The Macabre Murders of Russell and Shirley Dermond

The Macabre Murders of Russell and Shirley Dermond

Image for postRussell and Shirley Dermond ? Source: Inside Edition

Most people assume they will lead a long, fruitful, and happy life, and they hope that their last years on earth will be golden ones. We save money for retirement, do our best to stay healthy, and try to raise our kids to be healthy and prosperous adults.

Part of the American dream is to work hard and then enjoy the fruits of your labor when you?re old.

Image for postThe Dermonds? former home in 2017 ? Source: The Telegraph

Russell and Shirley Dermond were very much enjoying the fruits of their labor in their sprawling home on Lake Oconee in Georgia when their lives were cut short in a manner so brutal that few could comprehend how anyone could want the elderly couple dead so much that they would slaughter them so heinously.

Five years later, the Dermonds? killer or killers remain a mystery.

The Good Life

Shirley married Russell Dermond, a Navy veteran, on December 15, 1950. Photos show the young, good-looking couple smiling happily on their wedding day. The future was bright for the deeply in-love couple.

Image for postRussell and Shirley Dermond on their wedding day in 1950 ? Source: 11Alive.com

The Dermonds had four children ? three sons and a daughter ? who eventually gave them nine grandchildren. Sadly, one of their sons, Mark, died in a shootout over a bum drug deal in Atlanta.

The Dermonds were a religious family who prioritized family over all else. In the summer, the grandchildren traveled to Lake Oconee to attend summer camp and visit with their grandparents.

Image for postRussell and Shirley with their four children and their grandson ? Source: 11Alive.com

Russell and Shirley had rich lives and were not content to simply retire and sit around the house. Russell was a golf enthusiast, and Shirley was an avid writer and artist, and she loved completing crossword puzzles.

In his younger years, Russell was a successful businessman who owned several Hardee?s restaurants in Atlanta until his retirement in 1994.

After Russell stepped away from work, he moved with his wife to Eatonton, Georgia, where the couple built a million-dollar home in Reynolds Plantation?s Great Waters subdivision on a wooded lot overlooking Lake Oconee.

The home was on a cul-de-sac and Russell and Shirley had total privacy to go along with their breathtaking view of the water.

Life was good. The only mistake that Russell, 88, and Shirley, 87, made was believing that their mansion was a fortress that would keep them safe until God Himself decided to call them home.

May 6, 2014

While some places in the Northeast were still dealing with cold nights and chilly days, the air was already warm and humid in Georgia. Georgians were already swimming in their backyard pools, and it wouldn?t be long until visitors swarmed Lake Oconee.

It was one of the best times of the year to visit; in a month or two, temperatures would rise even more and the humidity would be as thick as pea soup.

On the morning of May 6, 2014, a call came into Putnam County Emergency Services from a distraught and breathless woman.

?Yes, uh, I have an emergency,? the caller sputtered. ?I think I have somebody dead. Oh my God. Oh my God.?

Sheriff Howard Sills was only told that several people were dead at the Dermond?s address.

Image for postSheriff Howard Sills ? Source: WGXA

People don?t get murdered inside Great Waters. Or they didn?t, until that day. It was the sort of place where everyone knew their neighbors and residents would definitely notice an outsider or a vehicle that didn?t belong in the subdivision. The gate at the entrance of the neighborhood was intended to add another layer of safety or to at least add to the illusion of it.

Upon his arrival, Sills and police officers cleared the four-bedroom, five-bathroom home. Finding that the perpetrators were no longer inside, the investigation officially began.

Image for postSource: 13WMAZ

The house was immaculate. The only things out of place appeared to be the Dermonds? unmade bed and one of Shirley?s incomplete crossword puzzles on the kitchen table.

But in the garage lay the headless body of Russell Dermond.

Sills said:

?There was no sign of a struggle. It was obvious to me that the decapitation had been done post-mortem?if you?ve ever seen an arterial wound, it spurts blood everywhere and we didn?t have that there.?

Thank God for small favors.

Whoever killed Russell had placed towels around the pool of blood surrounding his body to prevent it from seeping under the garage door and onto the driveway. It was clear to Sills that the murderer(s) wanted to make sure the killing went unnoticed for as long as possible.

Then law enforcement discovered a third oddity in the house: Shirley was missing. And because she was missing, investigators wondered if she might be involved in her husband?s murder ? emphasis on ?involved.? No one believed an 88-year-old woman would be capable of cutting off someone?s head. However, that didn?t mean she didn?t somehow convince someone to kill her husband. Either that or she was kidnapped, investigators thought.

Russell and Shirley had a pretty reliable schedule, and they took advantage of the activities available at Great Waters. The crime might have gone unnoticed even longer had their friends not been concerned that Russell and Shirley failed to show up to a May 3 Kentucky Derby party. It wasn?t like them not to participate, and even less like them to say they?d be somewhere and not show up.

