The Savannah Gold Case: Bonefish Grill Parking Lot Murder

[Jacksonville, Florida]

Savannah Gold (21) worked at the Bonefish Grill for over two years. She loved her job, the customers, and co-workers that surrounded her. On August 2nd, 2017, Savannah drove toward her work for her upcoming shift. However, she never ended up actually entering her workplace and clocking in.

At around 6:30pm, her family received a text full of texting errors from Savannah’s phone saying: “Hey i just anted to tell you and mom i met a really great guy and were running away together i love him and were leaving toight ill call you later when we get t where we are gng.” Her father immediately knew it wasn’t Savannah who was typing due to all spelling mess ups. Acting quickly, her family called the police department to report Savannah as missing.

Investigators found Savannah’s car in the Bonefish Grill parking lot. The doors were unlocked and her purse was still inside. The front driver’s side tire had been punctured. Grainy surveillance footage from a camera pointed at the restaurant showed Savannah getting out of her car and getting into a silver Chevy Malibu parked directly beside her. Then the car drove off with Savannah still inside.

The owner of the vehicle was identified as 28 year old Lee Rodarte. He had been the manager and chef at the Bonefish Grill for five years. When Rodarte was questioned, investigators noticed scrapes and cuts on his neck and arm. Lee had a girlfriend, but explained that he started having sexual intercourse with Savannah a while after they started working together.

A closer study of the surveillance footage showed that the back car door where Savannah was sitting opened and shut numerous times as the car shook. It was clear evidence that a struggle was taking place in the car. Then Lee was seen getting out of the car, removing or placing an item in Savannah’s car, and then slashing her tire.

He was brought in for questioning where he initially denied ever being there. Then he changed his story and admitted to confronting Savannah in his car after he allegedly found out she was telling co-workers about their fling. Lee’s girlfriend had already caught him cheating with Savannah once so didn’t want to be caught again. According to Lee, Savannah said that she had the right to speak about what she wanted followed by cussing at him. A loud argument started and Savannah began swinging at him. Allegedly in self defense, he grabbed her neck and squeezed it until he heard a pop. He referred to the action as snapping her neck. Afterwards, he set her body on fire in a fire pit at his home, burning over 75% of her.

Then he wrapped her in a blanket and plastic sheet before dumping her in a retention pond.

After he confessed to murdering her, he was left alone in the room to dwell on his actions. He frantically paced in the room saying, “This was never meant to be. What Chelsea thinks. Fuck Chelsea and what she thinks. Fuck it. You did the right thing. She was s’cold. I’m so sorry Savannah, I’m so sorry. Stop! Fuckin’ get killed in jail.” He also said statements such as “Oh man. Fuck [inaudible], you’re a piece of shit. Savannah was nice to you. But somebody was a bitch to you. How does that make any sense? Somebody that gave two shits about you. [inaudible] nice.”

He agreed to lead police to Savannah’s body at the retention pond. Her manner of death was ruled as a violent homicide, but her cause of death was hard to confidently determine. However, the cartilage in her thyroid was fractured which could have lined up with a strangulation. Lee Rodarte was charged with second-degree murder, tampering with evidence and abuse of a dead body.

Lee Rodarte has filed a “Stand Your Ground” claim with the First District Court of Appeal, resulting in his trial being delayed. This law states that, under certain circumstances, individuals can use force to defend themselves without first attempting to retreat from the danger. Florida is a Stand Your Ground state. Although the crime occurred in 2017, he has yet to be officially sentenced due to him filing the Stand Your Ground claim.

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Holly Alexis

Holly Alexis

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23. Sociology & Criminal Justice Major. True Crime Fanatic. Writer. All articles are tossed together from the comfort of my couch.