Articles on Savannah Leckie disappearance/murder from Aug. 2 - Sept. 27, 2017

We're in the process of transferring our files over to our new website. So, we've compiled all of the stories on the Savannah Leckie murder here through Sept. 27, 2017. Stories published after Sept. 27 will be posted directly on the new website. 

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Family members attend couple’s arraignment (published Sept. 27, 2017)

Robert Peat Jr. was quiet Monday morning  as he was arraigned before Circuit Judge Craig Carter on a variety of charges related to the murder of 16-year-old Savannah Leckie. Peat’s mother, grandmother and father watched silently from the courtroom pews behind him. It’s probably not the way the Peat family had imagined spending their son and grandson’s 32nd birthday, but that was the reality after last week’s grand jury indictment of Peat and wife Rebecca Ruud on charges including first-degree murder, second-degree murder, abuse or neglect of a child resulting in death, tampering with physical evidence in a felony prosecution and abandonment of a corpse. 

Ruud is Savannah’s biological mother, but the girl was adopted by Tamile Leckie-Montague and her then-husband David Leckie soon after she was born in Minnesota. Savannah grew up with her adoptive parents in Minnesota, but she was acquainted with Ruud. After the Leckies divorced, Savannah continued to live with her adoptive mother until August 2016, when conflict reportedly arose between Savannah and Leckie-Montague’s fiance, Cary Steeves, and it was decided that the girl would move to Missouri to live with her biological mother on Ruud’s off-the-grid Theodosia-area farm.

Ruud reported Savannah missing on July 20, and after extensive searches of the area, law enforcement officers found burned remains on Ruud’s farm on Aug. 4. Ruud married Peat in Summersville that same day. The remains were later determined to be Savannah’s. 

Ruud was arrested on murder charges Aug. 21 at a Springfield bus station as she was apparently trying to leave the area. She has been held in the Ozark County Jail without bail since then.
Peat was arrested last week after an Ozark County grand jury handed down indictments charging him with the murder also. Online court records indicate that Peat’s criminal record is clear in Missouri except for one ticket for failing to wear a seatbelt and one speeding ticket for going 1 to 5 miles per hour over the speed limit. 

Peat, who turned 32 Monday, was represented by James Hayes, a Springfield-area attorney who was contracted by the Missouri Public Defender’s office to represent him. A plea hearing or trial setting was scheduled for Nov. 8. Peat was escorted out of the courtroom and transported back to the Douglas County Jail, where he is being held without bond. The two jails sometimes house each other’s inmates by mutual agreement.

After Peat had left the courthouse, Ruud was brought in to be arraigned separately in her case. 

Besides Peat’s parents and grandmother, Savannah Leckie’s adoptive mother, Tamile Leckie-Montague and fiance Cary Steeves were in the courtroom Monday. The pair sat with 44th Judicial Circuit victim’s advocate Nicole Graham. 

Ruud appeared with public defender Lauren Kate Welborn. She was arraigned, and Judge Craig Carter sustained a previously filed motion for a change of judge. A change-of-venue motion had also been filed. Carter said the case would go to the Supreme Court for reassignment, and it’s thought that the change of venue will be determined after the judge is selected. 

At press time Tuesday, online records did not indicate what county or judge the case had been assigned to. Ruud was transported back to the Ozark County Jail, where she continues to be held without bond. 

The Monday arraignments came just as Sheriff Darrin Reed and Chief Deputy Winston Collins boarded a private jet to fly to Minnesota to continue the investigation into Savannah’s death. Reed has said he plans to question her relatives, friends and acquaintances there. Reed told the Times  last week that former Ozark County rancher Chris Freeman had offered to have his pilot fly the officers to Minnesota. Reed said that otherwise he and Collins would have had to drive to Minnesota, a trip that would have taken 12 to 14 hours. 

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This is how I will remember Savannah (published Sept. 13, 2017)

Editor’s note: These remarks were shared by former Timber Knob VFD chief Ruby Winslow at Saturday’s memorial service for Savannah Leckie, a junior firefighter with Theodosia Area Volunteer Fire Department. Winslow is also manager of the VFW post in Isabella, where Savannah was a frequent visitor and enthusiastic volunteer.

One behalf of the Theodosia Area Volunteer Fire Department, the fire departments of Ozark County and the Ozark County Honor Guard, we thank you for your support in honoring one of our own.

Savannah Leckie was a bubbly child who always seemed happy. She never met a stranger. She had a wonderful smile and glowing eyes. She often talked about her farm animals, which she took comfort in being with.

They had bought some goats at a sale, and on their way home, they stopped at the VFW. Savannah was not with them, but I went out to look at the goats, and there was a reddish brown goat standing in the corner. I asked what was its name, and it didn’t have one. So I said, “Name it Ruby.”

A few days later, Savannah came bouncing into the VFW and came over to me and said, “I can’t believe you wanted a goat named after you.”

I asked her how Ruby Goat was doing, and she told me she was so nice and gentle. “But I can’t believe you wanted a goat named after you,” she said again.

I told her, “I had to pick out a young, nice, cute goat before you named an old, ugly, mean one after me.” 

She laughed so hard. That’s how I will remember Savannah.

The VFW’s Thanksgiving dinner was on Thanksgiving Day, and Savannah washed dishes and served others all day in a grateful manner, never once complaining. 

That’s how I will remember Savannah.

We are here today to honor Savannah Leckie, #17, a junior firefighter in the Theodosia Area Volunteer Fire Department – an honor she earned. She often told me with enthusiasm of the duties she had learned, and she talked of her future in the department. She eagerly got needed equipment from the trucks and did the other duties of a young firefighter. She was eager to learn – and shared what she had learned.

As firefighters, we wonder how we got here. From the long hours of searching for Savannah, hoping to find her, then turning our hopes to think she was with family or friends. Then to the reality that she might not be coming home. 

