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Beyond Criminal Headlines: Mark Winne on the murders of Russell and Shirley Dermond

It was a case that captivated the country – the murders of an elderly couple in a quiet Georgia lake community eight years ago, with no apparent motive.

This week, Cox Media Group’s Nicole Bennett had the opportunity to speak with Mark Winne, an investigative reporter for WSB-TV in Atlanta, about his extensive coverage of the unsolved murders of Russell and Shirley Dermond.

>> Listen to the full episode below.

Beyond Criminal Headlines is a true crime podcast where every few weeks, host Nicole Bennett sits down with esteemed journalists from across the industry who’ve covered some of the most notorious crimes in American history. Find the latest ‘Beyond Criminal Headlines’ content on any podcast provider or listen on demand here.

On May 6, 2014, neighbors of Russell and Shirley Dermond, who lived for 15 years inside the Reynolds Great Waters gated community in Eatonton, Georgia, called 911 to report a grisly discovery.

The body of Russell Dermond was inside the garage of the couple’s 3,200-square-foot-home, slumped behind one of their cars. The 88-year-old had been decapitated and his head was nowhere to be found.

Shirley Dermond, married for 62 years to Russell, was also missing. Her body would surface some 10 days later, discovered about five miles from her home by a couple of fishermen on Lake Oconee. An autopsy later revealed that Shirley Dermond, 87, was killed by at least two blows to the head with a blunt object.

At first, the murders appeared to be the work of professionals, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports. Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills said he initially assumed the beheading was meant to send a message.

However, years later, the FBI still hasn’t found any connections to the Dermonds in any of their investigations. During a 2019 interview with The AJC, Sills said he ultimately concluded professionals would not expend the time it takes to decapitate: “They shoot you in the head and leave.”

Gun residue on Russell Dermond’s collar indicates that he was most likely shot, but the sheriff believes his head was removed because the killers knew the bullet could be traced. Eight years later, Russell Dermond’s head has yet to be found.

During a recent interview with WSB-TV News, Sills recalled the discovery of Shirley Dermond’s body on Lake Oconee: “She had been anchored, or at least attempted to have been anchored, to the bottom by two cement blocks.”

One of many questions that comes to mind is: How could someone get her body in a boat and dump it in the lake with no one seeing them? WSB-TV reports that Sheriff Sills hopes new technology will let them know who was in the area at the time.

“We have done some geotracking, and we’ve gotten back that information the FBI fitted into their software program,” Sills says. “And there’s a box I have in my office [of] people that were in the area at the time. I’m not saying that they were at the Dermond house, and we are presently working on that.”

Crime scene investigator Sheryl McCollum is also offering to help Sills get new DNA tests done on items recovered from the Dermonds’ home, which has since been sold. >> Read more here.

Nicole Bennett

Nicole Bennett

CMG Digital Content Producer

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