GONE COLD | A lake with no leads: Who killed the Dermonds?
Author: Jessica Noll
Published: 7:02 PM EDT May 9, 2018
Updated: 2:47 PM EDT May 31, 2018
GONE-COLD 9 Articles
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GONE COLD | A lake with no leads: Who killed the Dermonds?

GONE-COLD
Chapter 1

A lake with no leads

EATONTON, Ga. – Russell and Shirley Dermond are names that evoke unwelcome shivers and spark memories forever etched into the hearts of, not only their family, but a sheriff, investigators and an entire community.

Russell, 88, was found decapitated inside his garage on May 6, 2014. Two fishermen discovered his wife, 87-year-old Shirley’s body 10 days later in the lake near a dam, nearly five miles from their lakefront home in Eatonton, Ga.

Their case is a mystery that has gone as “cold as ice,” said chief investigator and Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills. And the killer, or killers, have eluded his capture ever since—a first in his four-decades long career.

Each year, new white pear blossoms usher in spring, Kentucky Derby parties commence each May and Lake Oconee welcomes new visitors with its glistening, sun-kissed water—time has moved on for the rural Georgia county.

But four years later, the Dermond family has not moved on and can’t until justice is served for their parents.

For Sills, it’s not just case No. 21402948—it’s personal. He won’t give up finding who committed what he calls “heinous” and “unjustified” murders on his lake.

And he vows one thing.

“I’m going to catch these sons of bitches.”

Chapter 2

Putnam County holds a secret

Driving through the Oconee National Forest, where the bright orange Georgia clay spills onto the road and weeping lavender trees blow with each car’s passing, a welcome sign on GA-129 signifies you’re entering “Georgia’s Lake Country.”

In fact, the county is home to nearly 60 miles of water with Lake Oconee and Lake Sinclair combined.

The couple moved to Eatonton, Ga., and built their million-dollar Reynolds Plantation's Great Waters home in a cul-de-sac, overlooking Lake Oconee. It was wooded and very private. (Jessica Noll / WXIA)
The couple moved to Eatonton, Ga., and built their million-dollar Reynolds Plantation's Great Waters home in a cul-de-sac, overlooking Lake Oconee. It was wooded and very private. (Jessica Noll / WXIA)

Eatonton, the county seat, is situated about 80 miles southeast of the hustle and bustle of Atlanta. It boasts retirement communities, lakefront properties and professional-grade golf courses.

Along the way, handmade, white-painted signs entice visitors to stop by a roadside stand and grab some local favorites: pecans, peaches and boiled peanuts.

Heading into Eatonton, a flurry of farms, churches and historic Victorian homes line the streets leading into the downtown district. It’s home to the Uncle Remus Museum and Antebellum Trail, as well as several antique stores.

Established in 1808, the small town exudes southern charm stemming from its Georgia writers’ museum, country-themed boutiques and cafés, and the local Piggly Wiggly.

Considered the dairy capital of Georgia, complete with an annual Dairy Festival to celebrate its cash crop, Putnam County was founded in 1807. Situated between Atlanta, Macon and Athens, the rural county has a population of 21,353, as of 2015—but during the summertime, that number more than doubles as vacationers make their way to their part-time homes.

And, it’s that countryside backdrop that served as a love story setting during the Dermonds’ golden years, until tragedy blew through their lakeside community, leaving the picture-perfect vacation hub synonymous with murder.

Chapter 3

A love story: Building a future and a family

On Dec. 15, 1950, Russell, a Navy veteran, tied the knot to his bride, Shirley, who wore a satin and lace-collar, long-sleeved dress and carried a large bouquet of yellow flowers, tied together with an oversized white ribbon.

Together, they grew a family—first in New Jersey, and then in Georgia, complete with three sons and a daughter—and eventually, they would dote on nine grandchildren as well.

“Both her and dad, total family people. Their favorite time was to spend time with the family and grandkids,” Brad Dermond said about his parents, who were both only children, themselves.

In fact, the grandchildren would go to Lake Oconee for summer camp and spend time with Shirley and Russell every year.

The Dermonds  moved to Eatonton, Ga., and built their million-dollar Reynolds Plantation's Great Waters home in a cul-de-sac, overlooking Lake Oconee. It was wooded and very private.  (Jessica Noll / WXIA)
The Dermonds moved to Eatonton, Ga., and built their million-dollar Reynolds Plantation's Great Waters home in a cul-de-sac, overlooking Lake Oconee. It was wooded and very private. (Jessica Noll / WXIA)

Now, their daughter, Leslie Dermond Patton, 51, lives in Ashville, N.C., sons, Brad Dermond, 55, lives in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., and Keith Dermond, 59, lives in Jacksonville, Fla.

“[They were] just the most wonderful people you’d ever want to meet,” Brad gushed.