As firefighters, we have gone through a lot of emotions on this journey. It will continue to be a long journey with many unanswered questions we may never get the answers to. But we are here as brothers and sisters in fire service to stand together and get through this time of sorrow. We will stand together as firefighters to heal a community that is in search of answers.

We are firefighters, and that is what we do.

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Last call for jr. firefighter Savannah Leckie comes at TAVFD memorial service (published Sept. 13, 2017)

Emotions were high at Saturday night’s memorial service and candlelight vigil as Theodosia Area Volunteer Fire Department members joined area residents and out-of-state family members in saying good-bye to 16-year-old TAVFD junior firefighter Savannah Leckie. 

Tears glistened on several faces as the program proceeded through speakers paying tribute to Savannah and then a ringing-of-the-bell and last call ceremony conducted by the Ozark County firefighters honor guard. As candles were lit and a floating lantern drifted into the darkening sky, TAVFD chief Tim Jeffery noted that the lantern was floating northwestward, in the direction of Savannah’s biological mother’s Theodosia-area property where, on Aug. 4, the girl’s charred remains had been found.

Savannah’s uncle, Shannon Prunty, from Williston, North Dakota, attended the service, as did her cousins Shelly and Todd Farber from Brainard, Minnesota, and an aunt, Lisa Orn, also from Minnesota. (See related story, page 12.)  

 

‘God has led this case forward’

The service touched the hearts of not only the firefighters and neighbors who knew Savannah but also of the law enforcement officers and emergency personnel who came to know the teenager after her death through heart-wrenching circumstances, starting with countless hours spent searching for her after her biological mother, Rebecca Ruud, now charged with Savannah’s murder, first reported her missing on July 20. 

Ozark County Sheriff Darrin Reed told the crowd of about 100 people that, although he hadn’t known Savannah personally before she was reported missing, during the investigation “I feel we’ve gotten to know her well.” 

That investigation, though gruesome at times, also strengthened his faith, Reed said.

“Honestly, God has led this case forward,” he told the Times just before stepping on stage to speak. “Every step of the way, it’s just been a God thing.”

Reed said he believes that sentiment with all of his heart, and as details continue to present themselves, he feels that God is leading the way to truth and justice for Savannah. “God has his hand on this. My faith in him is so important. I’m just a tool,” he said. 

Reed told Times publisher Norene Prososki Saturday evening that he had “such a bad feeling about this case from the beginning.”

While others in his department and in the community believed Savannah had run away or was taken by someone, he couldn’t help but fight a nagging feeling that the truth was much worse. 

“The night before we were scheduled to take the cadaver dogs over to the mother’s property to search it, I couldn’t sleep and started praying, asking for God’s guidance and help,” he said. “And honestly, I had this strong feeling. I could feel the Lord’s presence in my living room that night.”

Reed said he awoke the next morning fueled by that experience, and it stayed with him as he and his deputies and others headed to the Ruud property near Theodosia to execute the search warrant.

Brush fires had recently burned areas on the remote farm, and a cadaver dog searching one of the burned areas “hit” on a pile of cedar, Reed said. But when officers removed the cedar they found only ashes. “Nothing was there,” Reed said. He and Deputy Curtis Dobbs remained by the ash pile as the dog and its handler moved on to search elsewhere. Frustrated, Reed said he “moved the ashes around” with a long stick he was carrying.  

In doing so, he unintentionally changed the course of the investigation. It was just one of many discoveries Reed credits to God. 

As his stick shoved around the ashes, something solid appeared.

“I said, ‘Curtis, come here and tell me what you think this is,’” Reed told the Times. “Curt said, ‘It sure looks a bone to me, Sheriff.’” 

And just like that, the case shifted from being a search for a potential runaway to become a murder investigation. The burned bones were later identified by experts as being human remains. Continued examination linked them to Savannah. 

During his remarks at the memorial service, Reed told the crowd that the sheriff’s department “has taken this case to heart. We’ve been through a difficult time, and now is the time for healing. We pray for peace, for calm, for patience, and at the end, it will be resolved.” 

‘She was a special person’

TAVFD chief Tim Jeffery organized the memorial service with help from his department’s members, including media contact Teresa Orloff and her husband, Jim, who served as emcee and told the crowd Savannah “captured the hearts of many in the short time she was with us.”

The event began with a long procession of fire trucks and emergency equipment representing all but two of Ozark County’s volunteer fire departments, plus the Ozark County Search and Rescue team and vehicles from other area departments, including Eastern Douglas County and Rural Howell County.

When it was his turn to speak, Jeffery said he “didn’t know what to say” except that Savannah “was a special person and she will be missed.” He added that he likes to think Savannah is “up in heaven eating suckers,” a reference to Savannah’s work with other TAVFD members during Theodosia’s Fourth of July celebration, when she handed out suckers to children in the crowd – and ate quite a few herself, Jeffery said in an earlier interview. (See the Aug. 30 Times.)

During his part of the program, Pastor Lynn Jennings from North Star Community Church in Reuter said,  “Our hearts are heavy, but our God is a God of comfort.” His remarks were followed by Sarah Jennings singing “Amazing Grace.” Additional musical selections were performed at the end of the service by members of the Theodosia United Methodist Church choir.

Former Ozark County pastor, firefighter and EMT Mike Dillin said, “It’s “important for us to come together for healing at a time like this. I sense the hurt you’re feeling. When I first heard about this happening, I started praying for Ozark County … for the fire departments and the sheriff’s department and the EMS people – everyone who was involved in the search. And I say now to all of you, thank you for your faithful service to this community.” 

Former Timber Knob VFD chief Ruby Winslow, who knew Savannah as an enthusiastic volunteer at the VFW post, where Winslow is manager, said Savannah was “a bubbly child that always seemed happy.” (Winslow’s remarks are shared in full on page 4.)

‘Last call’

Before candles were lit at the end of the service, Winslow asked all firefighters to stand for the moving firefighters bell ceremony, conducted with the honor guard and current Timber Knob VFD chief Nancy Winslow. Then came the “last call,” when the Ozark County Sheriff’s Department dispatcher’s radio call was broadcast over the loudspeaker. 

