Investigators: Shirley Dermond died of blunt force trauma

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PUTNAM COUNTY, Ga. - Investigators have released new details in the death of an elderly woman after her body was found floating in Lake Oconee Friday. Her husband, Russell Dermond, 88, was found decapitated at the couple’s home in Putnam County.

Shirley Dermond, 87, died of blunt force trauma to the head and was dead when she was dumped in the lake, Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She did not drown and she was not alive when she was put in the water, he said.

DNR rangers spent 11 hours Saturday scanning a three mile area where Shirley Dermond was discovered by two fisherman Friday.

"You're having to drop this thing down and then move approximately 80 feet, set it down again 80 feet to make sure you cover whole area without missing anything," said DNR Ranger Richard Tanner.

Tanner showed how a sector scan was used to scour the lake's bottom.

“This head spins so you going around spinning sending out sound waves,” Tanner said.

Putnam County sheriff deputies were on the water too searching for evidence. Tanner and his team were focused on finding Russell Dermond’s head. Tanner said while there will be decomposition, it won’t be unrecognizable.

"You're expecting to find something that looks like the remains that we are looking for,” Tanner said.

Channel 2's Richard Elliot talked to a fisherman who discovered the body.

"It became apparent as we pulled closer that it wasn't just something in the water. It was a person and I won't forget it," he said.

"I don't know how you are going through this but I hope it helps," the man said in a message to the Dermond family.

Earlier in the day, Sills told Elliot that in his 40 years in law enforcement, he's never seen a case quite like this.

“It is unusual for me at this point in the investigation, especially with this many people involved in the investigation, not to have a clear path that we are going down,” Sills said.

Sills said his investigators are almost done processing the Dermonds' house for clues. He's even questioned Mrs. Dermond's bridge club.

It's been two weeks since someone killed and then beheaded 88-year-old Russell Dermond and possibly kidnapped his 87-year-old wife Shirley.


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Sills says most killings usually involve some kind of criminal activity but that doesn't appear to be the case with the Dermonds, someone he calls an all-American couple.

“The associations that would normally be with a crime like this, much less one as bizarre as this, are not here. So that leaves us looking at everybody and everything,” Sills said.

Other than using the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab, Sills has declined to call in GBI investigators.

Elliot spoke on the phone with the Dermonds' son Keith in Jacksonville.  He didn't want to be recorded but did tell Elliot that bringing in more investigators would be a good idea.

“The more people we have looking at things, who knows? The more resources, the more people, it would be better off. I don't know why the GBI wouldn't be involved," Keith Dermond said.

Sills maintains his investigation is very thorough.

“The idea here is to find out who these people would have some sort of problem with a rather somebody had a problem with them. And you do that by literally trying to identify every human they know,” said Sills.

Anyone with information on this case is asked to contact the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office at 706-485-8557.


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