A Lake without Leads: Putnam Co. murders remain a mystery

EATONTON, Ga. -- Six months after the gruesome murders of an elderly couple living along Lake Oconee, the violent crimes remain unsolved.

Russell and Shirley Dermond, both in their late 80s, were living in a high-end resort community when they died in early May. Neighbors found Mr. Dermond's decapitated body in his home. A fisherman found Mrs. Dermond's body in the lake days later.

This specially equipped boat is being used on Lake Oconee in the search for 87-year-old Shirley Dermond.

The former lives of the Dermonds have been turned inside out, there's not a single red flag they were living anything but ordinary lives. So why were they murdered?

Decades of detective work have never produced a case more confounding for Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills.

"I go to sleep every night thinking about this case and I wake up every morning thinking about this case,"Sills said. "And I'm not exaggerating at all."

In a sea of stacked cardboard boxes, Sills' desk serves as his island. It's a place to dig through the lives of the Dermonds.

Everyone who has been interviewed has been cleared. There's still no suspect. But Sills believes it was planned, pre-meditated and gruesome.

Russell Dermond was killed and then beheaded, left on the cement floor of his garage. Shirley was killed by blunt force trauma to the head, before being weighted down and dropped in the lake.

"You can't make me believe there was any kind of randomness to this crime," Sills said.

Reynolds Plantation, on the shores of Lake Oconee, has been touted as one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Georgia. Russell and Shirley seemed like an average couple. He golfed. She played bridge. They went to the Lake Oconee Community Church on Sundays. Their expenses were moderate; enemies non-existent.

Six months have passed, and the case drives Sills crazy.

"Why have I not solved that murder?" he said.

The community seems safe. Serene. Even the crime scene was calm: no break-in, nothing stolen, no murder weapon or sign that the murders even happened there.

Sills still has hope that somehow the lake, or the home, or the records of the Dermonds' lives will become a lead -- that hope will heat up this case as it now becomes cold.

"It bothers me a great deal that someone has committed such a heinous crime and they're still out there," Sills said.

The sheriff says the Dermonds have had good relationships with their three children and grandchildren who live out of state and none appear to have been in Georgia at the time of their murder.

There is a $55,000 reward for information that would solve this case.


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