 

The TAVFD tones were heard, followed by the dispatcher paging Savannah’s call sign. The dispatcher ended with, “This is the last call for Theodosia 17, Savannah Leckie. May you be at peace. Ozark County, out.” 

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Documents record abuse – yet to her fire department friends, Savannah Leckie was ‘always smiling’ and ‘a bundle of fun’ (published 30, 2017)

Those who knew Savannah Leckie want to believe she was happy during the 11 months she lived in Ozark County, and the photos help them think that way. In nearly every picture published since her tragic story began on July 20, Savannah is smiling. Ozark Countians who met her speak of her cheerful demeanor, her constant smile, her bubbly personality. 

Theodosia Area Volunteer Fire Department chief Tim Jeffery is one of them. “We all loved her,” he said of the 16-year-old girl who was the department’s only junior firefighter.

The happy photographic images of Savannah stand in stark contrast to the descriptions of her life reported in court documents that have become public since her charred remains were discovered Aug. 4 on property owned by her biological mother, Rebecca Ruud, who has now been charged with murder. 

The documents say that during the time Savannah lived here, Ruud contacted the girl’s  adoptive family back in Minnesota and “continually complained about Savannah’s inability to adapt to life on the farm.” The documents also say Ruud sent text messages to the girl’s adoptive mother saying, “it’s to the point that I either need more help to care for her, or I can do nothing with her” and that she was “severely limited in the work I can do by having Savannah.” In June, Ruud texted Savannah’s adoptive grandmother that Savannah was “costing her so much money she was afraid of losing her farm,” according to the probable cause statement.

Ruud told the offiers  investigating Savannah’s disappearance that she disciplined her daughter by smashing her cell phone and limiting her contact to others through Facebook. The court documents also say Ruud made Savannah “roll around in a hog pen” and “wade into a muddy pond and dunk under as a [form] of punishment.” Ruud told deputies she also “would use a water hose on her.” 

At one point Savannah “deliberately cut her own arm,” the court document says, without explaining why she did it. To punish Savannah for cutting herself, Ruud told deputies she “poured alcohol and salt on the cut twice a day and rubbed it in until the scabs came off.” 

Also according to the document, she admitted “to having Savannah (who was then 15 and 16 years old) take down her pants so that Ms. Ruud could spank her on her bare bottom.”

Ruud and her boyfriend, now husband, Robert Peat Jr., lived in a metal building on the property. Savannah slept nearby in a 30-foot-long camper trailer with “minimal ventilation,” the document says. The property has no electricity except the power provided occasionally by a generator used to pump water from the well and charge batteries, when needed. 

It’s hard to imagine a 16-year-old girl who grew up in the Minneapolis suburbs living in those challenging conditions. And it’s even harder to understand how, despite living in such a harsh environment, Savannah is  remembered by Ozark County acquaintances as a happy and bubbly girl who exuded joy.

‘She was a bundle of fun’

TAVFD chief Tim Jeffery said this week, “There are thousands of things I could tell you about her. She would help anybody do anything. She was always smiling. She was a worker. She would do anything we needed done at the firehouse.”

Savannah would come to fires with Ruud, a TAVFD firefighter. “If we needed a rake or something, she would run and grab it,” Jeffery said. “Us older guys, you know, one trip, and we were done. But she could run up and down the hills all day,” Jeffery said.

She was also eager to learn, and she told Jeffery she wanted to be a firefighter when she got old enough. “She wanted to learn everything,” he told the Times. “She couldn’t drive the truck, but I taught her to run the pump. I felt like she was a person I could teach to do things the right way, and I hoped to see that she went through all the classes she needed when she turned 18. She was ready to learn anything she could learn.”

Jeffery said whenever Savannah showed up “it just seemed like she opened up everybody’s heart.”

Savannah wanted turn-out gear like the adult firefighters wear, but the department didn’t have enough gear for her. “But there was an old wild-land coat we gave her. It was way too big for her – looked like a dress. But she loved it. Sometimes when we were training, she would want to grab the hose and spray water. She was a bundle of fun,” he said.

Volunteers from other fire departments who worked with her knew her and liked her, he said. “Plus, her mom used to go to the VFW [in Isabella], and all the women and men there would give her quarters to play Pacman. I was talking to one of them, and he said, ‘She taught us games on Pacman that we didn’t know how to play.’ She was just a joy to be around.”

The last time Jeffery saw Savannah was at the July 4 fireworks at Theodosia where fire department volunteers helped with traffic control. The firefighters had bought suckers to give to children, “and we put a yellow vest on her and she handed them out to the kids,” Jeffery said. “She liked the chocolate ones, and she was eating them as fast as she could and sticking the rest in her pocket.” Another firefighter treated her to supper, and she eagerly ate two hamburgers, he said. 

 

‘It just about killed me’

When Ruud called the sheriff’s office July 20 and reported Savannah missing, a probable runaway, Jeffery and other TAVFD volunteers helped in the search. “I spent over 10 hours that first day, taking my four-wheeler through the woods, looking every place I could think of where she might have dropped something,” he said.

He then spent the next three days “going up and down every road I could find, looking for anything in the ditch on both sides of the road.” He put more than 100 miles on his four-wheeler, hoping to find her, find anything that would lead investigators to Savannah.

And then, when the charred remains found on Ruud’s farm were identified as hers, Jeffery said, “it just about killed me.” 

The news that Savannah’s biological mother is the suspect is also a shock. “I do a background check on everyone, and she [Ruud] checked OK,” he said. “We never had any idea this could happen. It’s another blow to the department.”

Jeffery stayed up all  night recently planning the memorial service and candlelight vigil the department will hold in Savannah’s honor on Sept. 9 (see related story below). TAVFD plans to purchase a brick in her honor on the Wall of Honor at the Missouri Fire Fighters Memorial in Kingdom City. Her fellow TAVFD firefighters are also purchasing a gravestone-like memorial that will be placed near the firehouse. “We didn’t want to put a plaque on the building, because the next people who came in after we’re all gone might not know her, and it could end up in a closet somewhere. But if we have a headstone, something we can put in the ground and mow over, it’ll be here a long time,” he said.

