88-year-old Russell Dermond and 87-year-old Shirley Dermond had enjoyed 68 years of blissful marriage. They lived in 3,300-square-foot home in Reynolds Plantation, a gated community on the banks of Lake Ocenee, Georgia, around 80 miles southeast of Atlanta.
Russell was raised in New Jersey. He graduated from north Jersey’s Farleigh Dickinson University in three years. In the mid-1940s, he served in the Navy and went to work for General Time Corp. where he was director of information services and data processing. He had owned a number of restaurants before his retirement. Throughout his career, he was said to be a hard worker. Shirley graduated from Barnard College and was a stay at home mother, looking after the couple’s children.1
The couple were nothing out of the ordinary. They were regular churchgoers and enjoyed reading, playing golf, going to the movies, and lunching with friends. This uniformity is exactly why it was so shocking when Russell and Shirley were brutally murdered.
On the 6th of May, 2014, police received a phone call from inside Reynolds Plantation. Neighbours of Russell and Shirley had become concerned about the couple when they hadn’t seen or heard from them in several days. They had been scheduled to go to a Kentucky Derby party three days earlier and hadn’t returned any phone calls. Neighbours decided to conduct a welfare check. They entered the screened porch where Russell typically watched television; nothing appeared to be amiss and the screened porch was immaculate as usual.
However, when the neighbours decided to check out the garage, they were met by a gruesome scene. They discovered the body of Russell slumped down behind one of the couple’s cars. He had been decapitated. Investigators embarked on the scene. It was soon discovered that Russell’s decapitated head was missing and Shirley was nowhere to be found.
Now, investigators had the tedious task of not only searching for Shirley, but searching for the killer or killers as well as uncovering a potential motive. Due to the decapitation, an early theory was that the murder was somehow related to the criminal underworld; maybe somebody was attempting to send a message. However, this was ruled out early on. The murder also didn’t appear to be a robbery gone wrong. There was no sign of a forced entry and the house had not been ransacked and nothing had been stolen. “Quite candidly, this is the most baffling case we’ve ever worked,” said Punam County Sheriff Howard Sills.
Sheriff Sills announced that investigators were scrupulously examining the couple’s home for any evidence which could lead to the killer or killers or lead to Shirley. “There’s been nothing we’d consider a lead,” he said.2 They considered that whoever had murdered Russell had potentially abducted Shirley. Investigators dragged Lake Oconee and used a robot to search a particularly deep area in the lake near Reynolds Plantation. Furthermore, a number of investigators trawled through the surrounded woodland but to no avail.
On the 16th of May, Shirley’s bloated body was discovered floating on Lake Oconee by two fishermen, around five miles away from the couple’s home. An autopsy uncovered that Shirley had been killed by blunt force trauma to the head, potentially a hammer. The wounds were particularly deep indicating a frenzied and brutal attack.
The killer or killers had intended on Shirley’s body never being found. Two large cinder blocks had been tied to her body that weighed 30 pounds each. This led investigators to theorise that the killer or killers were sloppy since they were unaware that such a weight was not enough to keep a body submerged forever. “A professional killer shoots you in the head and leaves. They don’t tote a body 5 miles down the lake and run the risk of someone seeing all that,” said Sheriff Hills.
Investigators would later reveal that they believed the killer or killers had come to the Dermond home via boat. This would explain why they weren’t spotted on the security camera footage from the entrance to the gated community. Due to the lack of evidence, investigators could not determine a motive.
The search for the killer or killers focused on those who knew the Dermonds early on in the investigation. The Dermonds had three adult children – two sons who lived in Florida and a daughter who lived in North Carolina. It was quickly established that none of them were in the area – or even near the area – when the murders occurred. Investigators had even considered that maybe they had paid somebody to murder their parents but no evidence to corroborate this theory could ever be uncovered.
The brutality of the murder propelled the case to national spotlight. As the weeks ticked by with no resolution, fear began to envelope the area. “This has cast a pall over the whole area. People are not going out on the weekends like they used to. One family I know, with two small children, won’t come up here anymore,” said Claud McIver, who owned a ranch in the area.
Those who worked on the case have long speculated that at least two people were involved and Russell or Shirley must have been acquainted with one of the killers hence the lack of struggle and forced entry. They also theorise that the couple were killed elsewhere because there wasn’t much blood at the scene.
While initially they believed that robbery wasn’t a motive, some investigators have said that they speculate that the killers had been motivated by robbery and had anticipated that the couple were wealthier than they truly were. However, it should be noted that Shirley’s purse and the couple’s cell phones were left in clear view yet weren’t stolen.
Russell’s head was never retrieved and the murder was never solved. “We’ve eliminated many, many things,” said Sheriff Sills. “But as far as a suspect, we’re probably as far away as we were 3 ½ years ago…”3
I feel they were killed by someone who knew them, the real target though was Russell. Could have been someone from his past whom he either had fired or screwed out of a promotion. This person held a grudge for years and happened by chance to discover Russell retired, living the good life in Georgia…..this grudge festered over the years and the perp figured he must be dead by now but when he discovered he was not well….that old hatred was stoked again and he plotted to get revenge. Definitely a “personal” crime as evidenced by the removal of his… Read more »
Are you Bugs Bunny?
Just a THEORY pal…..no need to get snarky…..
lol it was a dumb comment on two levels, because it was porky pig who said that’s all folks
Sounds like you know a LOT more about this crime than any normal person should know … Especially your comment about decapitating the man to retrieve a bullet, when no mention of a gun was made. Also, your “theory” about a disgruntled worker having found out where they lived and that they “were living the good life” seems like much more than just idle speculation.
I think the cops should check YOU out.
Bizarre that the husband was decapitated but the wife wasn’t, and that the bodies were placed in two different locations after they were murdered.
Yes and no. It seems evident to me that the husband was the target and the wife was probably not expected to be there.
Brooke I disagree with your assessment. Older women do not drive without their husbands. I’d like to see what the FBI’s behavioural unit has to say about these Murders. Im of the opinion that the answer lies with the Dumping of the Body so far away from their home. That’s a huge risk, even if it was done under the cover of darkness. The only reason that I can think of is to cover up evidence of a sexual assault but this is highly unlikely because she’s in her late 80’s.. This is personal. I’m thinking that the Murderer didn’t… Read more »
I feel that the only way this could be solved is to determine the meaning behind the manner of the killings. I find it somewhat preposterous to think that the man’s head was removed because it had a bullet in it. A significant amount of planning and forethought went into this event. If he was, in fact, shot why not just toss the gun into the lake. And why use a weapon that could be traced to you, anyway, necessitating further action when you could simply whack him over the head and/or send him to the bottom of the lake… Read more »
I am inclined to agree with you. I don’t think they removed his head because of a bullet…..I think someone held a grudge against this guy (see my comment above).
Follow the money
they did check into that but nothing was taken and no money withdrawn from the bank….I really think this was a crime of revenge OR maybe a case of mistaken identity. Perhaps they targeted the wrong couple in the development. Lastly maybe it just was a “thrill kill”….been know to happen
They didn’t have to be robbed for it to be about money.. I’m sure they had LIFE INSURANCE..
True…..but why go to all that trouble (decapitating Russell). They checked into that….nothing
That’s what I said!!!
Y con tanta plata ¿porqué la esposa nunca se arreglo la dentadura?