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Georgia couple's killing: 88-year-old beheaded in gated community killing

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The slaying of an elderly married couple, both nearing 90 years of age, have police in Lake Oconee, Ga. baffled as to the circumstances surrounding their gruesome deaths. Russell Dermond, 88, was found beheaded in his garage last month. A few weeks later, investigators recovered the body of his 87-year-old wife, Shirley Dermond, in a lake near the couple’s home. Russell’s head has yet to be located.

A June 13 reports from The Associated Press, as carried by MSN News, reported that “the unsolved beheading of a retiree and the killing of his elderly wife has so rattled their gated, lakeside Georgia community that neighbors are casting about for even outlandish explanations. Was it a mob hit? A drug dealer? A hungry alligator?”

A month has now gone by, and police have few leads as to who killed the Dermonds. Law enforcement said that neighbors in the quiet community of Great Waters, where violent crime – any crime – is rare, are scared that they may be next. Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills says it’s likely that Russell and his wife knew their attacker(s).

“It is the prime topic of conversation around,” said Ron Bridgeman, the senior editor of local newspaper The Eatonton Messenger. “It has consumed hours and hours and hours of our time.”

Sheriff Sills said he is now taking an unprecedented step – the first time in his 18-year career – to ask that the public come forth with donations into a reward fund. Sills thinks that someone must have knowledge of the crime in the secure community, which even has a guardhouse and a 24-hour watchman.

“I've found that almost all of them will respond to enough money, and we intend to offer enough money out there to spark that mercenary side of somebody,” Sills commented.

The AP report picks up the story:

In quiet downtown Eatonton, about a dozen miles from the gated community of Great Waters where the Dermonds lived, antique shops, clothing boutiques and restaurants fill historic store fronts that have plaques outside saying what the building was originally — cotton warehouse, bank, grocery, barber shop. And people there are talking about the mystery, said Karen Bridgeman, Ron Bridgeman's wife and the newspaper's managing editor. "There are as many different theories as there are people in the county."

Some of the most common are that the Dermonds, originally from New Jersey, had organized crime ties and were victims of a mob hit or that their deaths are related to the killing of their oldest son in 2000 in a drug deal gone bad. The craziest tip authorities got was that it was likely a female alligator seeking food for her young, the sheriff said.

Sills says such speculation is bordering on nonsense. He has poured through the Dermond's lives, and found that they were a loving, churchgoing couple who paid their bills on time and never caused a problem for anyone. That makes these particular unsolved murders even harder for the veteran Sheriff to stomach.

Pastor David Key, of the Lake Oconee Community Church where the Dermonds were regulars, said the pair were only missing when they would travel out of state to visit their children. “They were just a nice, unassuming couple,” Pastor Key said.

Sills said there is no sign of forced entry into the home, and believes the assailants used a boat to dispose of Shirley’s body.

“They've done a good job concealing themselves,” he said of the killers. “We've got to do a better job of finding them.”

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