New reward in lake slayings seeks someone to ‘rat out’ killer

jkovac@macon.comJune 3, 2014 

Russell Dermond and Shirley Dermond

The reward in a high-profile Putnam County homicide is every bit a plea for help, a call for answers, an incentive, and as the sheriff there not-so-delicately put it, for “some hoodlum to rat out another hoodlum.”

As the hunt for the killer of an elderly Lake Oconee couple entered its fifth week Tuesday, the mystery of who killed Shirley and Russell Dermond remains unsolved.

On Tuesday evening, with word emerging of a $30,000-and-rising reward being offered in the case, Sheriff Howard Sills, who has never used rewards to stir up suspects, said he was left with little choice.

“We’re not getting any real calls,” the sheriff said by phone. “I think it’s going to take a reward.”

The prospect for a reward was in the cards since early on in the probe, but Sills held off on making that known.

“Rewards at the outset of an investigation often become counterproductive and hinder the course of an investigation,” Sills wrote in a letter emailed to Putnam residents.

The FBI had first offered up to $20,000 for information on the whereabouts of 87-year-old Shirley Dermond, who at first was feared kidnapped. Her body was found by fishermen in Lake Oconee on May 16, about five miles by water from where she lived.

Ten days earlier, on the morning of May 6, her 88-year-old husband Russell’s headless body was found in the garage of their waterfront home on Carolyn Drive. The grisly discovery triggered a media frenzy.

The case was supremely puzzling from the start.

The Dermonds, parents of two sons and a daughter and grandparents of nine, had in midlife run a string of Atlanta-area Hardee’s restaurants. They retired to an easygoing golfing community in an out-of-the-way pocket of largely rural Putnam County.

They lived on a tree-shrouded cul-de-sac. There was a guard shack at the edge of their Great Waters neighborhood, which sprawls along the lakeshore a dozen miles northeast of Eatonton. Their back windows overlook a quiet cove.

If they wanted seclusion, they’d found it.

Exclusivity, too.

Though it has not been built on, the lot next door to them -- a three-quarter-acre tract to the west of their similarly sized plot -- is owned by former R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills.

“It’s very peaceful,” Sills said, “and idyllic in many ways. The grounds are manicured immaculately. Even the mailboxes are the same.”

That said, whatever horror that may have come calling there at 147 Carolyn Drive on the first weekend in May, when the Dermonds were slain, is anyone’s guess.

Sills, in his reward letter to locals, referred to the couple’s slaying as one that was done “in a savage manner that I simply cannot describe.”

A reward account has been opened at the Lake Oconee branch of The Peoples Bank. Contributions are welcomed, the sheriff said.

To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.

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