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Authorities Capture 1984 Cold Case Murder Suspect Who Watched His Own Story on ‘America’s Most Wanted’

Suspect Arrested in 1984 Cold Case Murder of Cynthia Wood: Police
Source: Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office

Jul. 9 2023, Published 12:09 p.m. ET

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A 1984 cold case murder suspect who watched his own story featured on America’s Most Wanted has been arrested after dodging authorities for 39 years, officials said.

According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Donald Michael Santini was arrested last month in San Diego and accused of the 1984 murder of 33-year-old Cynthia Wood, whose body was discovered strangled and abandoned in a canal in Florida.

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Santini recently was extradited to Florida, where he has been charged with first-degree murder, officials said.

On June 29, prosecutors filed a motion arguing Santini shouldn’t be released from jail ahead of his trial due to his “past and present patterns of behavior,” Insider reported. That behavior allegedly includes fleeing from police, traveling to a different state and living under an alias.

Prosecutors said Santini has "committed two violent dangerous crimes, and has demonstrated the skill and wherewithal to deviously and adeptly evade justice by hiding his true identity and living under multiple fake names and identities for over 39 years.”

According to court documents, Santini was living in California under the name Wellman Simmons when federal agents found him “committing identity fraud to illegally obtain a passport.”

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In 1983, Santini was arrested on an aggravated robbery charge in Galveston County, Texas, prosecutors said.

He was released ahead of trial, but prosecutors say he fled Texas and arrived in Florida, where he killed Wood in June 1984.

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According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Santini was the last person seen with Wood before detectives found her body. He was identified as a suspect shortly after.

Officials said investigators have been searching for Santini for decades, including as far away as in Thailand. However, they were unable to locate him until his arrest last month in San Diego.

Santini was featured on America’s Most Wanted multiple times — in 1990, 2005 and 2013, officials said.

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