In what seemed like a fiction story, investigators have narrated how an autistic teenager reunited with her birth mother last year on an isolated farm in Missouri, only to be tortured there, forced to crawl through hog pens and have salt rubbed in her wounds, and then finally murdered last month and burned in a fire pit.
16-year-old Savannah Leckie was given up for adoption by her 39-year-old birth mother, Rebecca Ruud, immediately after she was born. The baby had been taken in by a husband and wife in Minnesota and raised there nearly all her life. But Savannah’s adoptive parents eventually divorced, and by late 2016 the teen was having trouble getting along with her adoptive mother’s new boyfriend so she decided to return to her birth mother.
In November 2016, Ruud, who had been in casual contact with her birth daughter for years, agreed to take her back and she was delivered to Ruud in Ozark County.
However, Ruud, who lived on an 81-acre farm near Theodosia, close to the Arkansas border, soon became irritated with her teenage daughter’s inability to adapt to life on the farm.
Savannah was autistic and had been homeschooled most of her life so she had almost no social contact. At this point, Ruud began to worry that the cost of caring for the girl would cost her the farm so she wrote to Savannah’s adoptive mother that she could no longer care for the girl alone.
“It’s to the point that I either need more help to care for her, or I can do nothing with her,” Ruud allegedly wrote to Savannah’s adoptive mother in late June, a few weeks before the girl disappeared.
On July 18, Ruud reported a fire burning at the top of a hill on her property. Firefighters put it out but when they returned to the family’s makeshift living quarters and asked for water, Ruud refused.
According to the firefighters, Ruud said Savannah got a small burn in the fire, and was laying down and couldn’t be disturbed. Ruud wouldn’t let anyone close to the girl’s camper, the firefighters reported. Two days later, Ruud called the sheriff’s office. Her daughter had disappeared overnight, she reported. Her favourite pillow, blanket, and colouring kit were missing.
“I think she’s a runaway,” Ruud said, according to the affidavit. “Savannah is blaming herself for the fire.”
A helicopter and plane searched from above across the woods and fields for Savannah and missing posters went out as the day passed with no sign. Then investigators began to get suspicious.
On July 24, an ex-boyfriend of Ruud’s told investigators he’d seen Savannah being tortured by Ruud before she went missing. The man said Savannah had once cut her arm and Ruud scrubbed the affected area with alcohol and salt on a daily basis as a form of discipline. Ruud and her current boyfriend, Robert Peat Jr., were interviewed and the mother allegedly admitted to rubbing salt in Savannah’s cut, wrestling the girl in the mud of a pig pen, and other severe forms of discipline. But the couple were becoming less and less cooperative as the search went on.
Deputies returned to the farm on Aug. 4 with dogs, state police, and a search warrant. They now suspected that Savannah had never left the property. They searched everywhere and found a pile of fresh leaves and branches a few hundred yards from the residences. Beneath it, they saw human bones. The bones had been burned at a very high temperature and had deteriorated so badly.
Deputies returned to the farm on Aug. 9 and found more evidence showing that Savannah had been murdered. At this point, Ruud and Peat, who already got married, could not be reached but it was learned that Ruud and her new husband had purchased bus tickets to leave the state.
“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,” a sheriff’s deputy wrote to a judge, who signed the request and issued the warrant.
Two Greyhound buses were to leave Springfield on Monday, taking Ruud to Kansas and Peat to Tennessee but the sheriff, Reed, and two deputies drove to the station where they arrested Ruud and returned her to the Ozark County jail.
She was charged Tuesday with first-degree and second-degree murder, fatal abuse of a child, tampering with evidence and abandoning a corpse and more charges are forthcoming on any individual that was involved in aiding or tampering in the investigation into Savannah’s death. Reed told the Ozark County Times he wants the mother put to death.