Young mother’s killer arrested 35 years later


One thing you can count on with cops is an ingrained sense of justice. Catching bad guys is what they do and when someone is victimized there is no greater feeling than to bring the culprits to justice.

Homicide detectives are especially tasked with bringing justice to the families of those whose lives have been torn apart by violence. Sometimes it doesn’t happen quickly, but changes in technology, new sets of eyes, and changes of heart can often lead to the solving of even decades old cases.

Such was the case this week when the Pensacola Police Department announced the arrest of a suspect in a 35-year-old homicide case.

On January 1, 1985, 23-year-old Tonya McKinley was last seen at a restaurant. The next day she was found strangled and sexually assaulted along a roadside. She left behind an 18-month-old son who grew up never knowing his mother.

Over the years various teams of detectives attempted to work the case with the trail running cold. That didn’t stop them from trying. Using new DNA technology and genealogy databases detectives were able to identify a possible suspect. To be certain, they followed the suspect until he discarded a cigarette. The DNA on the cigarette was a perfect match.

Pensacola detectives arrested 57-year-old Daniel Wells and charged him with Tonya’s rape and murder.

In a dramatic and moving posting, the Pensacola Police Department recorded the conversation when Tonya’s now grown son Timothy Davidson Jr. was notified of the arrest.

It took 35 years, but justice was finally served. 

Joe is a retired police captain. You can reach him at