The headstone and brick in the Wall of Honor aren’t cheap, but they’re something the department wants to do, Jeffery said. “One member offered to pay for the whole thing, and I said no, we all want to be a part of it.”

The department also wants to include the community in remembering Savannah. So, even though she was homeschooled, TAVFD is in the process of setting up a scholarship at Lutie School for students with special needs – a nod to Savannah’s autism diagnosis. Details about how donors may contribute to the fund will be shared in upcoming issues of the Times.

The last few weeks have been hard ones for the TAVFD volunteers, especially their chief. “Since we found out it’s her bones they found, I’ve been haunted by it all,” Jeffery said.

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Ruud arraigned on murder charges; Grand jury set to convene here (published 30, 2017)

Rebecca Ruud, facing murder charges in the death of her 16-year-old biological daughter, made her first court appearance Monday in Ozark County court. Ruud, 39, wearing an orange jumpsuit, handcuffs, shackles and a bulletproof vest, was surrounded by several officers as she made her way from a sheriff’s department vehicle into the Ozark County Courthouse, where she appeared before Associate Judge Cynthia MacPherson.

Ruud faces five felony charges relating to the death of her daughter, Savannah Leckie, including first-degree murder, second-degree murder, abuse of a child resulting in death, tampering with evidence and abandoning a corpse.

Ruud gave birth to Savannah in 2001 in Minnesota, but the little girl was adopted a few months later by Tamile Leckie-Montague and her then-husband, David Leckie. Savannah grew up in Minnesota. After her adoptive parents’ divorce, she continued to live with her mother until August 2016, when she moved to Ozark County to live with Ruud on her remote, 81-acre farm near Theodosia.

Ruud called the Ozark County Sheriff’s office July 20 to report her daughter missing. An extensive search began, and on Aug. 4, investigators found what turned out to be burned human remains on Ruud’s property. Later, the remains were identified as Savannah’s.

Ruud was arrested Aug. 21 at a Springfield bus station, where she had reportedly bought a ticket to leave the area. She has been held in the Ozark County Jail without bail since then. 

During Ruud’s court appearance Monday, MacPherson ordered her to appear back in court Oct. 5-6 for a preliminary hearing. 

In addition, a grand jury has been summoned to investigate Savannah’s suspected murder (see page 14).

Ruud was allowed to speak for herself Monday in the courtroom as she stood beside public defender Kate Welborn. When MacPherson asked Ruud if she had anything to say or if she had any questions that did not go into the details of the case, Ruud asked the judge why her bank accounts are frozen. “You need to speak with your attorney about that,” MacPherson said.

Ruud also requested that some of her medicine be given to her in the jail. Sheriff’s officials in the courtroom said they would look into her request. Ruud continues to be held without bond in the Ozark County Jail.

The Ozark County Courthouse and the entire court square were on high alert all day Monday. All entrances to the courthouse were closed and roped off with police tape except the west entrance, where armed officers operated a full-body metal detector. Extra patrol officers from neighboring counties and members of the Missouri State Highway Patrol guarded the square and circled the area throughout the day until Ruud’s hearing concluded.

Ruud’s husband, Robert Peat Jr., whom she married in Summersville on Aug. 4, the same day Savannah’s charred remains were found on Ruud’s farm, attended Monday’s hearing with members of his family.

Grand jury summoned

Ozark County Prosecuting Attorney John Garrabrant filed a request with 44th Judicial Circuit Judge Craig Carter Wednesday, Aug. 23, to convene the grand jury. The following morning, Judge Carter ordered Associate Judge Cynthia MacPherson to empanel and preside over the grand jury beginning at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 5. Fifty summonses were issued to potential jurors over the weekend. From that pool, MacPherson will select 12 grand jurors.

Carter’s order to convene the grand jury doesn’t mention Ruud by name, but it is believed that the purpose of the newly summoned grand jury is to look into the facts and circumstances surrounding the death of Savannah. 

Most Ozark County cases go to preliminary hearings, sometimes referred to as probable cause hearings. Such a hearing is now scheduled for Oct. 5-6 in the Ruud case. In a preliminary hearing, both the defense and the prosecution are present in court, and a judge decides if there’s enough evidence to proceed. The prosecution has to prove to the associate judge that there is probable cause to believe a felony has been committed and probable cause that the defendant was involved in or committed the felony.

Legal experts say that grand jury proceedings are usually held in lieu of preliminary hearings – although in this case, both are scheduled. The grand jury is charged with the exact duties that the associate judge has at a preliminary hearing – finding probable cause that a felony was committed and that the defendant was involved. The only differences are that there does not have to be a record of the grand jury proceedings, and it’s a misdemeanor for the testimony to be divulged by a juror or any of the witnesses.

In contrast, a preliminary hearing in a murder case is required to be recorded. Any witness appearing before a grand jury can be represented, but the attorney for the witness is not allowed in the court room. 

Another difference is that a grand jury has subpoena power and the ability to force a witness to testify or be held in contempt and jailed unless they stand on their Fifth Amendment right not to testify. This subpoena power is an investigative tool not possessed by law enforcement.

To return an indictment, also known as a True Bill, at least nine of the 12 jurors must be convinced by the evidence presented that there is probable cause that a felony was committed and probable cause exists that the defendant was involved.

The last time an Ozark County grand jury convened was at the request of then-prosecutor Tom Cline in 2010. That grand jury handed down 18 indictments of six Ozark County residents stemming from a series of burglaries in the Wasola, Almartha, Brixey and Longrun areas. 

Grand jury proceedings are closed to the public and to the media.

