San Diego

Victim's Boyfriend Arrested in 1992 Cold Case Killing

The couple were in a heated custody battle over their young daughter, before the alleged killing took place in 1992

A man suspected of killing his girlfriend during a custody battle over their young daughter has been arrested more than two decades later.

"They had a young daughter together, we do believe there was some time of argument, and that argument stemmed from a custody battle and that is when the event occurred," said Sheriff Lt. Kenn Nelson.

The child is now in her mid-20's, and was raised by the suspect's parents in Boston.

Homicide detectives from the San Diego County Sheriff's Department (SDSO) announced the arrest in the 25-year-old cold case on Tuesday. Investigators said they solved the case with some good old-fashioned detective work.

Investigators believe Christopher McDonald, 64, is responsible for the 1992 death of Davette Gaunt in Vista, in San Diego's North County. Gaunt was 32 years old when she disappeared. She wasn't reported missing for a whole year.

The U.S. Marshalls Office and the Graham County Arizona Sheriff's office arrested McDonald at his home in Safford, Arizona, about 125 miles north east of Tucson on Monday.

At the time of the killing, Gaunt and McDonald were living together at a home on Anza Avenue with their young daughter. According to detectives, the couple, who were never married, were in a heated custody battle over their child.

A longtime neighbor, Judy Donnelly, remembered the couple's turbulent relationship and their baby after all these years.

"I never really saw them together," said Donnelly. "There was some rather loud disagreements and crashes, and I know the Sheriff's department was called several times."

Initially, sheriff's investigators handled the incident as a missing person's case with no solid leads. In May of 1993, a witness told law enforcement that Gaunt had been missing for over a year and feared she had been murdered. This person came forward during an unrelated investigation, said detectives.

Around that time period, Gaunt's family in Delaware confirmed that the victim had lived on Anza Avenue, just south of E. Bobier Drive and not far from Vista High School and Brengle Terrace Park, according to the SDSO.

Her family said they had not heard from her in more than a year.

Detectives were not able to find Gaunt and, during that initial investigation, there was no clear evidence leading to any answers in her disappearance.

Detectives never recovered Gaunt's body, and her homicide case would remain unsolved for decades.

In 2011, homicide detectives reviewed the original case. They began to re-interview past witnesses and found potential new witnesses. Over the past six years, detectives gradually uncovered evidence that Gaunt was murdered in her home in 1992.

While her remains were never found, detectives believe the mother's body was left somewhere in northern San Diego or Riverside counties.

The cold case was presented to the San Diego County District Attorney's Office with the new evidence. A warrant for McDonald's arrest was subsequently issued.

McDonald was booked into the Graham County Detention Center on an outstanding arrest warrant and will await extradition back to San Diego County. He will face charges in the murder of Gaunt.

Anyone with information about this case can call SDSO's Homicide Detail at (858)974-2321 or Crime Stoppers at (888)580-8477.

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