Last weekend, Florida authorities arrested 28-year-old restaurant culinary manager Lee Rodarte Jr. and charged him with the murder of his co-worker — and sometime girlfriend — Savannah Gold.
Investigators suspect that after killing Gold, Rodarte used her phone to text her family to say that she was running away.
Here are six things to know about the case.
1. Homicide Began as a Missing Persons Case
Gold, an employee at the Bonefish Grill in Jacksonville, Florida, went missing last Wednesday when she arrived at work — but she never made it inside the building.
Her unlocked car was later found in the parking lot; a tire was slashed and her purse was on the front seat.
Authorities learned that the restaurant had surveillance video in the parking lot, so they began reviewing the footage to determine what happened.
2. Video Showed ‘Possible Struggle Between Gold and Rodarte’
In a a news release, the Jacksonville sheriff said that Gold arrived at work that day at 5:31 p.m. Citing the footage, authorities claim she then got in the passenger seat of Rodarte’s vehicle and, “at 5:45 p.m., the video surveillance shows what appears to be a possible struggle inside of the vehicle.”
After the apparent altercation, Rodarte was allegedly “observed walking to the victim’s vehicle, opening the drivers-side door of the vehicle, and leaning inside,” according to the sheriff.
A few minutes later, the video seemingly shows Rodarte driving away with Gold still in the vehicle, authorities say.
3. Rodarte and Gold Had an On/off Romantic Relationship
Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Lt. Steve Gallagher told reporters that the killing was not random, and he acknowledged that the couple had once casually dated.
Rodarte worked as a culinary manager at the restaurant. Gold, 21, was a newer employee. Gallagher said that the couple had known each other for “a few months,” and that the relationship wasn’t serious.
4. Gold’s Family Received Strange Texts After She Vanished
Within hours of Gold’s disappearance, her family began receiving odd text messages sent from her phone — purportedly from her.
“Hey i just wanted to tell you and mom i met a really great guy and we’re running away together,” read one message sent to her father, Daniel Gold, 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.”
Other family members and friends reported getting similar messages, and her relatives became instantly suspicious.
“The spelling was all whacked out,” Gold told local TV station WJAX. “It looked really strange.”
Investigators believe the text messages actually began after Gold was dead.
5. Law Enforcement: Rodarte Confessed and Revealed Gold’s Body
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office soon interviewed Rodarte in connection with Gold’s disappearance — and authorities allege that his story changed several times before he finally confessed to the crime.
“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 said in a statement, laying out the allegations against Rodarte.
He “led police to remains that were located by the JSO Dive Team and we believe the remains to be Savannah Gold,” the statement continued.
6. Rodarte Reportedly Helped Search for Gold Before His Arrest
Gold’s family told WJAX that Rodarte spoke to them after her disappearance and expressed his concerns. They also said that he helped hand out missing persons flyers before speaking to law enforcement.
Authorities believe that Rodarte was the one who sent the texts after Gold’s death, sheriff’s Lt. Gallagher told reporters.
Rodarte has been charged with murder and evidence tampering. He is jailed without bond at Florida’s Duval County Jail.
He has not yet entered a plea, and it is unclear if he has retained an attorney.
Of Gold, her best friend told the Florida Times-Union, “She was so full of life. She was so caring. She was my ‘one of a kind.’ That will never change. There is no other like her.”