KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A southwest Missouri husband and wife have been indicted in the killing of the woman’s biological teenage daughter, who had recently moved in with them after spending most of her life with an adoptive family in Minnesota.
Rebecca Ruud, 39, and Robert Peat Jr., 31, are charged in the indictment returned Wednesday with first-degree murder and an alternative count of child abuse resulting in the killing of Savannah Leckie.
Investigators say Savannah had started living with Ruud in Theodosia, Missouri, within the last year. Ruud and Peat married last month, on the same day that bone fragments identified as the teen’s were found in a burn pile on the couple’s rural property. Details of how she died have yet to be determined.
“It is a horrible tragedy. This was a 16-year-old girl who was murdered,” Ozark County prosecutor John Garrabrant said. “I have been doing this for 27 years and I’ve never had a case like this.”
The indictment replaces identical charges filed last month against Ruud. Peat hadn’t previously been charged. Besides the murder counts, the couple also is facing charges of tampering with physical evidence and abandonment of a corpse. They are being held without bond. Their attorneys didn’t immediately return phone messages seeking comment.
After Rebecca Ruud gave birth, she immediately gave Savannah up for adoption to David Leckie and Tamile Leckie-Montague, Sheriff Darrin Reed said in an interview last month. David Leckie and Tamile Leckie-Montague divorced in 2012, and Leckie-Montague’s fiancé “couldn’t get along with Savannah,” Reed said.
Savannah was homeschooled and her only contact with others came from working as a junior firefighter in Theodosia, where Ruud was a volunteer firefighter, Reed said. On July 18, Ruud reported a fire, according to a probable cause statement. She told fire officials she was burned trying to save the girl from the fire, but refused to let them talk to Savannah.
Reed said he believes Savannah was dead or unconscious at that time.
The indictment said only that Savannah’s death was caused “by unknown means.” Two days later, Ruud reported Savannah missing. She later claimed Savannah ran away because she blamed herself for starting the fire.
Several searches of the property were conducted, including one on Aug. 4 that uncovered human bone fragments in a field about 400 yards (365 meters) from the home. Reed said Ruud and Peat “got antsy” because an anthropologist was sifting through the ashes and left, saying they were going to get legal counsel. They got married and stopped by the public defender’s office in a neighboring county seeking representation, even though they hadn’t been charged or questioned.
Reed said he thinks they married so they couldn’t’ be forced to testify against one another, although that privilege doesn’t apply when the victim is younger than 18.
Leckie-Montague, who lives in the Minneapolis suburb of Columbia Heights, told authorities that Ruud “continually complained” about how Savannah acted on the farm and the time and money it took to care for the girl, according to the probable cause statement.
Ruud’s ex-boyfriend, Buddy Smart, told investigators he had seen her discipline Savannah by forcing her to crawl through a hog pen and making 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.
Ruud was arrested at a Greyhound bus station in Springfield on Aug. 21. Reed said Ruud was a flight risk who has connections with “people who can hide her out.”
“I’m telling you it’s a bizarre case,” Reed said.