Neighbors stunned by arrest of man in 21-year-old woman's murder

'You never know who's who,' neighbor says of man accused of killing coworker

Booking photo of Lee Rodarte

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Police have yet to release a motive in the murder of a 21-year-old Bonefish Grill employee, and neighbors had little to say Monday about the co-worker accused of killing her last week and dumping her body in a lake.

Savannah's Gold's parents had been searching for her since her abrupt disappearance Wednesday afternoon when she failed to report for her shift at the Mandarin restaurant, where she worked with Lee Rodarte, 28.

Police said Rodarte killed Gold, who was his casual girlfriend, in his car in the parking lot outside the San Jose Boulevard. According to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, Rodarte admitted to killing Gold and led investigators Saturday night to where he had dumped her body in a lake at the end of Club Duclay Drive, off Blanding Boulevard near Collins Road.

He is being held without bond in the Duval County Jail on charges of murder and tampering with evidence.

Rodarte's neighbors on Halifax Road said they were surprised to see half a dozen police cars and several crime scene vans outside the home where he was living.

“We came home and police were here already,” said one neighbor, who identified himself only as Rick. “You don't see that often -- that many police running around, crime tape set up, so it was a little different for around here.”

Another neighbor, who asked not to be identified, was surprised to learn Rodarte even lived on the street, saying he was someone's roommate.

Neighbor Rick said Rodarte hadn't been staying there long and kept to himself.

“It's just not good, but you never know who's who,” he said.

According to police, Rodarte confessed to the murder after he was confronted with discrepancies between what he'd told police and what investigators found on surveillance video of the restaurant's parking lot.

That video shows Gold pull up and park a few spaces away from Rodarte's vehicle about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, before getting out and going over to his vehicle to talk to him, police said. She then gets into his car, and about 15 minutes later, the car is seen shaking and the door opens and closes, police said.

According to JSO, Rodarte then gets out of the car, walks over to Gold's car, takes something out of it and puts it in his. Then he returns to her car, appears to puncture the front left tire of her vehicle, and gets back into his car before driving away, police said.

Gold never got out of Rodarte's car, police said.

Police arrested Rodarte on an outstanding traffic warrant at the restaurant about 7:15 p.m. Saturday, and during an interview, he admitted to killing Gold and told police where they could find her body, JSO said. 

Gold's mother, Sherri Gold, said Rodarte spoke to her husband, Daniel Gold, after her daughter's disappearance. And a co-worker told News4Jax on Sunday that she saw Rodarte handing out missing person fliers Thursday.

"I feel like he (Rodarte) is a sociopath because he expressed his concern over Savannah's disappearance to Dan to his face on Friday," Sherri Gold said.

She and Gold's father had been searching for their daughter since Wednesday when her unlocked car with a flat tire and her purse still inside was found in the restaurant parking lot, and relatives received text messages from her phone, saying she had met someone and was running away with him.

IMAGES: Savannah Gold's family shares photos

But Gold's family said those texts were out of character, noting that they did not appear to be typed in Gold's style.

Gold's father visited the Westside lake, which remained an active crime scene Sunday morning, and left candles and a stuffed bear as a small memorial. He said that from what he was told about her death, he was proud she fought for her life.

"We are going to be here representing our daughter every step of the way. And we are not going to hide from this," Gold's father said. "We are going to celebrate her life and we are not going to hide from the tragedy this is. We want him to know that you are not going to intimidate us. You are not going to scare us. There is no chance. We are going to be here.” 

Gold's family has set up a GoFundMe account to help pay for expenses. Click here to donate.