TAMPA, Fla. — A man arrested earlier this month in California has been returned to Florida to face charges in the 1984 murder of a woman, authorities said.
Donald Santini, 65, was booked into a Florida jail Wednesday morning on a first-degree murder charge, according to a statement from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. Florida detectives had traveled to San Diego, California, following the Santini case. June 7 arrestand was later extradited to Tampa, Florida.
«Donald Santini’s arrest closes a longstanding cold case and provides justice for the victim and his family after nearly four decades of waiting,» Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said in a statement. «Let’s not forget the tireless work that has gone into this case over the years, the resources and the experience to seek justice for Cynthia Wood.»
Santini had been on the run since June 1984, when Florida authorities obtained an arrest warrant linking him to the strangulation death of Wood, a 33-year-old Bradenton woman.
Wood’s body was found in a ditch of water three days after she went missing on June 6 of that year. Santini was the last person seen with Wood. The arrest warrant said that a medical examiner determined that she had been strangled and that Santini’s fingerprints were found on her body.
Santini appeared multiple times on the television show «America’s Most Wanted» in 1990, 2005 and 2013. Over the years, authorities said Florida detectives sent information requests to Texas, California and even Thailand, but they never located Santini. He used at least 13 aliases while on the run, according to a Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office arrest warrant cited by USA Today.
Santini was arrested while living for years under the name Wellman Simmonds in San Diego County, where he was president of a local water board in Campo, a small San Diego suburb. He regularly appeared at public board meetings.
«The reason I’ve been able to run for so long is to live a loving and respectful life,» Santini told ABC 10News in a 16-page handwritten letter sent from jail, the San Diego station reported earlier this week.
Santini wrote that he volunteered with the Rotary Club, owned a Thai restaurant and ran an apartment block, the television station reported.
Santini was previously in prison for raping a woman while stationed in Germany, authorities said. He was also wanted in Texas for aggravated robbery.
Santini was being represented by the public defender’s office, which did not immediately respond to an after-hours phone message seeking comment.