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Mother and murderer? Officers kick case into high gear, make arrest, when Ruud attempts to flee the area (published Aug. 23, 2017)

Rebecca Ruud, biological mother of 16-year-old Savannah Leckie, is in custody in the Ozark County Jail after charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, abuse or neglect of a child resulting in death, tampering with physical evidence in a case and abandoning a corpse without notifying authorities were filed against her Tuesday.

Ozark County Sheriff Darrin Reed said Ruud was arrested Monday by Ozark County deputies at a Greyhound bus station in Springfield, where she had reportedly bought a ticket to leave the area. Reed, with deputies Winston Collins and Curt Dobbs, was conducting surveillance outside the bus station with two plain clothes Springfield officers inside the terminal when Ruud was taken into custody Monday afternoon without incident.

“This had to happen way before we were really ready for it. This is going to be a long, hard investigation, and it’s going to continue for several months. We had to speed up the process yesterday because of a flight risk with one of the key suspects [Ruud],” Reed told the Times Tuesday. “We were here working with the prosecutor last night, and we’ve continued all day today. It’s been a tough case. It’s been tough on us all.”

The charges came after a forensic specialist confirmed earlier Monday that human remains discovered during an executed search warrant Aug. 4 on Ruud’s 81-acre farm on County Road 905 near Theodosia were Savannah’s. Reed said Ruud is the only one charged at this time, but officers are continuing the investigation and more arrests in the case are possible.

The case began July 20 when Ruud called the Ozark County Sheriff’s Office and told officers that Savannah was missing. Savannah had been adopted by Tamile Leckie-Montague and her then-husband, David Leckie, a few months after Ruud gave birth to her in Minnesota in 2001. After growing up in Minnesota, Savannah had moved to Missouri in August 2016 to live with Ruud.

Rudd told authorities on July 20 that she had seen Savannah in bed at 11 p.m. the night before, but when she awoke at 8 a.m. the next morning, she was gone. Ruud said a neighbor helped her search the area, but they found no trace of Savannah. The girl’s favorite blanket, pillow and other items were missing from her sleeping area,  Reed said in a statement announcing Savannah’s disappearance. Search teams scoured the area for days, but Savannah was not found. 

Search warrant documents indicate that Ruud and Robert Peat Jr., who was living on the property with Rudd and Savannah, became less cooperative as officers continued to dig deeper into the disappearance. A search warrant was obtained, and when officers executed the first search of the property on Aug. 4, charred remains were discovered in a burn pile about 400 yards from the camper trailer and metal building the three lived in. The remains were later identified as human bones and teeth.

Ruud posted that day on Facebook that she had left the property during the search to seek legal counsel. A marriage license filed in Howell County indicates that she and Peat were married Aug. 4, the same day the human remains were found. Several other search warrants were subsequently executed on the property, and during the final search on Aug. 9, an anthropologist sifted through the ash and found many additional bone fragments and human remains.

It is not yet known how Savannah died, but 26 bottles of lye were taken as evidence during one of the searches, and additional search warrants were issued because the lye was found. Reed has said that the forensic experts working with the human remains said an accelerant was almost certainly used in the cremation of the bones because the remains lack calcium. After one of the anthropologists commented on the extensive deterioration of the bones, Reed told her that lye was found on the property. “That would do it,” the anthropologist replied.

Ruud operated a soap-making business called Our Hidden Holler Farm, where she and Savannah made homemade soap that was sold in local stores. The soap-making process requires the use of lye. On June 3, about seven weeks before Savannah was reported missing, Ruud posted on Facebook, “We are finally, officially in the soap business, just in time for Savannah’s Sweet 16… she has wanted this so badly. To combine two landmark events, her Sweet 16, and the official opening of Our Hidden Holler Farm soap business…”

Ruud, a Theodosia Area VFD firefighter, apparently called some of her fellow firefighters on July 19 to report a fire that was out of control on her property. The first firefighter on the scene told the Times that Ruud and another female, who he says might have been Savannah, came to the gate in a pickup to let him in. TAVFD Tim Jeffery said that while they were on scene, Ruud showed firefighters a burn on her arm that she said she got from a previous brush fire. Firefighters reportedly used a first aid kit in the firetruck to treat the wound. Ruud posted a photo of her injured arm with the comment, “I had a brush fire get out of control day before yesterday. I got burned bad, [Savannah] is blaming herself... I think that’s why she ran.” The “day before yesterday” would mean the burn occurred on July 18.

Reed has indicated he hopes the death penalty will be sought in the cases.

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Knowing Savannah: Friends and family describe the teenage girl who disappeared from an Ozark County farm (published Aug. 16, 2017)

Editor’s note: Sixteen-year-old Savannah Leckie was reported missing from her biological mother’s farm near Theodosia on July 20. We asked some friends and relatives who knew Savannah to tell us about her.

Mollie Smart: ‘She is the sweetest and brightest girl I’ve ever met’ 

Gainesville resident Mollie Smart got to know Savannah when her dad, Buddy Smart, dated Savannah’s biological mother, Rebecca Ruud, for a short time after Smart’s divorce in November 2016.

“She was extremely excited to meet me because she said Dad talked about me a lot. She was a lot like me when I was her age … hyper, loved being outside, cared about everyone and everything…,” Mollie told the Times, adding that Savannah liked to climb trees and walk around outside.

Smart and Ruud were dating at Christmastime, and Mollie spent some time with Savannah during the holidays. 

“She loves to color, and for Christmas she got a puzzle she could put together and then color. She was super excited about it.”

Mollie said that, above anything else, Savannah’s goats were the brightest spot in her life. 

“She loved every animal but loved her goats most, especially the ones that were hers,” Mollie said. “She played with her goats all the time and talked to them like they could understand her.”

Mollie said Savannah grew closer, and Savannah even asked if she could call Mollie her big sister. 

“She is the sweetest and brightest girl I’ve ever met,” Mollie said. “If anyone ever met her, they would instantly know how special she is. She’s the kind of person you meet only once in a lifetime, and if those bones are in fact hers, she was taken from this world too early. She would help someone without hesitation because she is so kindhearted. ... She deserves to be remembered for who she is and her life, not how she died, if she did.”

