was killed in her Cape Cod home last year, are up in arms about a forthcoming book on the case and are trying to get its publication delayed.
This story first appeared in the May 16, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The family is upset by how they and the victim are portrayed in Maria Flook’s, “Invisible Eden: A Story of Love and Murder on Cape Cod,” to be published June 24 by Random House’s Broadway books. The book is billed as “a literary investigation,” but friends and family members take issue with how the author uses the same first-person narrative as the victim, even describing thoughts and sexual dalliances she may or may not have had.
The Worthingtons are also looking into having Cape & Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe — who provided the author with crime scene photos, detailed information and off-colored remarks about the victim’s personal life — removed from the case. “We’re trying to figure out how much damage has been done to the case in terms of compromising it in the characterization of Christa,” Jan Worthington said.
Random House stands by Flook, her method of research and the book “100 percent,” saying it has been completely vetted by its legal team.
“There are little things and big things. It’s not just careless and poorly researched. There are misquotes, untrue quotes and absolute out-and-out lies,” contended Jan Worthington, the victim’s cousin, declining to give specifics due to legal reasons. The Worthingtons declined to speak with Flook while she was researching the book.
Flook is holding off on any interviews until the publication date nears, a Random house spokesman said.
“There’s been so much heat and controversy in Boston and Cape Cod and such interest. The D.A. is taking a lot of heat,” the spokesman said. “Maria is laying low until the end of June.”
Once galleys of the book started circulating earlier this month, O’Keefe called a handful of Worthington family members to apologize for the content of his remarks. That overture was the first contact investigators had made in eight months, Jan Worthington said. “The main thing is she [Flook] characterized my cousin in a negative way. She was murdered and they haven’t solved the murder yet,” Worthington said. “Inaccuracies and personal attacks aside, the worst part is the negative characterization and she can’t defend herself.”
Having been advised about the book, O’Keefe said he has no plans to read it, but his investigators will. He said he will not comment on the book. But some observers believe that O’Keefe’s decision to release more details of the case on Tuesday was an attempt to preempt the publication of Flook’s book.
O’Keefe and Flook made a deal that they would exchange information provided she would not publish anything for at least a year. O’Keefe has said he thought he was only providing background material. O’Keefe was assistant district attorney at that time.
At one point in the book, he is quoted as saying, “The more we look at her [Worthington], the uglier she gets.”
Harvard University law professor Paul Weiler said there is less than a 1 percent chance of stopping a book from being published five weeks before it is to be released. But if a court later finds it to be libelous, it can be enjoined and damages can be sought. An emotional distress lawsuit against an investigator might be a possibility especially if that person prevented the actual capture of a murderer.
He recalled another Massachusetts case involving the family of the fisherman who was portrayed by George Clooney in “The Perfect Storm.” “The case was dismissed because the court concluded there are no rights to protect your reputation once you’re dead,” Weiler said.
As for whether O’Keefe can be removed from the case, officials at Massachusetts State Attorney General Thomas Reilly’s office said Tuesday they were not certain of the procedure. District attorneys are elected officials, and to some degree are independent of the government.