Man featured on 'Americas Most Wanted' found 39 years later
After 39 years on the run, a man once featured on 'America's Most Wanted' has been apprehended, bringing a long-standing cold case to a close.
In a surprising turn of events, Donald Santini, a 65-year-old man who had been on the run for nearly four decades, was arrested near San Diego. Santini was suspected of the brutal murder of Cynthia Wood, whose body was found in a Florida ditch back in 1984.
The U.S. Marshals Service of San Diego, in a news release dated June 12, announced that Santini was arrested in Campo in connection with Wood's death. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department later confirmed that Santini was extradited back to Tampa on June 28 and now faces a charge of first-degree murder.
Unraveling the Mystery of Cynthia Wood's Death
On June 9, 1984, detectives discovered the body of 33-year-old Cynthia Wood in a drainage ditch on Alsobrook Drive in Riverview, Florida. Wood was reportedly going through a divorce with her husband at the time of her death. She had been reported missing three days before her body was found.
An autopsy later revealed that Wood had died of strangulation. Santini, who was allegedly the last person seen with Wood, quickly became a person of interest in the case when his fingerprints were found on her body.
According to True Crime Daily, Santini met Wood at a daycare center when he was picking up his girlfriend’s children. Court documents suggest that he had intentions of befriending Wood and asking her out on a date.
A Confession and a Fugitive's Life on the Run
A female witness told authorities that Santini confessed to her that he had strangled Wood before disposing of her body in a canal. Following this revelation, Santini was identified as the primary suspect and subsequently fled Hillsborough County.
As the search for Santini continued, he was featured on the television show "America’s Most Wanted" in 1990, 2005, and 2013. Detectives believed that Santini had fled to several different parts of the world, including Texas, California, and Thailand.
At the time of his arrest in California, Santini was living under the alias Wellman Simmonds and held the position of president of a local water board near San Diego. He had allegedly used several different aliases while on the run, including "Charles Michael Stevens," "Donald Chapman," and "John Trimbleon."
Donald Santini: A Life of Deception
In a handwritten letter addressed to KGTV-TV, Santini wrote,
"The reason I have been able to run so long is to live a loving respectful life."
Santini also claimed that he was a volunteer for the Rotary Club, owned a Thai restaurant, and operated an apartment block. In addition to the first-degree murder charge, Santini was wanted for aggravated battery out of Texas and had previously served time for raping a woman when he was stationed in Germany.
Santini was eventually booked into the Falkenburg Road Jail and is currently awaiting trial. The investigation into his past and his alleged crimes is ongoing.
A Long-Awaited Closure
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister expressed relief at Santini's arrest. He said in a statement:
"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."
This case serves as a stark reminder of the tireless efforts of law enforcement agencies to bring justice to victims and their families, no matter how long it takes.
The arrest was captured on social media and quickly went viral.
Donald Michael SANTINI was arrested by Deputies of the San Diego Fugitive Task Force in Campo, CA. SANTINI was wanted in Hillsborough County, FL for the murder of Cynthia Ruth Wood in 1984. SANTINI was featured multiple times on America's Most Wanted #fugitive #USMarshals pic.twitter.com/p4kXeLJvAW
— USMS San Diego (@USMSSanDiego) June 12, 2023
- Donald Santini, a man once featured on 'America's Most Wanted', was arrested near San Diego after 39 years on the run.
- Santini was suspected of the murder of Cynthia Wood, whose body was found in a Florida ditch in 1984.
- He was extradited back to Tampa and now faces a charge of first-degree murder.
- Santini had allegedly confessed to a female witness that he had strangled Wood before disposing of her body in a canal.
- At the time of his arrest, Santini was living under an alias and held a position in a local water board near San Diego.
- He had previously served time for raping a woman when he was stationed in Germany and was wanted for aggravated battery out of Texas.
- The arrest of Santini brings closure to a long-standing cold case and provides justice for the victim and her family.