On the 2nd of August, 2017, 21 year old Savannah Gold left her parents' home in Florida to head out to work at her job on San Jose Blvd in Jacksonville. It was approximately 5:15pm when she walked out of the door, clad in her usual work attire; black shoes, black trousers and a white chef jacket. Savannah had a shift at 5:30pm at the “Bonefish grill”, a casual dining seafood restaurant, where she worked as a server.
She would never make it to her shift.
One hour and fifteen minutes later the young woman’s parents received a suspicious text message from their daughter’s phone.
“Hey I just eanted to tell you and mom I met a really great guy and we are running away together I love him and we are leaving to ight ill call you later when we get tk where we are glong” it read.
Her brother also received a text that read: "Heyi quit im leavingwith my boyfriend i cant do this shit anything im fine justwant to get away"
Savannahs parents instantly worried. Not only was it completely out of character for their 21 year old daughter to send a message like that, it was also riddled with spelling errors and composed in a completely different way to her usual messages. She had left their residence just over an hour ago, all prepared to work a shift, and then suddenly proclaimed to be running away with an unidentified man without packing so much as a change of clothes? They became rightfully concerned.
The young woman’s vehicle, a white, 2007, 4-door Kia Spectra, was found unlocked and abandoned in the Bonefish grill parking lot. Despite there being valuables and personal items left inside, such as her wallet and ID, nothing had been taken. To make matters worse, her front left tire had been slashed. Her parents knew that the tire puncture was recent, as she had replaced that very tire the previous day and it was brand new.
Things were not looking good.
The young woman could not be contacted on her cell phone and her social media accounts went silent.
Savannah was reported missing to the local authorities and her family quickly put together a missing person’s poster which they handed out around the area.
While friends and relatives searched for the girl, investigators began going through CCTV tapes in search of clues. It was clear that the last place Savannah would have been caught on surveillance was the Bonefish parking lot, and it wasn’t long before they found some footage of interest.
The tape showed Savannah Gold stepping out of her vehicle at exactly 5:31pm. She walked towards a co-worker's car and conversed with him through the rolled down window on the driver’s side. 14 minutes later she got into the co-workers vehicle which began to jerk side to side as the doors repeatedly swung open and closed in what looked like an attempt by Gold to get out indicating a struggle between the two.
The co-worker, later identified as 28 year old Lee Rodarte, a manager at the Bonefish grill, is seen climbing out of his vehicle and taking something from Savannah’s vehicle before returning to slash her tire.
He takes off in his own vehicle at approximately 6.04pm. Savannah is never seen exiting his car. This tape would show the last images of her alive.
Rodarte was known to the missing woman’s friends and family. Gold’s best friend confirmed that she had met him several times and that Savannah and Rodarte had gone to dinner and spent time with each other outside of work. Various online articles described him as “an on-again off-again boyfriend” as well as an ex-partner, despite the relationship violating company policy. In an interview with first coast news, Gold’s mother revealed that she was supposed to meet Rodarte at one point, but he neglected to show up for dinner at their family home. She also labeled him a liar.
Rodarte helped search for Gold and even put up missing flyers at their place of employment, workers at the Bonefish grill told the media. He showed deep concern when faced with the missing woman’s devastated parents.
It’s no surprise that he became the main suspect in the case. Of course he denied having any part in the woman's disappearance. He rejected the accusation that he had met Savannah on the day she went missing. He hadn’t been with her at all, he claimed.
Three days later the search for Savannah Gold ended when Rodarte finally came clean and admitted to killing her in his car and disposing of her body. He agreed to lead police to Savannah's remains. The Jacksonville sheriff's office dive team later located the body of the young woman in a pond near a patch of woodland off Duclay Club Road on the Westside.
A news segment on news4Jax reported that although Savannah Gold’s cause of death “could not be pin pointed” they could confirm that “her death was violent”. This report states that she “had injuries on about seventy-five percent of her body”.
Rodarte was later arrested for murder.
In an interview, Gold’s mother broke down admitted that she didn’t believe in capital punishment, however she did want Rodarte to suffer eternally. “And it’s still not enough” she said before breaking down and crying. Savannah’s Facebook page remains public as an online memorial.
A GoFundMe account was set up to pay for funeral funds and to make a donation to various charities in Savannah Gold’s name (including charities for animals, the art school she attended and also victims of domestic violence). At the time I write this $28,251 of $50,000 has been donated. If you would like to donate you can do so here <<
Following the 28 year old's arrest it was reported that he placed a phone call to a long term ex-girlfriend and expressed remorse for the crime. She said he had not once been violent to her and that she was shocked by the news of the murder.
On the 17th of November 2017, Lee Rodarte pleaded not guilty to second degree murder and tampering with evidence. This may come as a surprise to some, as the suspect not only confessed to authorities, but lead them to the victim’s body. Apparently a plea of innocence is quite common as this NewsJax report explains: “It is the function of the defense attorney in every case to examine the evidence and determine whether it’s authentic, whether it’s properly gathered and whether it really does prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his or her client actually committed the crime,” explained Dale Carson who is a law and safety expert with NewsJax.