Remains identified in case of missing Ozark County teenager
Ozark County Sheriff Darin Reed says a homicide investigation has intensified after investigators confirmed remains found are those of a missing teenager.
Savannha Leckie, 16, disappeared last month from her home near Longrun. Investigators used dental records and other evidence to confirm the identity.
Search documents list Rebecca Ruud, Savannah's biological mother, and Robert Peat Jr., her boyfriend, as suspects. The Ozark County Sheriff's Department, Missouri State Highway Patrol investigators, and anthropologists have been searching Ruud's property for evidence.
Savannah was adopted to a family in Minnesota at birth, but maintained periodic contact with her biological mother, Rebecca Ruud. According to a search warrant application, Ruud was told Savannah could not get along with her adoptive mom's new boyfriend, and came to live with Ruud in Ozark county.
Sheriff Darrin Reed says Savannah lived with Ruud on the rural property on County Road 905 for 11 months before she disappeared on July 20.
A search warrant application says Savannah's living quarters consisted of a pull-behind camper trailer with electricity from a generator. Ruud and her boyfriend, Robert Peat Jr., lived in 1,850-square-foot metal building. The property is 81 acres, partially wooded and partly open fields.
As Theodosia volunteer firefighters and Ozark County sheriff's deputies searched the terrain for days for Savannah, Ruud provided searchers with several of Savannah's personal belongings. But investigators noted Ruud did not provide the computer that Savannah regularly used; instead, she sent it to a computer technician to be examined.
Ruud's ex-boyfriend told investigators that he saw Ruud discipline Savannah by forcing her to crawl through a hog pen, then bathe in a pond, according to a search warrant application.
Those applications say Ruud and Peat have become increasingly less cooperative and have questioned investigators' motives and activities during the search for Savannah.
Howell County records show Robert Peat Jr. and Rebecca Ruud got married on Friday, Aug. 4. It's the same day that investigators first found human remains on Ruud's property. In some cases, being married can prevent spouses from having to testify against one another, but Sheriff Reed says in a case where the victim is under 18, the special privilege does not apply.
On Friday, Aug. 4, investigators seized several items, including a blue shirt, letters from the camper, and items later confirmed to be bone fragments. Canines searched the property and one alerted on a burn pile, partially covered by fresh leaves, branches and other debris.
A second dog was brought to the burn pile and also alerted on human remains, the search warrant application says. Investigators found a patch of light colored ash under the debris.
Investigators sifted through ash and found what appeared to be bone fragments, and what appeared to be two intact human finger bones. They also found a large bone that appeared to be a vertebra and several items that looked like teeth, according to the search warrant documents.
On Wednesday, Aug 9, investigators seized items including cigarette butts, hair, soil samples, many bone fragments, and a zipper pull. The documents say a dentist with training in forensic anthropology and ondontology believes the bones and teeth are human and were subjected to high temperatures, and had advanced deterioration.
The search warrant says investigators were searching for "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." Sheriff Reed says lye soap is also made on the property.
Investigators also found several containers and buckets containing chemicals and lard, and seized other items, including a meat grinder, 26 bottles of lye, hair, a knife, and a box of girls clothing.
The human remains are not identified. Reed said on Wednesday that anthropologists would try to use dental records to match the remains to Savannah. If that doesn't work, investigators may have to use DNA to identify the remains.
A search of court records in Arkansas shows the ex-wife of Robert Peat Jr. got a judicial order of protection against him in Arkansas in 2015.
No charges are filed in the case.