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Putnam County sheriff: Private lab finds DNA in Dermond murders, 9-year-old cold case

This technology didn't even exist when the Dermonds were murdered in their Lake Oconee home in May 2014.

PUTNAM COUNTY, Ga. — Cutting-edge technology is helping law enforcement crack cases that went unsolved for decades.

Just last week, we explained how a Texas lab helped identify a Macon Jane Doe. 20-year-old Yvonne Pless was murdered in 1977. Serial killer Samuel Little confessed to her murder in 2018.

That lab recently matched her remains to family members' DNA to confirm her identity.

Now, investigators hope the same lab can warm up another Central Georgia cold case. 

It's been nine years since someone brutally murdered Russell and Shirley Dermond in their Putnam County home.

Sheriff Howard Sills confirmed to 13WMAZ Wednesday that Othram Inc. is looking at evidence in the Dermonds' murders.

Sills told 13WMAZ he learned about Othram last year and flew out to Texas last fall to deliver evidence in the Dermonds case. He delivered more in March.

Now, he and investigators have even more of reason to be optimistic.

"They have developed an amount of DNA," Sills said.

Sheriff Howard Sills says they got a "DNA hit" off the evidence.

"Now, this could be this could very well be the Dermonds' DNA or some officer possibly even left his DNA," Sills said.

He says to ultimately determined that, Othram Inc. will have to do more testing.

We spoke to the Othram's Chief Development Officer, Kristen Mittleman, about their technique.  

She says scientists use what's called forensic genetic genealogy. It's a combination of DNA sequencing and genealogy. 

"We singularly focus on how do we get that retractable evidence to give us the best looking DNA profile that we can so we can upload them to these genealogical databases," Mittleman said.

Mittleman says they don't have to have DNA from the suspect in the DNA database to identify them.

They can trace it back through family trees as distant as the suspect's fourth or fifth cousin.

"I'm optimistic about it. The company has a tremendous reputation," Sills said.

Sills says this could be the lead investigators need. Until now, investigators had hit a dead end--no suspects or persons of interest.

For years, many speculated Russell and Shirley Dermond's murders were a professional hit. Russell's body was found decapitated in the couple's garage. His wife's body surfaced 10 days later in Lake Oconee five miles from their home. 

"Professional killers-- they shoot someone in the head with the .22 Magnum and leave. They don't take body five miles to a lake and do an imperfect effort to conceal the body. They just don't do that," Sills said. 

Sills says he believes the couple knew their killers.

"There was no sign of forced entry. No sign of resistance," Sills said.

Sills wouldn't say what evidence they got this DNA hit on. He says releasing that information could risk potential prosecution.

He tells 13WMAZ they are determined to solve this case. Sills says this is his only unsolved murder in 29 years as Putnam County Sheriff. He says he thinks about this case every day.

Othram wouldn't talk about the Dermonds' case specifically. 

Generally, the lab say it costs law enforcement an average of $7,500 to have evidence processed at their lab. 

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