Investigators track new leads in Lake Oconee killings

lfabian@macon.comMay 20, 2014 


Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills conducts a press conference in the lobby of the sheriff's office Friday evening.


In the days following the discovery of Shirley Dermond’s body Friday in Lake Oconee, investigators have been homing in on the water.

But Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills said surveillance videos from around the lake might not provide the clues he needs to find the person who clobbered the 87-year-old woman in the head and identify the murder weapon, which was not a knife or gun.

Her 88-year-old husband, Russell, might have suffered a similar fatal injury, but his head has not been found.

Shortly after Russell Dermond’s decapitated body was discovered in the couple’s garage in the Great Waters community, Sills got his hands on all the surveillance images from local stores, neighboring homes and businesses on the lake.

“I’m virtually certain that it would be a miracle if any of those cameras displayed a boat’s identification number,” Sills said.

Two weeks after neighbors discovered Russell Dermond’s body May 6, a team of law enforcement officers is tracking new leads generated from interviewing more than 215 people Sunday.

Sills set up a meeting that evening to brief residents in the gated community about the status of the investigation and to dispel rumors that are complicating the case.

After Sills answered questions for about 30 minutes, it was his turn to do the asking.

With the help of the Georgia Sheriff’s Association, Sills assembled 35 sheriff’s investigators from multiple counties, including Laurens, Jones, Jasper, Morgan and Newton.

Nearly two dozen FBI investigators also joined Sills’ staff to question neighbors about the Dermonds and events leading up to their deaths.

They put together a 28-page questionnaire of everything law enforcement wanted to know about the retired couple’s habits and to elicit any other clues that could lead to a suspect.

In about three hours, the team was able to cover a lot of ground in a neighborhood of 599 parcels, Sills said.

Investigators are now combing through responses and tracking down any leads and following up with other neighbors who were not at Sunday’s meeting.

“I know who didn’t come, and I know who left early,” Sills said. “As I’ve said, everybody’s a suspect besides me, because I know where I was.”

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources called off search boats early this week, but it’s not clear whether they will resume looking for evidence if nothing else surfaces.

The sheriff said he was not going to request additional water searches.

In the meantime, Sills said the lack of strong leads does not mean investigators are not still looking.

“We’re frantically still investigating just as damn hard as we can go,” he said.

Information from The Telegraph archives was used in this report.

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