Both were very religious, and Shirley was an avid writer, artist and crossword puzzle enthusiast. Russell was a thoughtful businessman, disciplinarian and Brad’s favorite golfing partner.

While the family shared fond memories together over the years, like weddings, dinners and birthdays, they also endured tremendous heartbreak.

In 2000, their son, Mark Dermond, was shot and killed during a drug deal gone bad in Atlanta on his 47th birthday.

Married nearly 64 years, the couple did everything together—including taking their last breaths.

Chapter 4

Mystery in the cul-de-sac

Amidst the miles and miles of white fencing, makeshift signs for peaches, raw honey, boiled peanuts, Vidalia onions and sweet tea call out from the country roadside on the way to the Dermonds’ lakefront house.

Built around a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, the lakeside gated community is chock full of cookie-cutter homes. Driving deeper into the neighborhood leads to a scenic view of Lake Oconee and a secure and very private, by design, home at 147 Carolyn Dr.

Tucked into the thick woods at the cul-de-sac, sits the million-dollar home the couple shared after retiring in 1994 from Roswell, Ga., where they owned several Hardee's franchises throughout the southeast.

Vacation homeowners will soon join them, but for now, the water on Lake Oconee and the Reynolds Plantation’s Great Waters neighborhood are quiet and still.

It’s Thursday, May 1, 2014.

Russell puts on his sunglasses, opens the garage door and backs out of his driveway, and makes his way in to town to run some quick errands before dinner.

At 2:15 p.m., Russell pulls his car up to the drive-thru window at the Lake Oconee branch of the Peoples Bank and transfers money for an upcoming insurance expense.

At 2:26 p.m., the elderly man, wearing dark glasses, khaki shorts, a green polo shirt and dark gym shoes, walks into Publix, pushing a grocery cart.

His first stop is the pharmacy counter, where he picks up a prescription for Shirley, for her upcoming cataract surgery.

While he’s there, he picks up a loaf of bread and a few cucumbers as well.

He arrives home and chats on the phone with Brad.

Like most days, the father and son casually chat about their day.

At 4:30 p.m., the couple’s mail is delivered.

Then, something bone-chilling happens between that moment and Tuesday, May 6, 2014.

On Saturday, May 3, 2014, just before 6:30 p.m., California Chrome crosses the finish line in the muddy, rain-soaked 140th “Run for the Roses” in Louisville, Ky.

However, the Dermonds are no-shows to their local Kentucky Derby party.

Growing concerned, a neighbor and friend checks on them on Tuesday, May 6 at 9:58 a.m.

It’s a warm spring morning at 76 degrees, when Margaret “Peggy” Winn, 72, and her husband approach the screened porch. An unclaimed newspaper remains in the driveway.

She walks up the few steps, nestled between two green bushes, and enters the Dermonds’ white-trimmed tan home through an unlocked door.

The Dermonds  moved to Eatonton, Ga., and built their million-dollar Reynolds Plantation's Great Waters home in a cul-de-sac, overlooking Lake Oconee. It was wooded and very private.  (Jessica Noll / WXIA)
The Dermonds moved to Eatonton, Ga., and built their million-dollar Reynolds Plantation's Great Waters home in a cul-de-sac, overlooking Lake Oconee. It was wooded and very private. (Jessica Noll / WXIA)

They carefully make their way through the home, but there’s no sign of the Dermonds. When she reaches the garage, she sees a body.

Horrified, she frantically calls 911.

Putnam County 911: Putnam County 911

Peggy Winn: Yes, hello... I have an emergency. I think I have somebody dead.

Winn says breathing heavily on the other line.

Putnam County 911: OK, what's the address, ma'am.

Peggy Winn: We're in Great Waters...

Putnam County 911: ls it 147 Carolyn Drive?

Peggy Winn: Yes, 147 Carolyn Drive.

Putnam County 911: OK... who is it?

Peggy Winn: The Dermonds.

Putnam County 911: OK, and you're a neighbor or something?

Peggy Winn: Yes, yes. I just came to check on them. They've been missing for about four days.

Putnam County 911: Are they in the house?

Peggy Winn: Yes, yes.

Putnam County 911: What's your name, ma'am?

Peggy Winn: I'm Peggy Winn.

Putnam County 911: OK.

Peggy Winn: Oh my God... Oh my God... uh...

Putnam County 911: They're both dead?

Putnam County 911: Did you find both of them?

Peggy Winn: No, it's just one. I don't know where the other one is.

Putnam County 911: Alright, I'll get you a deputy and ambulance over there just in case, OK?

Peggy Winn: Yes, please. Thank you so much.

Dispatch calls over the radio to request police to the Dermonds’ home. Deputies Darrell Turk and Barak Wood respond.

“147 Carolyn Drive... I got one dead, one lady dead at the house. They don't know if it's a murder.”

