Man charged in 1992 murder of estranged girlfriend

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VISTA, Calif. — A one-time Vista resident was behind bars in Arizona Tuesday following his arrest on suspicion of murdering his estranged girlfriend 25 years ago in the midst of a bitter child-custody dispute.

Christopher McDonald, 64, was taken into custody without incident late Monday morning at his home in Safford, a city about 100 miles northeast of Tucson, San Diego County sheriff’s Lt. Kenn Nelson said.

McDonald is suspected of killing 32-year-old Davette Gaunt in January 1992 at the Anza Avenue home where they lived together off-and-on, along with their toddler daughter.

Gaunt, who was reported missing by a friend in May 1993, was never found. Investigators believe that McDonald murdered her over their child- custody conflict and disposed of her body somewhere in the North County or the Riverside area, Nelson said.

Due to scant evidence, the initial inquiry into Gaunt’s disappearance eventually hit a dead end and was shelved.

Six years ago, however, cold-case detectives reopened the investigation and ultimately secured new witness statements and “small amounts” of previously undiscovered physical evidence, the lieutenant said. Those findings led them to conclude that Gaunt had been slain and that McDonald was her alleged killer.

Authorities believe that they have a “strong enough circumstantial case” to try McDonald for murder, according to Nelson. Investigators also “have an idea” of how she was killed, he said, but declined to disclose specifics about evidence in the case.

The couple’s daughter is now 27 years old and lives out of state, Nelson said. The lieutenant said he believed she was taken in by a grandparent following the presumed murder.

McDonald, who moved to Arizona years ago, is being held in county jail in that state pending extradition back to San Diego County.