A man who had successfully evaded capture for nearly four decades, despite being featured on “America’s Most Wanted” three times, was apprehended in California this month while holding a position on a local water board, Your Content has learned.
Donald Santini, 65, disappeared from Hillsborough County, Florida in 1984 after being identified as the primary suspect in the brutal strangulation murder of Cynthia Ruth Wood.
According to reports, Santini was apprehended in Campo, a rural community near San Diego, where he had been residing under the alias of Wellman Simmonds.
He had assumed more than a dozen different identities and frequently changed locations to avoid capture.
Santini served as the president of Campo’s water authority, actively participating in public meetings and gaining recognition for his community involvement.
Several publicly posted agendas for town business displayed his alias.
Neighbors expressed shock upon learning about Santini’s true identity.
Rick Fox, a neighbor, described the revelation as one of the most shocking things he had ever heard, recounting his cordial chats with Santini, who referred to himself as “Wells.”
Santini even spoke to local media outlets about a fatal 2018 crash while using his alias, displaying a lack of fear of being detected after decades on the run.
On June 7, Santini was arrested at his residence and subsequently escorted in handcuffs to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
The extensive search for Santini, who had been featured on “America’s Most Wanted” in 1990, 2005, and 2013, spanned numerous locations, with detectives following leads from Thailand to Texas over the course of several decades.
The United States Marshals Service apprehended Santini after receiving a tip from the Florida/Caribbean Regional Fugitive Task Force.
However, specific details about the breakthrough in the cold case were not disclosed.
Prior to being extradited to Florida, Santini reportedly confessed his true identity during a court appearance in California.
Reports indicate that Santini had developed a relationship with Woods, who was going through a contentious divorce at the time, by promising to gather incriminating information about her spouse.
His fingerprints found on the victim’s body ultimately led investigators to him.
Santini had previously served time in prison for a rape committed in 1978 while stationed in Germany during his military service.
Additionally, he had an outstanding warrant for a robbery in Texas before going into hiding.
Former neighbors, like Rick Fox, expressed a mix of satisfaction and shock.
While pleased that an old case had been resolved, Fox conveyed his shock and sympathy for the family of the woman who was strangled and killed.
Santini, who displayed a slight smile in his latest mugshot, now faces first-degree murder charges in relation to Wood’s murder, according to New York Post.