On the morning of May 4, those friends went to the Dermond home to make sure everything was OK. They?d walked around the entire 4,225-square-foot home, yelling out Russell and Shirley?s names as they searched, but it wasn?t until the husband walked the length of the garage that he discovered Russell?s headless body.

Image for postThe garage where the headless body of Russell Dermond was found ? Source: bizarreandgrotesque.com

According to Sills, the person who decapitated Russell knew what he was doing and took his time. It was a very clean cut. Testing revealed the presence of gunshot residue on Russell?s shirt, so without much else to go on, it was assumed his cause of death was a gunshot to the head. Investigators surmised that Russell?s head had been taken to prevent police from tracking the bullet.

The idea of a person being shot and decapitated is chilling enough, but with no sign of Shirley in or around the house, a cold terror filled the couple?s friends and investigators. Was she abducted? Was someone holding Shirley against her will? Was she being tortured? Was she already dead? Not knowing Shirley?s fate somehow seemed more horrifying than knowing the macabre fate that had met her husband.

Shirley?s photo immediately went out to news outlets and billboards all over the state begged anyone with information to come forward. The FBI became involved, as well as other law enforcement agencies. Cadaver dogs sniffed around for Shirley?s scent. The cove surrounding the Dermonds? dock was dredged. The most sophisticated equipment was brought in to search the depths of Lake Oconee, which has a depth of 60 feet.

Image for postThe dock where investigators believe the killer or killers entered the Dermond residence ? Source: WFAAImage for postSource: NBC News

Despite the best efforts of investigators, there was no sign of Shirley.

Then, 10 days after Russell Dermond?s body was discovered, two fishermen made a discovery of their own ? a horrific one. It was a woman?s body, floating face-down in the lake. Her ankles had been crudely tied to cement blocks. The decomposing body was bloated, causing it to float to the surface.

Image for postThe fisherman who had the misfortune of finding Shirley Dermond?s body in Lake Oconee ? Source: Scoopnest.com

The cause of death was blunt-force trauma to the head. The coroner determined she was placed in the water after her death. Shirley?s death had been brutal; the blows to her head had penetrated her skull. Whoever killed her dumped her far from her home; the body was found six miles away from the Dermond house.

The viciousness of the killings, coupled with the pristineness of the Dermond home, led investigators to believe, perhaps, that the couple had not been killed in the house.

Sills repeatedly told his people to look for fingerprints in the house, to use Luminol to find blood that had been cleaned up. They would run the full gamut and go back to the house to try again, but the evidence always eluded them.

There was no evidence of a break-in. Nothing was stolen. What in the world was the motive for the murders? Sills has a few ideas, but that?s all they are ? ideas. He thinks someone could have come to the house looking to take something the Dermonds never had ? a safe, perhaps. Or maybe they wanted something the Dermonds couldn?t access.

To this day, Sills thinks more than one person was involved in the murders, and that Russell and Shirley likely knew their killers.

A Frustrating Investigation

As far as anyone could tell, the Dermonds didn?t have an enemy in the world. They were a quiet couple and quite elderly when they died. So, with few clues to go on, investigators first looked at the surviving Dermond children, Keith, Bradley, and Leslie.

Sills said the Dermond children were nothing but cooperative. Each willingly took a polygraph test, which they passed with flying colors. Plus, Sills knew that Keith, Bradley, and Leslie were nowhere near their parents? house at the time of the murders and each had a solid alibi. Still, per protocol, they had to be investigated.

Investigators hoped to glean information from surveillance cameras posted at the entrance to Great Waters, but in a cruel twist of fate, an electrical storm had knocked them out before the murders.

Image for postLaw enforcement monitors the security gate at the Great Waters subdivision ? Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

It seemed increasingly likely that whoever killed Russell and Shirley Dermond used a boat to pull up to the couple?s private dock. They?d sold their boat a few years before the murders, but the dock remained. It was the best explanation for how someone was able to access their property undetected.

Theories

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

What if the murders were nothing more than a thrill kill? The thought keeps Great Waters residents awake at night, even now. Anything is possible, of course ? even the possibility of a serial killer who saw an opportunity and pounced on it. That theory, however, is the least likely scenario, according to investigators.

Did someone ring the Dermonds? doorbell and then push past whoever answered the door? It might explain why everything inside the house was in its rightful place and there was no sign of a struggle.

Somebody Wanted Something the Dermonds Didn?t Have

Image for postSource: 11Alive

Investigators have focused much of their attention on Russell and Shirley Dermond?s wealth. Before Russell owned 19 Hardees franchises in Atlanta, he had been an executive for a clock manufacturer in New York. When they died, Russell and Shirley had a net worth of about $1.5 million. They lived comfortably and had plenty of ?toys? to show for it, but they weren?t obscenely rich, and they didn?t go out of their way to flaunt their wealth.