Mike Evans: ‘Savannah was one of a kind’

Even though Savannah Leckie has been missing for nearly a month, and despite the heartbreaking reports of as-yet-unidentified teeth and bone fragments found on her biological mother’s property near Theodosia, Mike Evans refuses to talk about Savannah Leckie in past tense. 

“I will not refer to her in past tense like others do. I cannot accept that the remains found ... are Savannah until the testing confirms it. It disturbs me that people have jumped to the worst conclusions already,” Evans, a Minnesota resident, said Monday in an email to the Times.

Evans and Savannah’s adoptive mother, Tamile Leckie-Montague, lived together from 2010 until 2016 in Minnesota, raising Savannah and her sister, Makayla, as well as a son who is the child of Tamile and Savannah’s adoptive dad, David Leckie. Evans’ son Michael, from another relationship, was also part of the blended family. And shortly after they all started living together in Plymouth, Minnesota, Tamile and Evans had a son together, Jace.

Before their son was born, the couple agreed that Evans would be the “primary parent home with Jace after he was born” while Tamile continued her job at a daycare center, Evans said. “I was up in the morning, helped get the kids up and off to school. I was the one there when they got off the bus in the afternoon. Savannah would often be the first one running home from the bus stop to tell me about her day. When Jace was born, she was head over heels for him. Savannah loves Jace dearly. Savannah is also close friends with my oldest son, Michael.”

In 2011, the family, which then included five children, moved to a bigger home in Fridley, Minnesota. A short time later, Tamile changed jobs, and the family moved to Chanhassen, Minnesota, to be nearer her work. While they were living there, Savannah was enrolled in Eagle Ridge Academy in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. By then she had been diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome, a condition on the autism spectrum, and also with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder “and was on proper medication for it,” Evans said, adding that Savannah did well at Eagle Ridge, which had a specialized program for students with autism. 

“Savannah learned quite a bit from the teachers there. They even had a class for Latin. I remember picking Savannah up from school and she would quote sentences in Latin and try to get me to guess what they meant,” Evans said. 

Tamile changed jobs again, and the family moved into a different house, in Carver, Minnesota, but Savannah was able to continue at Eagle Ridge. When Jace was old enough to attend the daycare center where Tamile worked, Evans went back to work. 

In 2015, the family moved again, this time to St. Michael, Minnesota. Eagle Ridge Academy was now too far away for Savannah to attend.

In January 2016, Tamile and Evans broke up, and Michael moved to another home about a mile away, staying close so he could help with the five children. But in February 2016 Tamile met Cary Steeves, and by June, Tamile and four of the five children, including Savannah, were living in Steeves’ home, Evans said. His son Michael came to live with him. 

The last time Evans saw Savannah was in August 2016 just before she was leaving to come to Ozark County to live with her biological mother.

“I was able to see her because Savannah was staying at Tamile’s sister’s house for that weekend. ... I came in through the door, and she gave me a big hug and had lots of things to tell me. It was as if the past six months of not seeing each other had never happened,” he said.

“Personality-wise,  Savannah is one of a kind,” Evans said. “She is a walking library of information. Many times she would act like she wasn’t paying attention, and when I would ask her, she could recite everything I had said. ... Savannah had a knack for picking a subject that many people would consider not all that relevant in everyday life and expand on it. She educated me on subjects and knew very specific things about it that I would never have guessed. She loved to color and work puzzles.”

Savannah’s “favorite item in the whole world was ‘blanky,’ a thin blanket she took everywhere,” he said. “It was always a security thing for her. Tamile and I had to find creative ways as she was getting older to hide it on her so she could have it along but not be so apparent all the time. Blanky ended up in bookbags, duffle bags and backpacks all the time.”

When Savannah was reported missing on July 20, Sheriff Darrin Reed listed the things that had apparently been taken from her room. One of the items was “her favorite blanket.” 

Amanda Montague: ‘Savannah always knew how to make me happy’

Savannah’s aunt, Minnesota resident Amanda Montague, describes her niece as “very quick witted – a lovable smart-ass. Savannah loved people, and going through this ordeal, I’ve been hearing about how Savannah touched people’s lives.”

For example, one friend told her about a time when she was at a birthday party with her daughter, and Savannah was there. The party was at the local community center, which has a maze for kids to play in. The friend was worried aboaut her daughter when the girl was in the maze, and, without being asked, Savannah went into the maze and got her daughter for her. Savannah did it because she could see in the mom’s eyes that she was scared. “She always helped people any way she could,” Montague said. 

Tamile and David Leckie adopted Savannah several months after Rebecca Ruud, the daughter of their Minnesota neighbor, gave birth to her. Montague has always felt very close to her sister’s children and speaks in first person about Savannah’s adoption. “When we first got Savannah, even before the adoption was finalized, Tamile was so excited to finally hold Savannah in her hands. She said, ‘I want to give this baby a bath,’ and she gave me Savannah to hold while she got the bath ready. I looked down at her and thought, ‘This child is not dirty!’ We were both so excited. I had on lipstick, and I just kissed Savannah all over her little face. That was Savannah’s and my first picture together. After that they called me Aunt Kissy, and Savannah called me Smooches,” Montague said.

Montague, who is single, says she’s been with Tamile’s children frequently during their growing-up years. 

“For a long time, when she was little, Savannah’s favorite color was the same as mine: purple,” said Montague. “Then one day, her favorite color was no longer purple. It was red. But she didn’t want to tell me that because she didn’t want to disappoint me. I told her, ‘You could never disappoint me, and my love for you will never change.’”

Savannah was a “total tomboy” who loved being outdoors, Montague said. “She liked being out in the country and running free and doing what she wanted without any constrictions.” Montague repeated an imagine Savannah’s grandmother had shared from summer 2015, when the grandparents had taken Savannah to Montana. “She remembers Savannah running down to the creek in her swimsuit, her hair flying, her shoes in one hand, her shirt in the other, so happy and excited, like she was thinking, ‘Finally, I can run free.’”

