OCSD still working tirelessly on Savannah Leckie murder case
Although the case hasn’t been in the headlines every week lately, as it was a few months ago, Ozark County Sheriff Darrin Reed says officers are working as hard as ever behind the scenes to help bring justice in the murder case of 16-year-old Theodosia area teen, Savannah Leckie.
Leckie’s mother Rebecca Ruud, and Ruud’s husband, Robert Peat Jr,. were both charged with Leckie’s murder after officers discovered human remains on Ruud’s 81-acre farm shortly after Ruud reported her daughter missing on July 19, 2017. Dozens of law enforcement officers, volunteer firefighters and others searched for Leckie for several days, but the case took a hard shift from a missing-person case to a murder investigation when charred human bones and teeth were discovered Aug. 4 in a burn pile on Ruud’s property.
Peat is scheduled for a jury trial July 30 in either Greene County or Taney County, the site yet to be determined, and Ruud is scheduled for a separate jury trial Aug. 27 in Taney County. Both cases were transferred out of Ozark County on change of venue motions last fall.
‘We’ve all taken this case so personally’
“This is a very time-consuming case, and we want to be as thorough as we possibly can on this,” Reed told the Times.“There is an overwhelming amount of information, and every single piece needs to be looked at and considered.”
Among those items are 6,000 text messages and hundreds, if not thousands, of emails from residents all over the country. Officers are connecting with individuals and former friends of Ruud in Minnesota, acquaintances here and in Arkansas, and many people who have fragments of information that they hope will help bring justice in the case.
Reed, along with Chief Deputy Winston Collins and evidence investigator Cpl. Curtis Dobbs, form the trio that’s putting the most work into the case, all while balancing their everyday law enforcement duties around the county.
“There isn’t a day goes by that one of the three of us isn’t actively working this case,” Reed said. “There are a lot of phone calls to be made. I mean, a lot. We’re still working with the anthropologist, the odontologist, with the Minnesota Children’s Division, with the prosecutor, with the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, with the FBI on identifying DNA … just to name a few. We’re speaking with Minnesota authorities about every other day now.”
Although the physical demands of investigating the case are heavy, the emotional burden the officers are enduring is oftentimes heavier.
“This is a small department in a small community. We’ve all taken this case so personally,” Dobbs told the Times. “None of us ever actually met Savannah, but we’ve grown to know her through everything we’ve learned in this case. We care about her and the outcome of the investigation. This isn’t just another kid to us. It’s almost like she’s a child of mine. There’s not a single one of us that doesn’t feel that way. We put our heart into this, all of it. That’s how it hits us, and that’s what fuels us.”
Reed agreed, explaining that every officer who has worked this case has had tears in his eyes at least once as they’ve strived to bring the truth to light. And the tears that fall when they are awake are often paired with nightmares that cloud their minds when they sleep.
“Never have I ever worked a case that has affected me like this one has,” Reed said. “I’ve worked a lot of cases, a lot of horrible cases. But this one … it’ll stick with me for the rest of my life.”
A God-led case and a dedicated crew
“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again… this is a God-led case,” Reed said. “There’s been a lot of knee time in this case. I know some people won’t believe it, but it’s true.”
It was Aug. 4, 2017, when officers executed a search warrant on Ruud’s property to search with cadaver dogs after Ruud had told officers she feared her daughter may have harmed herself.
“I prayed so much the night before,” Reed said.
While searching the property, the cadaver dogs crossed over a burn pile about 100-200 yards from Ruud and Leckie’s home.
“They showed a little interest but moved on pretty quickly. We now know that’s because the remains were so badly deteriorated from being burned,” Reed said. “I had this stick I carry with me, and I just pushed around the ashes, and there was a bone. Now that was God. We could have easily just passed it by.”
Officers now have some form of 16 to 18 teeth out of a possible 24. Because the human remains were so badly burned, and individual charred bones and teeth were found, Reed said identification of the remains has been difficult. The sheriff’s office is currently working with the FBI’s crime lab to verify identification through testing of the mitochondrial DNA sequences of the human skeletal remains, a process that can oftentimes identify a person when the remains are deteriorated.
The officers said they can’t reveal much in terms of what they’ve uncovered or what evidence has been presented, as the investigation is still open. However, Reed, Collins and Dobbs say that the same faith that led them to the burn pile continues to lead them through the grueling process of sifting through evidence and uncovering horrific details of Leckie’s life and death. And Reed says he couldn’t ask for a better team to work this case.
“It’s a difficult case, and the DNA is imperative. It’s one where you put every ounce of your training and experience into every single thing you do, “Reed said. “But I’ve got an outstanding crew here. These are some of the most dedicated and devoted people you’ll meet. You can rest assured that everything that can be done in this case is being done. It’s a non-stop process and will be, up to the day it goes to trial.”