On the 20th of July, 2017, at around 10:45am, a Missouri mother made a phone call to the local Ozark county sheriff’s office to report her daughter, 16 year-old Savannah Leckie, missing.
Savannah had been given up for adoption when she was only a few months old and raised by her adoptive parents, David Leckie and Tamile Leckie-Montague, but made the decision to move in with her biological mother, 39 year-old Rebecca Ruud, following her adoptive parents split and subsequent divorce in 2016.
The teenager made the 700 mile journey from her suburban home in Minnesota to a rural farm property on County Road, 905, west of Theodosia, in Missouri where her biological mother resided with her boyfriend, Robert Eugene Peat Jr.
(Images: Google maps)
Savannah and her mother started a modest handmade soap business together and sold their products in local stores. The business, named “Hidden Holler farm soap”, had its own website and twitter account where Rebecca Ruud would advertise their old-style handmade lye soaps. The website would officially change the URL to “helpfindsavannah.com” and the twitter account posted a missing poster describing the missing girl as a thin, petite female with dark eyes, dark “unkept” hair, and “high functioning autism”. The description on the poster also highlighted that Savannah was naïve and would approach strangers without any comprehension of the dangers of doing so.
(The poster. Source)
When questioned, Rudd stated the time of her daughter's disappearance as between 11pm on the 18th of July, 2017 and 8am the following morning. This article states that Ruud saw Savannah sleeping around 11pm the night before she allegedly disappeared.
Various belongings missing from the teen’s room including clothing, a large pillow, a messenger bag, a piggy bank and blanket, led local police to believe that the girl had not left on foot, as they thought she would have difficulty carrying the items she had taken if she was not intending to get into a vehicle. Strangely, when her trailer was searched, useful items such as backpacks, a toothbrush and toothpaste had been left behind. I would imagine this seemed strange to investigators and possibly made them suspicious that they may have been fed an orchestrated lie in an attempt to cover up a darker truth.
On the 18th of August, two days before Savannah was reported missing, Rebecca Ruud contacted the local volunteer fire services (Theodosia Area Volunteer Fire Department), to alert them of a fire on her property. Ruud was a member of the volunteer group as was Savannah. In fact, Savannah was the only junior member and expressed an interest in pursuing a career as a firefighter in the future.
While on the scene, the team treated a burn wound on Ruud’s arm which she said was the result of attempting to battle a brush fire. An image of the wound was posted to her Facebook account along with a comment about her 16 year-old daughter and how she (Savannah) “blamed herself for me getting burned” and that’s why she “took off”.
According to some relatives of Ruud she had provided different variations of how she acquired the injury, including retrieving a chainsaw from a fire, to “saving Savannah” from the blaze she reported on the 18th of July.
Ruud was encouraged to report the ½ acre fire to the official fire department and did so, resulting in their arrival around 40 minutes later. During their visit she apparently refused to let them check on Savannah who she claimed was mildly injured but okay and taking a shower in the trailer she lived in and did not want to be disturbed.
(The property. Source)
It would later be revealed that the 16 year-old had lived in cramped and stuffy, sub-par conditions during her 11 months on the farm. She resided in what is described in reports as “a 30ft long metal trailer” with a broken air conditioner and no electricity, which I imagine was a far cry from her suburban home back in Minnesota. She was also home schooled while in the care of her biological mother.
Apparently, there was a generator on site but it was rarely, if ever, turned on. Ruud refused to even turn it on to pump water from the well when the firefighters battling the blaze on her farm requested water to drink.
Ruud’s suspicious and evasive actions were magnified when a thorough search of the farm, which spanned a massive 81 acres, was under way.
On the 4th of August 2017 the remains of charred human teeth and bones were discovered in a mound of ash in the remnants of what appeared to be a large, deliberate bonfire. According to the search warrant the burn pit was sniffed out by canines and concealed by leaves and foliage.
The remains were eventually identified as that of Savannah Leckie.
As what was left of the 16 year-old girl was being carefully collected and analyzed, Ruud and Peat were off getting married, instead of seeking legal aid like they stated they were going to do.
The remains of the girl seemed to have been burned several times, in what investigators believe was an attempt to destroy the body quickly. It was also believed that a substance had been used to speed up the entire process and break down the remains even faster. Investigators agreed that large quantities of lye (about 26 bottles worth) found on the property was probably used.
(A section of the warrant. Source)
A crime scene inventory listed hair, a knife, meat grinder, a box of girl’s clothes, a notebook, and jeans to be seized.
This article in Time features statements from those who knew Savannah. All of whom described her as a generally happy girl. They had no idea of the abuse that she suffered on the farm. Despite how things looked on the outside, life wasn’t great for Savannah and it would later be revealed in interviews with the local police.
According to Savannah’s adoptive parents, Rebecca Ruud would regularly contact them to complain about her daughters’ behavior, as well as the financial burden of keeping her and the impact the girl's presence was having on Ruud’s day to day chores on the farm.
(Savannah and Rebecca. Source)
In retaliation, Ruud would dish out abusive punishments. For example, breaking Savannah’s cell phone in anger, thus cutting off the possibility of contact with anyone outside of her already claustrophobic world.
When Savannah (who according to this document suffered from depression) self harmed, Ruud approached the situation with further physical punishment and claimed to scrape salt and alcohol over the wound twice daily until it healed over with the intention of causing pain. Other punishments, as told to the local police by Ruud’s ex-boyfriend who had actually witnessed the abuse, consisted of forcing the girl to crawl through a pig pen, having her submerge herself in swamp water, regular spankings and punishments using a water hose.
Rebecca Ruud was arrested as she attempted to board a greyhound bus with sizable luggage.
She has since been charged with 1st degree murder, 2nd degree murder, abuse of a child resulting in death, tampering with evidence and abandonment of a corpse.
(Rebecca Ruud. Source)
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