FBI Raises by $20,000 Reward for Help Solving Murder of Elderly Couple Found Beheaded, Dumped in Lake

New DNA has been uncovered, representing a possible break in the case.

Putnam County Sheriff's Office
Russell and Shirley Dermond were the victims of a gruesome double homicide in 2014 that remains unsolved. Putnam County Sheriff's Office

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has upped the reward in an unsolved mystery that’s horrified Georgians for the last ten years – the grisly murder of a kindly elderly couple whose killer or killers have remained at large for the last decade.  The reward raise comes after DNA evidence was recently uncovered investigators hope could help crack the case, now that new techniques of so-called “genetic genealogy” have been solving cold cases.

Lake Oconee is a reservoir in central Georgia that Travel + Leisure has touted as “one of the most charming lake destinations in the South.” Yet it’s also haunted by the nightmarish details surrounding the murders of Shirley and Russell Dermond – an elderly couple who lived by Lake Oconee’s shores for 15 years.

On the morning of May 6, 2014, a concerned neighbor went to check on Shirley and Russell at their lakeside luxury home after the couple failed to show up at a May 3 Kentucky Derby Party. That’s when Russell’s decapitated body was discovered surrounded by towels in his garage, behind a car, with the 88 year-old’s head nowhere to be found. 

Investigators think the towels were present to prevent blood from seeping out of the garage and that Russell’s head was absconded with so as to conceal ballistic evidence, since gunshot residue was found on his collar.

The Dermonds lived in a large house in a quiet Georgia lake community. Zillow

Russell’s 87 year-old wife wasn’t found until ten days later when fishermen discovered her on the bottom of the lake with two 30-pound concrete blocks weighing her down. A resulting autopsy revealed she died from blunt-force trauma. 

The how, in this case, is deeply disturbing. Yet the who and the why are still a mystery despite a decade of investigation, extensive local publicity, and people phoning in countless tips and takes regarding what may have happened to the elderly couple. The Putnam County sheriff, Howard Sills, has previously shared there were no signs of forced entry or resistance at the crime scenes, so the murderer or murderers may have known the couple, or known how to trick them into letting them inside.

“The problem with this case,” Mr. Sills says, “is there’s no theory so far that fits it.”

Investigators believe that multiple people committed the murders and that the motive was robbery, but nothing appears to have been taken from the house.

In 2000, the Dermonds’s oldest son, Mark, was murdered while trying to buy crack cocaine at Atlanta. Detectives do not believe the murders are connected.

The Dermond home was secluded and deep in the woods. Fox 5 Atlanta

Now the FBI is adding  $20,000 to the case’s reward fund, which raises the total reward to about $25,000, though Mr. Sills says that number has the potential to double if more donors come through. Additionally, officials are hoping news coverage due to the killing’s tenth anniversary will stir up fresh tips. 

“Here’s $25,000,” Mr. Sills said to potential informants. “And there’s a possibility there’s another $30,000. And if you want to collect this, now’s the time to give us a call. Because if our DNA research pans out, we won’t need your call.”

The DNA research Mr. Sills mentions is a promising new development in the Dermond case. Over the last couple years, according to Mr. Sills, as DNA technology has rapidly improved, articles of clothing have been sent to labs in Texas and Utah as potential evidence. And, promisingly enough, one of the labs discovered DNA evidence not belonging to Shirley or Russell. 

This “DNA hit” could lead to a breakthrough if it can finally point to a suspect, but the lab is still searching for more DNA, with plans to eventually submit the DNA profile to criminal DNA databases. It’s also important to note that we don’t yet know if the DNA belongs to a suspect or if it belongs to a law enforcement officer, investigator, state crime lab technician, or anyone else involved in the case.

Putnam County Sheriff’s Office

“Unless it’s something like that, it’s probably gonna be whoever perpetrated these murders, or at least somebody who was a party to the crime,” Mr. Sills said, adding that it was a “promising” discovery.  These people committed a heinous crime, depraved act. They need to be caught…

“The public deserves whoever did this to be apprehended, prosecuted and put away where it can’t happen again.”

Law enforcement officials are hoping to use “genetic genealogy,” a highly effective process that did not exist at the time of the Dermonds’s murder. To solve cold cases, investigators and amateur, armchair detectives are taking DNA samples, plugging them into public genealogy databases such as ancestry.com or 23andme, and painstakingly identifying the source of long-unidentified DNA samples. It is hoped this process will uncover the murderers in the Dermond case.

People with any information pertaining to the death of  Russell and Shirley are encouraged to contact the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office at 770-216-3000 or the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office at 706-485-8557. If outside the country, you can also reach out to the nearest American Embassy or Consulate, or submit a tip online.


The New York Sun

© 2024 The New York Sun Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. The material on this site is protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used.

The New York Sun

Sign in or  create a free account

By continuing you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use