‘America’s Most Wanted’ murder suspect outran cops for 39 years, hid in plain sight as California official

He was serving in plain sight.

A Florida man who outran cops for 39 years despite three appearances on “America’s Most Wanted” was caught in California this month while serving as president of a local water board, according to reports.

Donald Santini, 65, vanished from Hillsborough County in 1984 after being named the prime suspect in the brutal strangulation murder of Cynthia Ruth Wood, whose body was found dumped in a canal.

“We are all flabbergasted,” a colleague of Santini on the Lake Morena Views Mutual Water Company told ABC 10.

“He was a pillar of the community. He seemed upstanding. He was an advocate, non-confrontational, and was hardly hiding. I am still trying to process all of this.”

Using more than a dozen aliases and frequent changes of location, Santini eluded capture before finally being tracked down to Campo, a rural community of just 3,000 people an hour outside of San Diego.

Donald Santini
Santini has been on the run since 1984.
Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office
Donald Santini mugshot
Santini was booked into jail this week for the 1984 murder.
Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office

Operating under the name of Wellman Simmonds, Santini served as president of Campo’s water authority, routinely appearing at public meetings and drawing acclaim for his community minded ways.

His alias appears on several publicly posted agendas for town business.

“It really was one of the most shocking things I’ve ever heard in my life,” neighbor Rick Fox told the station, adding Santini referred to himself as “Wells” during their cordial chats.

Cynthia Ruth Wood
Santini was named the prime suspect in the brutal strangulation murder of Cynthia Ruth Wood,
Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office

Apparently unafraid of detection after more than three decades on the run, Santini even spoke to local media outlets about a fatal 2018 crash under his alias.

He was arrested at his home on June 7 and finally walked by officers into the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in handcuffs on Wednesday.

The search for Santini, who appeared on “America’s Most Wanted” in 1990, 2005 and 2013, stretched far and wide, with detectives chasing down tantalizing leads from Thailand to Texas over the decades.

The United States Marshals Service finally made the collar after receiving a tip from the Florida/Caribbean Regional Fugitive Task Force. They declined to elaborate on the clues that cracked the cold case.

Before being extradited to Florida, Santini reportedly admitted to his true identity during an appearance in a California court this month.

Donald Santini being arrested.
Santini was living in a rural California town about an hour outside San Diego.
U.nited States Marshalls

According to reports, Santini had befriended Woods, who was in the midst of an ugly divorce with her husband at the time, by promising to find dirt on her beau. Cops zeroed in on him after his fingerprints were found on her body.

Santini previously served time in prison for a 1978 rape while stationed in Germany during a stint in the military. He was also wanted for a robbery in Texas before going on the lam.

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  1. Pingback: ‘America’s Most Wanted’ murder suspect evades police for 39 years, hides in plain sight as California officer – kodaktravel

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