A Florida murder suspect Donald Santini, 65, was arrested earlier this month in San Diego, California, for a murder he allegedly committed in 1984 in Florida. He had been featured three times on the TV show America’s Most Wanted and had used 13 different aliases to evade capture for nearly four decades. He was extradited to Florida where he faces a charge of first-degree murder.
The murder of Cynthia Wood
Cynthia Wood was a 33-year-old woman who was going through a divorce with her husband in 1984. She was last seen with Santini on June 6, 1984, before her body was found strangled and dumped in a canal in Hillsborough County, Florida. Santini was identified as a suspect shortly after the murder and fled the county immediately.
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“The arrest of Donald Santini brings closure to a long-standing cold case and provides justice for the victim and her family after nearly four decades of waiting,” said Sheriff Chad Chronister of Hillsborough County in a statement.
The hunt for Santini
Santini had appeared several times on America’s Most Wanted – in 1990, 2005, and 2013. Many agencies, including the FBI, worked extensively on this cold case for years. The search took investigators to Texas, California and even as far as Thailand with no luck until this year.
It was a tip from the Florida/Caribbean Regional Fugitive Task Force that led US Marshals to San Diego County, where the Florida murder suspect Santini was living under the alias of Wellman Simmonds. He was serving as the president of a local water board and had appeared regularly at public board meetings.
In a 16-page handwritten letter he sent to a local San Diego news station, Santini said “the reason I have been able to run so long is to live a loving respectful life”. He said he volunteered with the Rotary Club, owned a Thai restaurant and ran an apartment block during his years on the run.
Santini has a criminal history that dates back to his time in the military. He had served time in prison for raping a woman while stationed in Germany. And in 1983, he was charged with aggravated robbery in connection with a convenience store robbery in Texas, his home state.
The future of the case
Santini was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in San Diego before being extradited to Hillsborough County Jail in Tampa, Florida earlier this week. He faces a possible death penalty or life imprisonment if convicted.
Florida murder suspect has claimed that he is innocent and that he is being framed for the murder of Wood. He has also accused the authorities of violating his rights and mistreating him during his arrest and extradition.
The case is expected to go to trial next year. The family of Wood has expressed their relief and gratitude for the arrest of Florida murder suspect – Santini – and their hope for justice after so many years.