Crime

‘Vicious enemy’ may have killed Dermonds; Lake Oconee murders now 3 years cold

'Murder at Great Waters' Podcast, Part 1

This month marks the third anniversary of the slayings of Shirley and Russell Dermond. Their bizarre deaths shook their exclusive neighborhood at Lake Oconee and saddled investigators with a murder mystery that remains unsolved.​ ​Russ Dermond, 88
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This month marks the third anniversary of the slayings of Shirley and Russell Dermond. Their bizarre deaths shook their exclusive neighborhood at Lake Oconee and saddled investigators with a murder mystery that remains unsolved.​ ​Russ Dermond, 88

This month marks the third anniversary of the slayings of Shirley and Russell Dermond. Both in their late 80s, their bizarre and frightening deaths shook their exclusive neighborhood at Lake Oconee and saddled investigators with a murder mystery that remains unsolved.

Russ Dermond, 88, was found dead by friends who’d dropped by to check on him and his wife the morning of May 6, 2014. His headless body was lying in a pool of blood in the couple’s two-car garage.

The body of Shirley Dermond, 87, was found floating in the lake five miles by boat from her Carolyn Drive home in the posh Great Waters subdivision, which lies about a dozen miles northeast of downtown Eatonton.

In a candid, wide-ranging conversation, Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, who has led the double-homicide investigation from the outset, sat on his back porch, fired up a cigar and shared theories and told of new avenues he plans to explore in the hunt for the Dermonds’ killer — or killers. (The interview can be heard in a podcast, “Murder at Great Waters” Part One and Part Two, on Macon.com.)

At one point, Sills wonders who might have singled out the Dermonds and killed them in such grisly fashion. Russ Dermond’s head has never been found. Shirley Dermond, beaten to death, perhaps with a hammer, had 30-pound concrete blocks weighing her down when fishermen discovered her body.

Sills photo
Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills firing up a Cohiba cigar around the time of the Dermond murders’ third anniversary in 2017. Joe Kovac Jr. jkovac@macon.com

Why might someone have done such a thing?

“This crime,” the sheriff said, “screams out for an enemy — a vicious enemy.”

But who that may be is nigh impossible to fathom. No one who knew the couple has said the pair had any enemies. They were friendly and well-liked at their church, the proverbial down-to-earth couple.

The Dermonds, New Jersey natives, had lived in Georgia since the 1980s after Russ Dermond retired from a New York-area clock company to operate a chain of metro-Atlanta Hardee’s franchises. The couple moved to the lake in the early 2000s.

Sills figures their killings were “not random” and that the Dermonds were probably “targeted.”

The sheriff, speaking of the as-yet-unknown assailant and that assailant’s grisly deeds, said, “Somebody else knows they did this.”

But so far, somewhat to Sills’ chagrin — he admits not cracking the case is “somewhat embarrassing” — no one has come forward with so much as a scintilla of a promising tip.

Joe Kovac Jr.: 478-744-4397, @joekovacjr

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