Crime

Allegations of hellish abuse in the Ozarks as mother is charged with slaying daughter

A mother has been charged with first-degree murder and other crimes after the bones of her daughter, Savannah Leckie, were found in a burn pile on a rural Missouri property.

A warrant for Rebecca Ruud’s arrest was issued Tuesday, and she was detained at a Springfield bus station, according to the Ozark County Times. An investigation into Savannah’s death reveals the teen’s final months alive were filled with abuse at the hands of her mother, court documents allege.

Ruud, 39, is charged with first- and second-degree murder, abuse of a child resulting in death, tampering with evidence and abandonment of a corpse.

Savannah was 16. Earlier this week, authorities confirmed the remains found during a search of Ruud’s farm near Theodosia, Mo., in Ozark County were Savannah’s. The discovery came weeks after Ruud reported her daughter missing, in late July.

Authorities and statements made by Ruud paint a vile picture of Savannah’s life inside the home, replete with cruel forms of punishment.

Ruud told authorities that Savannah had once deliberately cut her own arm and that as punishment Ruud “poured alcohol and salt on the cut twice a day and rubbed it until the scabs came off,” according to the probable cause statement.

In their short time living together, Ruud also admitted to spanking Savannah’s bare bottom, forcing her daughter to roll around in a hog pen and to wade into a muddy pond and dunk her head underwater as forms of punishment. Savannah’s phone was smashed, and her Facebook use was limited “as a form of control and punishment,” Ruud said, according to court documents.

Savannah had Asperger’s syndrome, attention-deficit disorder and depression, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

After Ruud called the Ozark County Sheriff’s Office to report her daughter missing, she told authorities that she’d seen her daughter in bed one night, but the next morning said she was gone.

The mother added that her daughter had taken with her a pillow, blanket and favorite coloring bag.

Ruud said that she thought Savannah had fled after “blaming herself” for starting a fire that led to a burn injury Ruud suffered.

But according to court documents, Ruud later told others that the burns came “while attempting to remove chainsaws or a wood splitter from the fire.”

Ozark County Sheriff Darrin Reed said that Ruud’s arrest came quicker than originally planned because Ruud was a flight risk, according to the Times. And after her daughter’s remains were identified, Ruud posted to Facebook that she was seeking legal counsel.

Until last year, Savannah had lived with adoptive parents in Minnesota, according to the Star Tribune. Her adoptive parents are Tamile Montague of Minneapolis and David Leckie of Park Rapids, Minn.

Savannah began living with them shortly after her birth. She left in 2016 to move in with Ruud, her biological mother.

Ruud’s boyfriend, Robert E. Peat Jr., was also living at the farm when Savannah disappeared.

Before authorities searched the burn pile where Savannah’s bones were eventually found, Peat said he had been lighting “beacon fires” for Savannah for several nights.

As authorities began their search, Ruud and Peat left the property and were married in Summersville, Mo.

Human bones were eventually unearthed from the pile, as well as a pants button with ducks imprinted on it, court documents show.

Items taken during a search of the Ruud home and surrounding area included a meat grinder, a knife and 26 bottles of lye, which can be used to accelerate the breakdown of bodily tissue.

Reed said additional arrests are possible in the case.

Ruud is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 28. She is being held without bail.

Max Londberg: 816-234-4378, @MaxLondberg

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