The Lake Oconee Murders: One Year Later
Sunshine, open spaces, and quiet streets. The Lake Oconee area in Putnam County seems like the perfect place to retire. That’s exactly what Russell and Shirley Dermond did more than 20 years ago.
“They were very peaceful people. They were congenial to everyone in the community,” said the Dermonds’ pastor at Lake Oconee Community Church Reverend David Key.
The Navy World War Two veteran and local bridge club player were married for more than 60 years. They had four children and led a simple life.
“They’d be the last couple you would expect something like this to happen to,” said Rev. Key.
Last year, the Dermonds RSVP’d to a Kentucky Derby Party.
“They confirmed in the neighborhood they were going, but they didn’t,” recalled Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills.
After not seeing the couple for a few days, a friend went to check on them at their Great Waters Reynolds Plantation home.
“They found Mr. Dermond’s body there. It had been decapitated,” said Sheriff Sills.
Sheriff Sills thinks the crime happened on May 3, 2014. Three days later, Russell’s body was found beheaded in their garage. Investigators never found his head.
“It was a real shock. I remember the shift of the paradigm for me thinking this doesn’t happen in America. This doesn’t happen in places like this,” recalled Rev. Key.
Investigators found Shirley’s body a week and a half later floating in Lake Oconee five miles away from their home.
“I personally recovered Mrs. Dermond’s body from the water. It had cinder blocks attached to her legs,” said Sheriff Sills.
The Dermonds lived in an exclusive gated community. People in the are say it’s a very peaceful place to live. Even now, almost a year later, they’re still talking about this case. They can’t believe such a brutal murder happened in their quiet community.
“The big question is why? I mean, why would you do this kind of thing? It’s one thing to have come and shot them, but to have done the gruesome dynamic that they did, the real question is why? What would motivate you to do that?” asked Rev. Key.
It may remain an unanswered question for Lake Oconee Community Church members. To this day, the case remains unsolved. Sheriff Sills remembers everything being in its place inside the home. There was no sign of forced entry.
“I personally believe that it was some sort of robbery or extortion. I don’t believe it’s local. I believe more than one person was involved. Whoever it was, they knew,” explained Sheriff Sills.
He often revisits the evidence he’s gathered and continues to interview people.
“We went through thousands of phone records, thousands of bank records, thousands of brokerage records. I’ve got some evidence that I’m not going to speak about,” said Sheriff Sills.
None of it is the key piece he needs. He still doesn’t know who killed the elderly couple. He does have a person of interest, but there isn’t enough evidence to label him or her as a suspect. He said one witness told him they saw a man on the Dermonds’ property the night the sheriff believes the crime happened.
“Anything we thought might yield a suspect or somebody that had a problem with the Dermonds and we’ve not yet identified anybody,” explained Sheriff Sills.
The Putnam County Sheriff’s Office hasn’t been getting any new leads to run down recently. This is devastating news to the people who knew the Dermonds.
“We’re now having to live with an unanswered question. We as human beings really have a hard time with unanswered questions and the reality is, we may have to live with this for the rest of our lives,” noted Rev. Key.
Sheriff Sills calls this one of the most trying and frustrating cases of his career, but he isn’t calling it “cold.”
“We don’t do closed and open. It’s either solved or it’s not solved,” explained Sheriff Sills.
He’s dedicated to this case and won’t stop until the killer is caught. When asked what he would like to say to the person that committed the crime, Sheriff Sills responded “you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you.”
Until that day, the Dermonds’ church friends still pray for answers.
There’s still a $55,000 reward for anyone who gives a tip that leads to an arrest and conviction of the couple’s killer or killers. If you have any information about the case, call the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office at (706) 485-8557.