They didn?t keep valuable art or hoards of cash in their home, but that doesn?t mean someone didn?t assume they kept such things in the house. It?s possible the Dermonds came home or woke up and disrupted a burglary. The killer or killers threatened the couple with extreme violence if they didn?t cough up what they wanted, and upon realizing no such loot existed, they killed the Dermonds in a rage. That?s what Sills thinks, anyway.

?I still think it was some sort of extortion, robbery of some sort that the Dermonds didn?t have or didn?t have access to something that somebody wanted. I still believe there?s more than one perpetrator involved. I still believe that Shirley Dermond wasn?t murdered here at (their) house. But most importantly, I still believe that somebody knows about this, and they need to tell us.?

One thing seems pretty obvious: This crime was up-close and personal.

A Grudge

Image for postSource: YourTango.com

It seems like whoever killed Russell and Shirley was severely pissed off. Maybe the killer or killers were angry about something much more personal than a lack of stealable items in the house. Maybe someone had held a grudge against the Dermonds for a long time and finally had the chance to act on their hatred and anger.

Everyone who knew Russell said he was a stand-up guy ? not someone to circumvent the law or defraud others. No one could think of any unpaid debt he may have had, or of any shady past business dealings, but that doesn?t mean those things weren?t hiding in the shadows. Still, if that were the case, surely investigators would have uncovered them by now.

Some wonder if Mark Dermond?s involvement in drugs played a role in his parents? deaths. But Mark was merely a drug user, the lowest man on the totem pole. Sills and his colleagues don?t believe this past tragedy in Russell and Shirley?s lives had anything to do with their murder. Besides, Mark?s killer is still behind bars.

A Mafia Hit

If Russell and Shirley Dermond weren?t murdered over money or a personal grudge, then why would someone go to such great lengths to:

  1. take the couple from their home,
  2. kill them elsewhere,
  3. dump Shirley?s body miles from the Dermond home,
  4. and either take or dump Russell?s head?

That?s just?a lot of work for a random killer. It?s not beyond the realm of possibility, obviously. Look at Jeffrey Dahmer. His crimes weren?t quick and simple!

Another theory ? one that Sills doesn?t put much faith in ? is that Russell had mafia dealings when the Dermonds were still living in Atlanta, and for whatever reason, the mob put out a hit on the couple. Perhaps they only put out a hit on Russell, and Shirley was considered collateral damage.

In a twist on this theory, some speculate their deaths might have been a hit by a drug cartel.

Both versions of the ?hit? theory are based on the fact that Russell was beheaded and his head was never found. Sometimes victims are beheaded as ?proof of death? to show someone that the dirty deed has been done.

Sills doesn?t buy it, and there?s not much to go on, but there?s nothing to say it didn?t happen that way.

Somebody Wanted to Send a Message

It?s hard to imagine that the killings were someone?s way of sending a message. If that was the goal, then the killer(s) did a piss poor job, unless investigators just haven?t figured out the message?s intended recipient. Without knowing the recipient, how could they know the message?

As I mentioned, investigators did look at Mark Dermond?s past for any possible connection but found none. In fact, Russell and Shirley weren?t particularly close to their son when he was killed. The drug cartel theory ? pardon the pun ? is dead in the water.

A Case Gone Ice Cold

Only one witness has come forward in the case. In 2015, someone reported to the police that he saw a man on the Dermonds? lawn around the time of the murders.

The man became a person of interest in the case because some of his answers to investigators? questions were inconsistent, but so far nothing has come of it.

There are no fingerprints, no DNA, no suspects, and no known motive. Sills and investigators don?t even have a crime scene. The FBI provided the sheriff?s office with a profile of the killer, but it didn?t provide Sills with any information he didn?t already figure out on his own.

Whenever news of someone discovering a decapitated head reaches Sills, he gathers dental records and hopes for a match. So far, no luck.

Theories

Let?s take a look at a few of the theories posed by online sleuths, as well as the media. Keep in mind, a lot of the theories posed by online sleuths have no basis in fact or evidence. I?ve excluded the theories that are really ?out there.?

GamblingThe crime was discovered when friends of the Dermonds came to their house to find out why they had missed a scheduled Kentucky Derby party. Also, on the morning of the party, Russell was seen at the bank doing something with his insurance policy. One Redditor suggested perhaps there had been some bets placed on the race and that might have had something to do with the murders.

