(KANSAS CITY, Mo.) — Prosecutors on Tuesday charged a Missouri woman with murder in the death of her 16-year-old biological daughter, whose remains were found in a burn pit on their rural property.
Rebecca Ruud reported late last month that Savannah Leckie had gone missing from their home in Theodosia, a village of about 250 people near Missouri’s southern border with Arkansas. Leckie was raised by an adoptive mother in Minnesota but had returned to live with Ruud and her now-husband within the last year, authorities said.
Teeth, a meat grinder, a knife and 26 bottles of lye, which can be used to accelerate the breakdown of bodily tissue, were found during searches of the remote property, according to court documents. Human bone fragments and teeth were found in a field about 400 yards (365 meters) from the home on Aug. 4, which was the day Ruud and her husband got married. A forensic analysis identified the remains as Savannah’s, said Ozark County Sheriff Darrin Reed.
Ruud, 39, is charged with first-degree murder and alternative counts of abuse of a child resulting in death, second-degree murder and felony murder. She is also charged with tampering with physical evidence and abandoning a corpse, said Ozark County Prosecutor John Garrabrant. He declined to say whether anyone else would be charged.
Ruud is being held in the county jail. The public defender’s office didn’t immediately reply to a phone message seeking comment.
Ruud told investigators that she relinquished the girl for adoption when she was born and that Savannah spent most of her life in Minnesota. Affidavits filed in support of search warrants describe Savannah as having high-functioning autism.
Savannah’s adoptive mother, Tamile Leckie-Montague, asked Ruud last November to take the teen because the girl couldn’t get along with Leckie-Montague’s new boyfriend. Ruud agreed and was given power of attorney. After the girl moved to Missouri, she was home schooled and had “almost no social contacts,” according to an affidavit.
Ruud’s ex-boyfriend, Buddy Smart, told investigators he had seen her discipline Savannah by “forcing her to crawl through a hog pen” and forcing her to bathe in a pond, the affidavit states. Ruud acknowledged that was true and told investigators that when Savannah cut her arm “in a suicidal gesture,” she forced the girl to scrub the wound daily with alcohol and salt as punishment.
Leckie-Montague’s fiancé, Cary Steeves, told Minneapolis television station KSTP-TV that Savannah “needed a lot of one-on-one focus and the farm just seemed like a really good place for her at the moment.” He told the Star-Tribune that Leckie-Montague last spoke to Savannah on June 3, which was her 16th birthday, and that there was “nothing like big, red flags” suggesting anything was amiss.
Leckie-Montague, who lives in the Minneapolis suburb of Columbia Heights, issued a news release Tuesday thanking Missouri investigators and asking for privacy for her and her family.
“Our family is in deep grief and is mourning Savannah as her remains were identified yesterday. This is not the outcome that we were hoping and praying for,” she wrote.