A woman was charged Tuesday with killing her daughter, weeks after the troubled teenager’s remains were unearthed in a partly burned brush pile on a remote farm in southern Missouri.
Ozark County prosecutor John Garrabrant charged Rebecca Ruud, 39, with first- and second-degree murder, abuse of a child resulting in death, tampering with physical evidence, and abandonment of a corpse, in the killing of Savannah Leckie, 16.
Until last year, the girl lived with her adoptive parents in Minnesota.
Ruud was arrested Monday and is being held without bail in Ozark County jail.
Adopted soon after her birth, Leckie grew up in Minnesota. In 2016 she went to live with Ruud, authorities said.
Ruud reported Leckie missing in July, telling authorities the teen ran away because she “blamed herself” for a brushfire at the farm that injured Ruud, according to a probable cause statement filed Tuesday.
Ozark County Sheriff Darrin Reed said Monday that dental records from Minnesota helped confirm that burned teeth and bones found on Ruud’s farm belong to Leckie, who had been missing from the 81-acre farm where she had been living for 11 months with Ruud. The remains turned up during a search of the property on Aug. 4.
“From information I received [Monday] from forensic specialists, and evidence that was obtained, the remains that were recovered are those of 16-year-old Savannah Leckie, of Longrun [Mo.],” Reed said in a statement. In a follow-up statement Tuesday, Reed said, “The investigation has intensified.”
The public defender’s office didn’t reply to a phone message or e-mail seeking comment.
There had been little doubt for Leckie’s adoptive parents, Tamile Montague of Minneapolis and David Leckie of Park Rapids, who are divorced, that the remains would be anyone’s but their daughter’s.
“Our family is in deep grief and is mourning Savannah,” Montague said in a statement released Tuesday through the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center. “This is not the outcome that we were hoping and praying for.”
Montague last spoke with her daughter on June 3, Savannah’s 16th birthday, said family friend and spokesman Cary Steeves.
Precisely how Leckie died remains unclear, but Ozark County Sheriff’s Department investigator Curtis Dobbs said in the statement: “I believe Ms. Ruud deliberately and methodically caused the death of Savannah Leckie and then attempted to conceal it by destroying evidence and her remains by fire.”
The court document tells of Ruud’s cruel treatment of Leckie, who was diagnosed at age 9 with Asperger’s syndrome, attention-deficit disorder and depression.
Ruud told investigators that in November Montague asked Ruud to take the teen because Leckie couldn’t get along with Montague’s boyfriend.
Ruud “continually complained about Savannah’s inability to adapt to life on the farm,” Montague told investigators.
She also told Montague that the girl was costing her so much money she “was afraid of losing her farm.”
Ruud told authorities that she had smashed the girl’s phone and limited her contact on Facebook “as a form of control and punishment,” according to the probable cause statement. Ruud had Savannah roll around in a hog pen on at least one occasion and made her wade into a muddy pond and dunk under as forms of punishment, the statement said.
Ruud said Leckie “deliberately cut her own arm” and that as punishment for that Ruud “poured alcohol and salt on the cut twice a day and rubbed it until the scabs came off.”
Call to fire department
The saga of Leckie’s death began July 18 when Ruud reported a half-acre blaze on her farm near Theodosia, Mo., a village of 250 people near the Arkansas border.
When firefighters asked to see Leckie, Ruud declined, saying that her daughter was fine and resting in the trailer she lived in on the property.
“At no time did any fire department [personnel] see Savannah at the Ruud property,” according to the probable cause statement.
Two nights later Ruud and her boyfriend, Robert Peat Jr., reported the girl missing.
“I need to report a missing child, I think she’s a runaway. … I had a fire two days ago, Savannah is blaming herself for the fire, I got burnt, I think that’s why she ran away,” Ruud told the Ozark County Sheriff’s Department.
On Aug. 4, after several unsuccessful searches, authorities sifted a giant pile of partly burned brush and tree limbs about 400 yards from Ruud’s house. There they found several human bone fragments consistent with ribs, vertebrae, finger, toes and teeth. Searches also turned up a meat grinder, a knife and 26 bottles of lye, which can be used in making soap but also to accelerate the breakdown of body tissue.
On the same day that authorities were conducting their search of the burn pile, Ruud and Peat Jr. were married in Howell County.
Ruud was arrested on Monday in Springfield as she was attempting to board a Greyhound bus to Kansas City. Peat Jr., who has not been charged, purchased a bus ticket to Memphis.
Jail records in Missouri do not list Peat Jr. as being in custody.
Garrabrant, the prosecuting attorney, would not comment on whether Peat Jr. would be charged, but the Sheriff’s Department said more charges are expected.