Shortly after Savannah Gold headed to her job at the Bonefish Grill restaurant in Jacksonville last Wednesday, her family began receiving strange text messages from her phone.
“Hey i just wanted to tell you and mom i met a really great guy and we’re running away together,” she texted her father, according to a missing persons report. “I love him and we’re leaving tonight i’ll call you later when we get to where we are going.”
Her family instantly became suspicious. “The spelling was all whacked out,” her father, Daniel Gold, told WSB-TV. “It looked really strange.”
Gold never made it to work that day — but her car was found in the parking lot. “Her car was outside with a slashed tire and her purse, with her ID, credit cards and money in the car with it unlocked,” Daniel Gold told the news station. “That really got us concerned.”
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office interviewed 28-year-old Lee Rodarte Jr., a Bonefish Grill culinary manager who allegedly had an on-again, off-again relationship with the 21-year-old Gold.
“The suspect when interviewed by police admitted to being in the Bonefish Grill parking lot with the victim, killing her, and disposing of her body” in a nearby lake, the Sheriff’s Office alleged in a statement. “Rodarte led police to remains that were located by the JSO Dive Team and we believe the remains to be Savannah Gold.”
The sheriff’s office says that they’re waiting for the medical examiner to officially identify the remains.
Surveillance video at the restaurant shows Gold getting into Rodarte’s car. Police say that there was a “possible struggle” in the car before Rodarte drove off.
Gold’s family told News4Jax.com that Rodarte spoke to them after her disappearance and expressed his concerns. They also say that he helped hand out missing persons flyers before speaking to police.
Authorities believe that Rodarte was the one who sent the texts after Gold’s death, Jacksonville Sheriff Lieutenant Steve Gallagher told reporters.
Rodarte has been charged with murder and evidence tampering. He is jailed without bond at the Duval County Jail. He has not yet entered a plea, and it is unclear if he has retained an attorney.