There are a few problems with that theory. First, Russell and Shirley were deeply religious people and they likely didn?t believe in gambling. I know not all Christians share the same feelings about gambling, however, I don?t know how the Dermonds felt about it. I can?t help but think that any gambling that took place in a community of retired people wasn?t significant enough to murder someone over. Then again, I?m not a millionaire, so what do I know?

It?s unlikely that anyone living in Great Waters would have had the strength to move bodies around or cut someone?s head off. They could have had help, but it?s still difficult to imagine an elderly couple betting so much money on a friendly Kentucky Derby party that they paid for it with their lives. Especially since they weren?t flashy and didn?t like to throw their wealth around.

The Tire Slasher

Image for postRyan Oliver Glenn ? Source: The Telegraph

In September 2015, police arrested a man named Ryan Oliver Glenn who was carrying a ?big knife? after he walked around Great Waters, puncturing tires on nearly two dozen cars in the subdivision in the middle of the night. Glenn, 34, had been living with his father in the neighborhood.

The man was charged with multiple counts of criminal damage, terroristic threats, and obstruction.

When deputies arrived at the scene, Glenn tossed the knife, which had a 10-inch blade, and had to be tackled by a deputy on a golf fairway.

Before that arrest, Glenn had done time twice since 2011 for battery and aggravated assault, among other crimes.

Sills said at the time that Glenn?s background would be investigated, but he doubted the man was in any way connected with the Dermond murders.

It?s important to note, however, that Glenn was not in prison at the time Russell and Shirley were killed.

Sills said of Glenn:

?He?s got prior incidents with knives. He?s a knife guy, but he?s a nutjob. His daddy says he?s insane, but he?s never been adjudicated as unfit to stand trial.?

Now, investigators believe Russell died from a gunshot wound and they know that Shirley died from blunt force trauma to the head, but a knife with a 10-inch blade would come in handy for cutting someone?s head off.

Nothing else has been said about Glenn since the arrest, so it appears that investigators could not link him to the murders. But it makes you wonder if maybe the crimes were random ones, carried out by a psychopath with no real motive to speak of.

Potential Link to a Similar Case in New York

On November 9, 2005, Lois Colley, 83, was found bludgeoned to death in the laundry room of her home in North Salem, New York. She was married to Eugene Colley, a McDonald?s franchisee worth $100 million. Investigators believe the murder weapon was a fire extinguisher that was missing from the house.

Image for postLois and Eugene Colley ? Source: Daily Mail

Like the Dermond case, investigators were left with no suspects and no motive.

Both cases shared a few eerie similarities: both couples were wealthy, there was no sign of forced entry, and both couples lived in gated communities. Nothing was taken from either home, despite there being plenty of valuables to grab. Perhaps the most shocking similarity was that both husbands were fast-food franchisees.

Additionally, before his drug-related shooting death, Mark Dermond was arrested in Nassau County, NY, in the 1980s, just 50 miles from the Colley murder. For that reason, investigators looked into whether the suspect in the Colley case was in Georgia at the time of the Dermond murders.

However, despite the crimes? similarities, finding a link was a longshot, and investigators said they were ?likely unconnected.?

In the end, a former day laborer of the Colleys? was arrested for Lois? murder. In 2016, Esdras Marroquin Gomez, 34, pleaded guilty to the crime. The motive for the murder stemmed from a dispute with the Colley family starting in 2012.

Image for postEsdras Marroquin Gomez ? Source: The New York Times

It seems the similarities were just that ? similarities.

My Theory

I?m not an investigator, I?m just a writer. These are my opinions and my opinions only.

I think the Dermonds knew their killer. I think someone did try to extort them or came to the house to steal something they didn?t have. I think back to the Cheshire Murders (another case I covered here earlier in 2019), and how Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky broke into the Petit family home in the hopes of finding a safe full of cash and other valuables, only to find that neither existed. So, they waited until morning to force Mrs. Petit to drive to the bank to withdraw money.

I believe something similar happened to Russell and Shirley Dermond, but driving one or both of them to the bank was too difficult a task. No matter which route the chose ? car or boat? there was no way for them to go unnoticed.

I think Russell was the target, and poor Shirley was just collateral damage. She had seen too much, so she had to go.

I don?t buy into the random/serial killer theories. It just sounds a bit ridiculous to me, but there?s nothing logical about people like that, so the possibility can?t be completely ignored. To be fair, just about everything a serial killer does sounds ridiculous to me.

In any case, someone out there knows what happened, and since killers are terrible at keeping their misdeeds to themselves, there are probably multiple people who know what happened.

Nobody deserves to die in the horrific manner that Russell and Shirley did, and nobody deserves to walk free after committing such an atrocious crime.

If you have a theory about what happened to the Dermonds, I would love to hear it.

Sources:

  • Inside Edition
  • The Telegraph
  • Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  • The Telegraph
  • Daily Mail
  • Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  • The New York Times
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