Following a tip, a fugitive task force arrested Donald Santini last week in San Diego County, California, for the 1984 murder of Cynthia Ruth Wood.
The U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force arrested 65-year-old Florida man Donald Santini on Wednesday for the 1984 murder of 33-year-old Cynthia Ruth Wood.
Santini had been on the run since June of 1984 when the Hillsborough police issued a warrant for his arrest on first-degree murder charges.
According to the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office, the victim, Cynthia Ruth Wood, was last seen on June 4, 1984, leaving her apartment building with Donald Santini in Bradenton, Florida.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Santini had told Wood, a mother of three, that he had information that could help her win a contentious custody battle against her abusive husband. Santini, unbeknownst to her, had previously been convicted of rape and was on the run from aggravated robbery charges he’d faced in Texas the year prior.
Five days later, police found Wood’s body in a drainage ditch in Riverview, Florida. An autopsy determined her cause of death to be strangulation.
Police also collected fingerprints from Wood’s body and matched them to Santini, prompting them to issue an arrest warrant.
However, police could not locate the suspect as he had already fled the area. For decades, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office issued statements detailing Santini’s many aliases, which included “Charles Michael Stevens,” “Donald Chapman,” and “John Trimbleon.”
Police initially believed that Santini most likely fled to Texas under one of these aliases. He was finally located and arrested in California.
Unfortunately, the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on how the identification and arrest of Santini unfolded for the sake of preserving the investigation’s integrity. As of today, the sheriff’s office has only stated that a tip to the Florida/Caribbean Regional Fugitive Task Force led to Santini’s location.
For now, information regarding what evidence police have against Santini besides fingerprints is only up to speculation.
According to an ABC Action News interview with Florida Gulf Coast University forensics professor David Thomas, it is likely that Santini left a treasure trove of forensic evidence at the scene.
“There’s this thing called ‘Locard’s exchange’ — meaning that what is on me usually is left at that crime scene… So it may be in her clothes, it may be on some part of her body, but there’s something that he left there at that scene, and [police] were able to collect it, so kudos to them,” Thomas said.
Following Santini’s arrest, the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office released a statement, as reported by ABC Action News:
“We are aware of this arrest and have sent detectives to interview Santini, while we await extradition. This arrest allows us to reexamine evidence collected in 1984 using the technology of today, as the case is now considered open once again. While that process is underway, we want to protect the integrity of the investigation and can not release any further details.”
Santini’s extradition arraignment was last Friday, where a judge ruled that he was fit for extradition. Bailiffs took him back into custody and are holding him without bail.
Now, Florida officials have 30 days to transport Santini back to Florida. If officials cannot meet this deadline, Santini will have another court hearing on July 10.
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