Savannah had been on the cross-country team during ninth grade in Minnesota. And she was very smart, Montague said. When she was a little girl, she asked a woman in line at the post office, “What color is your coat?” “Green,” the woman answered. “No, it’s teal!” Savannah told her. “And when the other kids were playing a computer game, Savannah could tell them the answer they needed – just walking by and glancing at it. She told me she wanted to work in forensics when she grows ups and help solve crime,” Montague said. 

“She was kind of the ying to my yang,” Montague said. “She always knew how to make me happy. I always called her beautiful, and she would say, ‘No I’m not. You are.’’

Last year when Tamile and her new fiance thought it would be better for Savannah to live elsewhere, Amanda invited Savannah to live with her. Instead, the decision was made that she would move to Missouri to live with her birth mother. 

“She told me she didn’t want our relationship to change,” Montague said. “She knew if she were with me, I would have to be a little more authoritative. I offered to take her, but she chose not to come.”

Savannah had grown up knowing Rebecca, her biological mom. She was excited to be moving to her birth mother’s remote farm, where she would have baby goats and she could spend lots of time outdoors, Montague said. She knew she would be homeschooled, and she knew her new home had primitive conditions, with electricity furnished by a generator. But still, she wanted to go, Montague said.

The last time Savannah talked to her aunt was July 3. “She didn’t sound like she had any problems,” Montague said, her voice breaking. “We didn’t talk long because they had some work to do on the farm, and they wanted to do it before it got too hot. But I got to tell her, ‘I love you and I miss you.’ Those were my last words to her.” 

Now, like so many others, Montague waits for word on the identity of the burned bone fragments found on Ruud’s farm. “The Lord only knows what’s going to happen,” she said. “But wherever she is, I want to believe Savannah is happy and free.”

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Working toward answers in the Savannah Leckie disapperance: Identity of charred human remains expected soon (published Aug. 16, 2017)

Authorities are expected to announce soon the identity of the person whose charred skeletal remains have been found on a Theodosia-area property. The remains were first discovered by officers Aug. 4 on the property of Rebecca Ruud, the biological mother of missing 16-year-old Savannah Leckie. The teen was reported missing July 20 from Ruud’s home off County Road 905. If the bones are Savannah’s, arrests in the case could possibly be made soon afterward.

Savannah’s past and how she came to live in Ozark County

Savannah was born to Rebecca Ruud and Donald Pluff Jr. in 2001, but she was adopted soon as an infant by Tamile Leckie-Montague and her husband, David Leckie, who were neighbors of Ruud’s mother. Ruud and the Leckies lived in Park Rapids, Minnesota, at the time. The Leckies were experiencing fertility issues, and Ruud fulfilled their dreams of having a child, Tamile recently told a Minnesota news station. The couple later adopted Ruud’s second child, now a 14-year-old who still lives with Tamile.

After adopting the sisters, Tamile and David Leckie had a son together. They were divorced Jan. 27, 2011, according to Minnesota court records, and the children lived with Tamile. Although Ruud wasn’t the legal parent of Savannah and her sister, it appears that she did have contact with the girls as they grew up. Ruud has posted multiple pictures of Tamile and the girls on her Facebook account  throughout the years. According to Ruud’s Facebook account, she moved to Theodosia sometime in 2015. 

Pluff Jr. died Aug. 20, 2013. It is unclear if he had any contact with Savannah after her birth, but his obituary printed in the Sept. 4, 2013, edition of the Cassville Democrat does not list any children. 

After her divorce from David Leckie, Tamile lived with Mike Evans, and for a few years they were a blended family that included five children: Savannah and her sister and half-brother, a son Tamile and Mike had together, and Mike’s older son, Michael. They were never married, and after they split up in 2015, Tamile became engaged to and moved in with Cary Steeves. During a recent Minnesota television interview, with Tamile and Steeves, the couple explained that the decision for Savannah’s relocation was based on problems she had at home.

“She was a child that I prayed for and God gave me,” Tamile says in the interview. “As a young teen, she began to experience problems at home …  we sat down as a family to discuss the best options to figure out what was best for her.”

Tamile said Savannah has autism and wasn’t able to get the attention she needed at their home. Tamile and Cary decided the best option for Savannah was for her to move with her biological mother, Ruud, in Ozark County. 

“We have been co-parenting her,” Steeves said in the interview. “The farm just seemed like a really good place for her to explore and find herself.”

So, in late August 2016, Ruud drove to Minnesota, picked up Savannah and brought her to her rural farm in the Longrun area near Theodosia. According to court documents, Savannah stayed in a camper trailer on the property, and Ruud and Ruud’s boyfriend, Robert Peat Jr., lived in a metal structure near the camper trailer. The property’s electricity comes from a generator. 

Savannah goes missing, searches ensue

Ruud called the Ozark County Sheriff’s Department at at 10:31 a.m. July 20 and said Savannah was missing. Ruud reportedly told officers that she saw Savannah when they went to bed around 11 p.m. the night before, and when she awoke at 8 a.m. the next day, the teen was gone. Ruud said her next door neighbor helped her search their farms for a couple hours, but there was no sign of Savannah. Ruud reportedly told officers Savannah’s favorite blanket and pillow and some other items were missing from her room.

The Ozark County Search and Rescue team was dispatched to the area, along with several Ozark County Sheriff’s Deputies. Search teams scoured the area by foot and on utility vehicles until after dark. The Baxter County Sheriff’s Office flew their helicopter over the area, and an Ozark County deputy flew his private plane over the farm and surrounding area for several hours, without a trace of Savannah.

The searches continued for several days. The search warrant documents in the case indicate that numerous leads from different sources were given to the sheriff’s office, and all were followed up with no pertinent information or actual sightings being verified. As the investigators continued to work the case, Ruud and Peat became less cooperative and questioned officers’ motives, the statements says.

