Davidson News

Davidson News

Justice After Decades: ‘America’s Most Wanted’ Fugitive Pleads Guilty to 40-Year-Old Florida Cold Case Murder

A 65-year-old man who lived in California under an identity and had previously appeared on “America’s Most Wanted” pled guilty to killing a lady 40 years ago this week.

The 13th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office reported Donald Santini was sentenced to 50 years in jail with 15 years of probation on Thursday, Nov. 16, after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in the death of Cynthia Wood.

According to court documents, Santini’s trial was set to begin on November 28. He was first charged with second-degree murder and kidnapping, which could have resulted in a life term in jail.

Santini went by the identity Wellman Simmonds in California and Texas. He allegedly dodged authorities for years before being apprehended when he filed for a passport and officials took his fingerprints. The prints matched Wood’s missing killer, according to the state attorney’s office.

Suspect in 1984 Florida Murder, Captured and Detained in San Diego

On June 12, the US Marshals tweeted that they had detained Santini in San Diego.
His other identities, according to Hillsborough County Jail records, included Joseph Brewster, Steve Buice, Charles Stevens, and John Trimble, among others.

Wood was last seen alive on June 5, 1984, according to the initial affidavit, and her body was discovered four days later. On June 6, 1984, Santini allegedly acknowledged to someone that he strangled Wood to death. Her body was discovered on June 9, 1984.

Wood was last seen alive with Santini, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. Her body was later located in a “water-filled ditch.”

According to KGTV-TV When he went by the name Wellman Simmonds, Santini was an active part of the San Diego community, serving on local leadership boards.

“No family should have to spend decades waiting for justice in the cruel murder of their loved one,” said State Attorney Suzy Lopez in a statement. “Not merely did the offender take an innocent life, although he ended up leaving a family without their mother and an answer.”


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