Murder Suspect Arrested After 39-Year Search

( – Thirty-nine years ago, police discovered the dead body of a young woman named Cynthia Wood in a canal in Hillsborough County, Florida. Coroners determined her cause of death as strangulation. Despite decades of investigation, Wood’s murder remained unsolved and the suspect was never caught: until now. On Wednesday, June 28, police announced the arrest of 65-year-old Donald Santini on suspicion of the 1984 homicide, after having extraditing him from California to Florida to face charges.

Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister praised the “tireless work” of officers in solving the case and pursuing justice, adding that Wood’s family can finally find some measure of “closure” and “justice” after such a long time. Santini was a suspect from early on in the murder investigation because he was the last one seen with 33-year-old Woods while she was still alive. However, he fled to Germany before police could arrest him.

Despite being on America’s Most Wanted three times, and being previously wanted for other crimes, Santini was never brought in on charges in the 1984 murder and evaded capture by changing his name. He eventually settling in Campo, California while living under the name “Wellmann Simmonds,” and numerous other fake names. He operated a restaurant there, served in the local Rotary Club, and was also overseer for a local water board. Santini says he even hid his real identity from his wife of three decades.

Those who knew him in Campo, such as one of his water board colleagues, say they are completely “flabbergasted” by the developments and that Santini was a “pillar of the community” in Campo, as well as “non-confrontational, helpful and supportive” contributor. Santini’s neighbor Rick Fox called it the most “shocking thing” that has happened in his life. Santini apparently felt so comfortable that he even talked to the media in town under his alias in 2018. Police have not elaborated on how they cracked the case or how Santini was positively identified.

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