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Sheriff Sills on Shirley Dermond body find: 'The world doesn't need to know'

The Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) headquarters is now the temporary home to Shirley Dermond, the 87-year-old homicide victim in the Great Waters Reynolds Plantation murder case being investigated in Eatonton, Ga. by the Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills and his team of professionals. On May 16, 2014, Sheriff Sills gave a press conference on the discovery of the finding of the body of the wife of Russell J. Dermond, who, himself, was found in his garage home on May 6. He, however, had been decapitated.

The Macon Telegraph videographer Woody Marshall recorded that media conference, and below are some of the key points made at the time following two fishermen found Shirley Dermond.

According to the sheriff, at approximately 2:30 p.m. on Friday, two fishermen contacted the Putnam County Sheriff's Office (PCSO) to report that they had spotted what they thought was a body floating in Lake Oconee. PCSO Deputies, along with Sheriff Sills and an FBI agent and Department of Natural Resource (DNR) rangers responded to the scene, which was "a good five or six miles away from" the back entrance of the Dermond home.

Sheriff Sills believes the body was transported from the home to the dump site located near the dam, which he believes the GPS coordinates they took at the body retrieval site will support to be the jurisdiction of Greene County. But although Greene County Sheriff's Office and their county's coroner also responded to the body scene, along with Sheriff Sills and his men, this Georgia "Sheriff of the Year" enjoys such a good working relationship with his fellow sheriff peers, that authority over the body was given to him, aiding his investigation by limiting chain-of-custody issues and more.

In addition, due to Greene County ceding authority over the body find to Putnam County, it served to impede any effort by Shirley Dermond's murderer(s) to benefit from perceived jurisdictional warfare between law enforcement agencies within the state, or to complicate any forensic evidence obtained through chain-of-custody records and processing.

When asked about the possibility that Mrs. Dermond's body was placed in the water at her waterfront home at the time of death, Putnam's leading lawman clearly stated to one reporter that he does not believe the elderly woman's body would have floated that far on its own from the residential location.

That gives this National Criminal Profiles Examiner the impression that due to known water currents and weather conditions ascertained by investigators since her disappearance, that Shirley Wilcox Dermond was transported from her home to the 50-foot water dump site where she came to be found on Friday. And CBS News reported that the sheriff said, "That body was transported there, or at least to that vicinity."

Additionally, the Southern lawman said that "the condition of the body would have been consistent with a body being underwater until the gasses that develop within it bring it up, and consistent with the time period that we, uh, believe, that Mr. Dermond was murdered."

Another reporter wanted to know if there were signs of trauma to the body, which prompted Sills to say, "I'll be honest with you, I couldn't tell," before adding that "I didn't disturb the body, because we want the lab and the pathologist at the state crime lab to 'do their thing'," but all-in-all, "there was no 'glaring' sign of trauma," he said.

The sheriff understood that the reporter wanted to know if Shirley Dermond had been decapitated, like her husband Russell, so he provided a little more information, trying to help the reporters in attendance understand what is involved when finding a corpse in the water after a two-week disappearance.

I stress to you the body is decomposed. The effects of decomposition has some effect in keeping you from telling [if the body has suffered trauma], but, no, her head was not removed or anything glaring like that," Sheriff Howard Sills said.

Having personally watched GBI autopsy proceedings in the past, this Examiner can attest to the delicate nature of a human corpse when found due to gasses, whether the body was in the water or on land. And the less a body is handled at the time of retrieval, the better, as it can disentegrate upon touch, if not handled properly by the people experienced with body retrieval. The GBI has six crime labs around the state, but all services are performed at the lab at GBI Headquarters.

Shirley Dermond's body was transferred to the state crime lab, where it will undergo a complete forensic exam and autopsy by some of the state's finest in the field now. And "a cause of death" will be determined there, according to Sills. The question now is: Will the cause of death be due to drowning or some other means? With no obvious trauma evident on the corpse, no one can definitely say until the autopsy is complete, not even the sheriff and others who saw her.

As the press conference on Friday wound down in the Dermond couple investigation, one reporter wanted to know if Shirley Dermond's body had been weighed down with anything, to keep it from surfacing until now, possibly. Sheriff Sills refused to answer that question, pointing out that he was not going to elaborate about any other condition of the body found in this case, because "it is not prudent for me to do so, in the context of this investigation." That was the first time he responded to the question. The issue would raise its self again at the conclusion of the press information session on Friday.

That tells this Profiles Examiner that the sheriff feels that sharing such information could jeopardize his investigation and the interviewing of potential suspects at a later date, not to mention hinder him from eliminating future crack pot callers who call the PCSO and claim to know something about this crime, but do not. Many manpower hours are wasted fielding calls from those who cannot aid an investigation, and an edge is lost in interviews with potential suspects if they have access to all data about a crime, typically provided by the media.

During the press conference, Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills said that Mrs. Dermond's death was "most definitely a homicide." But after telling reporters in attendance that he saw no sign of body trauma, per se, they continued to want to know if the body had been weighed down with something, to support his murder theory rather than the woman fell into the lake, drowned and was carried down stream naturally.

The Georgia sheriff emphasized that when it comes to this case and this body find he "will not speak on the minutia of this" discovery, because "We are conducting an investigation. The world dosen't need to know every thing we do, and we don't need to jeopardize things at trial, and I'm not going into that."

And that may be why Russell and Shirley Dermond's killers will likely not walk free in this case, because a Georgia sheriff refuses to give out all important case investigation facts to their killer(s) through the media. But that isn't stopping one of the fishermen from talking, to correct some misinformation he believes has been shared. On May 17, Dennis Higgs, the Putnam County resident who found Mrs. Dermond's body at Lake Oconee, told The Eatonton Messenger the following:

Lt. Harry Luke came out 'by himself'," to the scene after 911 was called. And Higgs also said that, "He got other folks out there," once he arrived, so "those reports that DNR found the body--that's not true."

Dennis Higgs also stated that although Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills "directed me not to give any details, but I want everyone to know that I already called the FBI."