Daniel Wells

Daniel Leonard Wells has been identified as the lead suspect in the January 1, 1985 murder of 23-year-old Tonya Ethridge McKinley in Pensacola, Florida.

McKinley was found just before dawn in an empty lot on New Year’s Day, by a family who was taking their dog to the vet. She was last seen leaving a local bar at around 1:30 am that morning. She was partially nude and had been raped and strangled.

A DNA profile was produced from semen, as well as head and pubic hair, collected from the crime scene. The FGG investigation was conducted by Parabon and the FDLE. The initial confirmation was made through police surveillance followed by the surreptitious sampling of DNA from cigarette butts discarded by Wells.

Wells was arrested on March 18, 2020 on charges of first-degree murder and first-degree sexual battery. He was found dead in his jail cell from suicide on April 3, 2020. He had hanged himself just before his first court hearing, on April 8.


Adame, Tony. “Pensacola Police Make Arrest in 35-Year-Old Cold Case Using Familial DNA.” Pensacola News Journal, March 19, 2020. Accessed December 28, 2020. https://www.pnj.com/story/news/2020/03/19/pensacola-police-make-arrest-35-year-old-cold-case-murder/2869854001/.

Associated Press. “Florida Man Linked by DNA to 1985 Murder Found Dead in Cell.” Associated Press, April 3, 2020. Accessed December 28, 2020. https://apnews.com/article/790f7df126233fce7794c41b0ee1ed59.

Associated Press. “Police Use DNA, Genealogy to Arrest Suspect in 1985 Slaying.” ABC News, March 19, 2020. Accessed December 28, 2020. https://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/police-dna-genealogy-arrest-suspect-1985-slaying-69687044.

Hall, Louise. “Man Arrested Over 1985 Murder After Police DNA Test Discarded Cigarette Decades Later.” Independent, March 20, 2020. Accessed December 28, 2020. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/daniel-wells-tonya-mckinley-murder-cold-case-dna-florida-pensacola-a9415591.html.

Li, David K. “Florida Man Arrested in 35-Year-Old Cold Case Murder Thanks to DNA on Cigarette.” NBC News, March 19, 2020. Accessed December 28, 2020. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/florida-man-arrested-35-year-old-cold-case-murder-thanks-n1164051.


First Name Daniel
Last Name Wells
Other Names
Victims 1 (Details)
IGG Started nd
Case Cleared 2020-03-18
IGG Org FDLE;Parabon


Case ID Name Age Case Opened Location Investigating Org Most Serious Charge Disposition Court
1348 Tonya McKinley 23 1985-01-01 Pensacola, FL Pensacola PD First degree murder Suspect died while the trial was ongoing n/a

Last updated: February 9, 2024

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Case data and narrative licensed under CC BY 4.0: Dowdeswell, Tracey (2023), “Forensic Genetic Genealogy Project v. 2022”, Mendeley Data, V1, doi: 10.17632/jcycgvhm96.1. All other content, including photos, have been added.