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'America's Most Wanted' murder suspect avoided cops for 39 years by posing as state official

Kit Roberts

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'America's Most Wanted' murder suspect avoided cops for 39 years by posing as state official

Featured Image Credit: Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office / United States Marshalls

A murder suspect who was on 'America's Most Wanted' managed to evade police for 39 years before he was finally arrested.

While some murderers are caught almost immediately, with others it can take a little longer for the long arm of the law to catch up. Some, such as the Zodiac Killer or Jack the Ripper, are never caught in their lifetimes.

One man might not have gotten quite that far, but he did manage to evade arrest for nearly 40 years after he was named as a prime murder suspect.

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Not only that, but Donald Santini managed to build up a reputation for himself as a pillar of the community, even serving as the president of a water board.

This is all despite him appearing on 'America’s Most Wanted' in 1990, 2005 and 2013.

Donald Santini was on the run for 39 years. Credit: Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
Donald Santini was on the run for 39 years. Credit: Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office

It really is like something out of a true crime documentary with the affable, seemingly respectable, man concealing a truly dark secret in his past.

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Santini, 65, disappeared in 1984 from Hillsborough County after being named as the primary suspect in the murder of Cynthia Ruth Wood - whose body had been found dumped in a canal after being strangled.

Since then, Santini had built a whole new persona for himself as the image of a respectable man.

One of his former colleagues told ABC 10: “We are all flabbergasted. 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.”

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Santini had avoided capture by using more than a dozen aliases, as well as often changing his location.

He was finally tracked down in a rural community around an hour from San Diego called Campo, which had a population of only 3,000 people.

He didn't exactly keep his head down either, as he became a pillar of the community, serving as the head of the town's water board.

Santini was finally arrested after authorities were tipped off. Credit: United States Marshalls
Santini was finally arrested after authorities were tipped off. Credit: United States Marshalls
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In a brazen move, he even once spoke to a local media outlet about a fatal crash which occurred in the area.

One of his former colleagues said: “It really was one of the most shocking things I’ve ever heard in my life.

“Anybody who would like to see an old case solved would be happy, and I’d be happy for the family of this lady who was strangled and killed, but it is totally shocking."

After 39 years on the run, Santini was finally arrested on 7 June at his home. He reportedly admitted his true identity during a court appearance in California, before he was extradited to Florida.

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Police declined to comment on the crucial clue which led to his arrest after so many years of escaping justice.

Topics: News, Crime, True crime, US News

Kit Roberts
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