As suspected murdered victim’s 17th birthday passes, sheriff executes another search warrant
If she hadn’t died, Savannah Leckie would have turned 17 ten days ago, on June 3. Instead, on one of the days following her birthday, Ozark County Sheriff Darrin Reed and his deputies were back at the Theodosia-area farm where Savannah had lived for a few months with her biological mother until she was reported missing on July 20, 2017. Investigators found bone fragments, later identified as Savannah’s, in a burn pile on the farm on Aug. 4.
Law enforcement officers recently “turned over some new information that led to another search warrant,” Reed said Sunday, adding that “some possible evidence was obtained” when he and his officers executed the search warrant last week.
He declined to say what they were looking for – or what they found. But he did say that one or more items had been sent to a laboratory for analysis.
Reed said the case continues to be hard on him and his fellow officers who are working on it. “I’ve done homicides, but this case here has really been an emotional trip for me like I’ve never had before. We all put 110 percent into every case, but this one got to all of our hearts. And I’ll tell you, sometimes there’s just not much sleep at night.”
He said his officers work on Savannah’s case every day. “Every day. There’s been a lot of activity, both here and in Minnesota. I’ve been working off and on with them [Minnesota authorities], and I know they’ve been working hot and heavy too,” he said.
Savannah was born to Rebecca Ruud and then spent her childhood in Minneapolis as the adopted daughter of Tamile and David Leckie. Her parents divorced several years ago, and then, in 2016, Tamile, who had custody of Savannah and three other children, began a relationship with Cary Steeves.
Reports differ as to how it was decided that, in August 2016, Savannah would move to Ozark County to live with her birth mother, Rebecca Ruud, on Ruud’s remote, off-the-grid farm northwest of Theodosia. Savannah slept in a camper on the property while Ruud and her boyfriend, now husband, Robert Peat, lived in another metal structure nearby. Power to the farm was supplied by a generator. Ruud home-schooled Savannah, and the girl joined her mother in serving on the Theodosia Area Volunteer Fire Department.
That arrangement continued until the July morning when Ruud reported Savannah missing, suggesting that she might be trying to get to family members or return to Minnesota. Law enforcement officers, firefighters and other volunteers searched a wide area for the teenager, who reportedly had high-functioning autism. Then, after bone fragments were found in the burn pile on the Ruud farm and a lab confirmed that they were Savannah’s, murder charges were filed against Ruud and Peat.
The two have been incarcerated since then and their cases have been moved out of Ozark County on change-of-venue motions. They appeared in Greene County court on May 17 for a pre-trial conference. Each defendant faces charges of first-degree murder, abuse or neglect of a child resulting in death, second-degree murder, tampering with physical evidence and abandonment of a corpse.
Peat is scheduled for a motions hearing at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, July 5, in Greene County. His jury trial is scheduled for July 30 through Aug. 3 in Greene County, with jury selection set for July 19-20 in Cole County.
Ruud was previously scheduled for a jury trial to begin Aug. 27, but court records indicate now that the trial will be rescheduled for a later date after a pretrial conference is held Aug. 24 in Greene County. At that time, Ruud and her defense counsel will say whether they prefer a bench trial before a judge or a jury trial. If Ruud elects to have a bench trial, it is currently scheduled for Nov. 26-28 in Greene County. If a jury trial is chosen instead, the trial will be held Jan. 28-Feb. 1, 2019.
Meanwhile, the investigative work continues back in Ozark County, where Reed said he is “99.9 percent sure I know how Savannah died, but I can’t go into it yet.” He did say that “the worst thing I thought it might be, early in this case, is coming more to light every day.”