PUTNAM COUNTY, Ga. -- At a press conference Thursday, Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills says after this week's brutal murder everyone should lock their doors.
88-year-old Russell Dermond was found beheaded at his home on Lake Oconee Tuesday. His 87-year-old wife Shirley is missing. Her purse and phone left behind. along with the couple's cars.
Sills said this is the most frustrating homicide he's handled in his career. "The only one who's not a suspect is me because I know where I was," Sherrif Sills said.
Sills says police have examined the backgrounds of family members and everyone who may have had contact with the couple over the last week, even the mailman. The Dermonds had no major health issues, no sign of any mental illness, and had been expected to go to a derby party over the weekend. When they didn't show friends gave it a couple of days and on Tuesday morning at 10 AM they went to the house and discovered Mr. Dermond's body in the garage. He had been moved a few feet and his head had been removed. Shirley Dermond was nowhere to be found.
Sills says search of the lake, a search of the grounds, the woods with cadaver dogs, and knocking on neighbors' doors has turned up nothing. The last phone contact with the couple was on Thursday and they have no leads.
The sheriff told us that the couple had been happily married for 68 years, there has been no issues of any kind of domestic problems according to the people they have interviewed. Mr. Dermond had been retired for two decades after working in the fast food industry. Sheriffs Sills says he had owned fast food franchises. He says the couple moved from Atlanta.
The FBI was called to assist when it was believed there could be an abduction. However, Sheriff Sills says there is not much hope that Mrs. Dermond will be found alive, given the circumstances.
Sills described the upscale neighborhood as practically crime free. Although there is a guard house at the main entrance to the community, there is no gate. You can access the property by driving, on foot or by boat. Sheriffs Sills doesn't think it is a random crime but then he's not ruling anything out.
The couple has three children who are still in the area and are cooperating with investigators. Two sons from Florida and a daughter from North Carolina. The last contact a family member had with the couple was on April 29.
On Wednesday, Sills said Shirley Dermond is not a suspect. The physical evidence does not suggest an 87-year-old woman could have committed the crime, he said.
"The body was moved, and I just don't think an 87-year-old lady can do it," Sills said. "She's gone, her personal effects are still at the house. The totality of what we're seeing here leaves me to believe she was abducted and not a suspect. but I'm never going to say never until I know differently."
A son of the couple, Keith Dermond, asked anyone with information on the crimes to come forward. "I would ask anybody that knows anything to please help us find our mother," Keith Dermond said. Bradley Dermond, the couple's other son, described his parents Wednesday morning to WMAZ as "salt of the Earth."
"This absolutely makes no sense at all," Bradley Dermond told 13WMAZ Wednesday morning while driving up from Florida to be briefed by law enforcement about the case. "We're still hoping that our mother is OK," he added declining further comment until he speaks with law enforcement.
Roy Dunning has lived on the same street as the Dermonds for 11 years. While he didn't know them very well, he said "they were very, very nice. ... They were quiet people ... Russell walked a lot." Dunning, who lives two doors down from the couple, said he noticed police tape on the Dermonds' home Wednesday morning. "It shocked me," he said. "Everyone is in a state of shock, especially for Shirley."
Meanwhile, the couple's pastor described them as a '"sweet couple ... unassuming ... family oriented." "We were all in shock and we really just don't know how they'd have any enemies or anybody who'd want to do anything to them," said the Rev. David Key of Oconee Lake Community Church. "They're the last couple that you would think anybody would break in and do this kind of violence to." Rev. Key said the couple had attended the church for about seven years, as recently as Easter Sunday.
According to Putnam County tax records, the Dermonds' home and property on Carolyn Drive is valued at over $1 million. It includes a boat dock on Lake Oconee. According to online records, the home is in Reynolds Plantation's Great Waters gated community, built around a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course. They purchased the land in 1994, according to tax records.
Shirley Dermond is 5'2" and weighs around 148 pounds. She has grey hair and blue eyes. Anyone who sees Shirley Dermond is asked to call the Putnam County Sheriff's Office in Eatonton at 706-485-8557.
Information from WMAZ was used in this report