When interviewed alone on Monday, July 24, four days after Savannah was reported missing, Peat told officers that Ruud’s prescription of hydocodone was missing. Savannah had reportedly had a history of suicide attempts, and when Ruud was asked why she didn’t tell authorities this when she first went missing, she answered that it would “make her fear a reality,” or something to that effect, the statement says.

Multiple searches of the property

The missing pain medication paired with a history of suicide attempts caused authorities to bring in dogs trained to in the skill of finding human remains. These dogs, often referred to as cadaver dogs,  were brought to the property July 25. Court documents indicate that because of the extremely hot temperatures at the time, the dogs quickly became exhausted, and the search was cut short. Only a small percentage of the farm and property was searched, the statement says. 

On Thursday, Aug. 3, Ozark County Associate Judge Cynthia MacPherson issued officers a search warrant for Ruud’s property for a specific search for Savanah Leckie or for human remains. Officers with the Ozark County Sheriff’s Office and the Missouri State Highway Patrol executed the search warrant Friday, Aug. 4, and the cadaver dogs were brought back in to aid in the search. During the search, the dogs alerted to a burn pile in an area away from the primary residence. Officers sifted through the material, which included light-colored ash, and several items that appeared to be bone fragments and teeth were taken into evidence. 

Ruud put a post on Facebook saying she was there while the officers executed the search warrant. After an officer told her she was not detained, she reportedly left the property. It’s unclear when she left, but around 8 p.m. that night she commented on the post, saying she had left to seek legal assistance and was not home yet. A marriage license for Ruud and Peat Jr. filed in Howell County indicates they were married that same day. Although in some instances, “spousal privilege” can protect spouses from being compelled to testify against each other, Missouri Revised Statute 546,260 says that in cases involving “an alleged victim under the age of eighteen, a spouse shall be a competent witness against a defendant spouse…”

Officers showed the collected material to forensic scientists, and all agreed that the items found were consistent with human remains. One expert said the bones had been burned at a very high temperature, and the deterioration of the items was advanced. When Reed told her that lye was found at the home, the expert said, “That would do it.”

Lye, a potential item used in a murder?

MacPherson issued a number of additional search warrants over the next several days, indicating that “chemicals, including but not limited to lye, that may be used to break down human tissue and/or accelerate the cremation of a human body, may be held or discovered on real property owned and possessed by Rebecca Ruud…”

Ruud operated a business called Our Hidden Holler farm, where she and Savannah sold homemade soap, a process that requires the use of lye. Ruud added a post on her Facebook page April 6 saying, “My first soaps are ready for sale…” On June 1, Ruud put up another Facebook post asking, “Has anyone butchered a hog or a cow lately? I’m low on fat or render for soap.” 

On June 3, Ruud posted, “We are finally, officially in the soap business, just in time for Savannah’s Sweet 16… she has wanted this so badly. To combine two landmark events, her Sweet 16, and the official opening of Our Hidden Holler Farm soap business…”

The additional searches, including an Aug. 9 search that included an anthropologist, turned up more bone fragments, teeth and clothing. 

All items were sent to the Missouri State Crime Lab, and forensic experts are working to both identify the DNA within the charred bones and match dental records to the teeth. No arrests can be made until the remains are positively identified, and the case changes from the disappearance of Savannah Leckie to the possible murder of Savannah Leckie.

Sentenced to death

Reed indicated in his most recent post that, if the remains are Savannah’s and she was murdered, officers will be pushing for capital punishment, or the death penalty, in this case. 

Revised Missouri Statute 565.020 says that, as long as a defendant is over the age of 18, and a person is convicted of murder in the first degree, punishment shall either be death or imprisonment for life without the eligibility of probation or parole, or release except by act of the governor.”

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Officers work ‘endlessly’ but haven’t found missing Theodosia teenager (published Aug. 2, 2017)

Ozark County Sheriff Darrin Reed says his department has been working endlessly tracking down leads, researching resources and checking tips involved with the disappearance of 16-year-old Theodosia teen Savannah Leckie since she was reported missing July 20. Reed says the case is still active and ongoing, but there haven’t been any major updates to report yet.

“This case has been the hardest case I’ve ever worked in my career,” Reed said. “I’ll be happy when there is some resolution.”

Savannah was entered into the National Crime Information Center’s Missing Person database on July 20 after her mother, Rebecca Ruud, called the sheriff’s office to report her missing from her home on County Road 905 in the Longrun/Theodosia area. Ruud reportedly told the sheriff’s office that Savannah was asleep in her bed around 11 p.m. the night before, but when Ruud awoke around 8 a.m. the next morning, she was gone. A neighbor helped Ruud search the family’s farm, but Leckie was nowhere to be found. 

Savannah stands 5 foot 2 inches tall, weighs approximately 115 to 120 pounds and has long brown hair. She sometimes answers to the nickname Mouse and Andy. Reed said the girl is home-schooled and did not have friends or family in the immediate area besides her mother and mother’s boyfriend. Savannah is said to have a very high-functioning form of autism, and those talking with her would probably not know that she is autistic from speaking with her. 

Dozens of officers have scoured the area around the girl’s home. Search crews were dispersed on foot, ATVs, patrol cars, plane and helicopter and with bloodhound dogs. There reportedly was no trace of the girl outside of the farm.

Savannah took a large number of items with her when she left, Reed said, including her favorite blanket and pillow, clothing and other personal items. Reed said he doubts she would be able to carry all of the things far while traveling on foot. She has family and friends in Minnesota, and authorities in that state are also looking for the girl. Ruud said her daughter may also be seeking out relatives of her deceased father, Donald Pluff Jr., in the Hollister area. 

Anyone with any information on Savannah’s whereabouts is asked to call the Ozark County Sheriff’s Department at 417-679-4633 or dial 911.

Ozark County Times

504 Third Steet
PO Box 188
Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
Fax: (417) 679-3423

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