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Homicide victim, missing wife prompt need of FBI, criminal behavior specialist

As Mother's Day nears, a missing Georgia woman remains at large, with police fearing her abduction.
Putnam County Sheriff's Office

An 88-year-old Putnam county man's homicide death, as well as his missing 87-year-old wife, has resulted in the local sheriff requesting assistance from the FBI in the case, and the possible need for a criminal behavior specialist's assistance, too, according to a May 9, 2014 report from the Macon Telegraph.

An autopsy conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) has revealed that the victim died of craniocerebral trauma, but the absence of Russell Dermond's head limits the medical examiner from concluding what weapon was used to separate the victim from his body, definitively, at this time. And if the victim suffered from a gunshot wound to the head or not, before its removal.

The behavior specialist, also known as a criminal profiler, could help shed light on the confusing and mysterious case using a number of profiling techniques and tools currently available. And while the FBI is not the only law enforcement agency with with access to profilers--and it is not mandatory that a profiler work for any law enforcement agency in order to operate successfully in the field--the FBI will have more access to the investigative information gathered by the Putnam County Sheriff and his staff at this time than any outside entity not invited to prepare a criminal profile report.

However, the general public interest in this case, as well as the request for public assistance in finding Russell Dermond's missing wife Shirley, will continue to drive a public desire to better understand all aspects of this investigation, including what a profiler might be able to determine from a review of the facts thus far in the case.

Behavioral Specialist (Profiler) Techniques

According to the National Criminal Profiling Examiner Radell Smith, who holds a degree in criminal justice and behavioral forensics from the state of Georgia, the following questions will most likely be asked or considered by any profiler asked to weigh in with a profile of the suspect in this Georgia crime investigation.

Did the decapitation of Russell Dermond result as a precautionary act meant to confuse, hamper or defeat investigative or forensic efforts? If so, was it removed in order to conceal Mr. Dermond's identity or the suspect's connection to the crime? Or, as Fox News' contributor Mark Fuhrman posits on Happening Now with Jenna Lee, maybe the removal of the victim's head was because "obviously, his body left in that condition, is a message."

But Fuhrman commits the cardinal profiling sin by prefacing his comment with the word "obviously," as there is no evidence to support his theory at this point that a message was being left by taking the victim's body, necessarily. If he knows something more from the local law enforcement agency otherwise, something that would indicate some other type of message was left at the home from the criminal, which might support his comment, then he isn't saying.

For all we know the victim could have been shot in the head with a gun, for example, and the bullet could still be lodged in it, potentially implicating the shooter in the crime if it were recovered. And that could explain why the head was removed and taken.

Thus, a profiler must consider what the offender believed he would accomplish by removing the victim's head, and whether that lines up with the other case facts and forensic analysis conducted. Otherwise, it is merely conjecture, which cannot be supported, and which could derail the investigation and leave a family without justice or answers.

Other questions commonly considered in the creation of a criminal profile include the following:

  • Was the victim's body moved by those who found him?
  • Is there evidence of any type of body staging?
  • Did the witnesses impact the crime scene, and how?
  • What does the weather and climate in the crime scene location tell us about the time of death?
  • Is there any weapon on site that could have been used in the commission of the crime? If not, is there any item noticeably missing, which could hint at a crime that was unexpected (out of passion), rather than preplanned.
  • What does the lack of defensive wounds tell us about the victim? Was he drugged into compliance or unable to resist?

The most important aspect of a criminal profile; however, especially one in which there is no known suspect, is the need to conduct a thorough victimology. It has been one week since police believe Mr. Russell Dermond was killed and beheaded, and since anyone has had contact with his wife, Shirley. So minus the reappearance of the missing woman, or her body recovery, police have nothing more to go on at this point unless they conduct that thorough victimology on the couple, as even the Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills admits, "This is the most baffling case we've ever worked."

The sheriff asks anyone who may have seen Ms. Dermond, or who has any information related to this case, to please contact his office in Eatonton, Georgia at 706-485-8557.