Officer: Give me the address...

Disptach: 1-4-7 Carloyn Drive -- 1-4-7 Carloyn Drive -- Great Waters

Officer: 151

Dispatch: 151, I need you en route to 1-4-7 Carloyn Drive -- 1-4-7 Carloyn Drive. Have a medic en route.

“I've got one dead right now... possibly a second dead in the house. Don't know if it's natural or not. It's out of Great Waters and the neighbor is frantic.”

Officer: OK... alrighty. They were hollering about a dead body and that's all I got.

Dispatch: Yeah, possibly we've got two. And the way the woman was screaming, don't know if it's natural.

Before arriving, police believe that they may have a suicide on their hands.

“147 Carolyn Drive, 1-4-7 Carolyn Drive, possible 10-109.”

Turk and Wood arrive at the house at 10:09 a.m., followed by Chief Deputy Russell Blenk, Lt. John Murphey and Sheriff Sills.

As they pull up to the idyllic retirement home, the black metal mailbox greets them with two small American flags perched on top of a tan pole. The name “Dermond” is on the mailbox, in large, white block letters just under “147.”

They’re in the right spot.

They pull into the driveway and approach the white, two-car garage.

At 10:15 a.m., Sills briefly searches the home until he finds the decapitated body on the garage floor, placed behind and between a nude Lincoln and a light blue Lexus SUV.

Russell’s faded red T-shirt is slightly raised, exposing from his belly button down to the waistband to his blue-and-white, vertically striped boxer shorts, which are drenched in blood—now dried.

His headless body is positioned on top of his bunched-up robe.

Several different colored towels line the garage door, meeting where the door closes—next to the left side of Russell’s body and above, where his head once was. There is a large pool of blood and bodily fluids at the top of his body. Police use bright yellow numbered markers to identify each piece of grisly evidence.

To the right side of his body are more towels, seemingly used to soak up the excess blood from his extensive injuries and wipe up the evidence—only spreading the blood around.

Just behind the Lincoln, Sills finds a blood spot on the garage floor as if something round had been placed there.

Russell’s bare feet are blotchy with blood stains, after leaving a dull red trail, smeared from the door to his body.

His torso and arms in line with the back of the SUV. His brown, LL Bean loafer-style slippers are haphazardly tossed to the side of his body.

His hands are bruised and bloody.

Upon further inspection, Sills notices something peculiar about Russell’s finger.

His left index finger has a severe gash. Tangled within his wound’s blood, Sills finds strands of Shirley’s sandy blonde hair—giving him a clue into what may have happened during the struggle between him and his killer and his wife's assailant.

Sills determines, based on information obtained from Russell’s driver’s license, i.e. height, weight, that the body belongs to him—5'5, 175 lbs. The 88-year-old’s gray hair and brown eyes, however, cannot be confirmed.

Inside, he finds that no one else is home.

Sills walks the home paying close attention to detail and anything that might be disturbed. He can find no signs of forced entry or indications of a struggle in the home. Nothing is out of place—jewelry and medications are seemingly as the Dermonds had left them.

In the kitchen, the prescription Russell picked up on Thursday is on the counter, next to several framed photos of grandchildren and a small vase with a single pink flower.

A laptop sits open on the dining room table and a pair of glasses are inside an open case.

Shirley’s unfinished crossword puzzle is on the table folded over with pencil on top.

Next to a thank-you card from one of the grandchildren is a calendar sitting next to the phone. Her upcoming cataract surgery is notated.

A jewelry bag is undisturbed with gray-beaded necklace set on top, adjacent to a Netflix movie rental return on the counter.

For such a gruesome scene in the garage, Sills notices that the inside of the house is immaculate.

Inside the couple’s bedroom, Sills sees clothes on a chair and shoes placed underneath. A pair of khaki shorts, a green polo shirt and dark gym shoes are also in the bedroom.

The bed is unmade; the comforter pulled down over bench at the end of the bed and throw pillows are tossed on the floor.

The dresser glistens from a recent dusting, and holds a cell phone and a framed wedding photo.

Shirley’s slippers are placed in the master bathroom underneath a pink ottoman. On her vanity is two black purses, cash, perfume, makeup and brushes.

Outside, Sills summons Lt. Luke to the scene via the county’s patrol boat and has him search the lake adjacent to the home’s dock with drag hooks. Likewise, Sills sends Murphy and his dog into the adjoining woods to search further.

Nothing.

Russell’s head and his wife are nowhere to be found.

The FBI offers a $20,000 reward for Shirley after Sills reports her as missing. Soon thereafter, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) rangers launch a specially equipped pontoon boat to search Lake Oconee.

Chapter 5

What happened on Lake Oconee?

Sills calls Leslie Patton, the couple’s daughter to brief her on the situation regarding her parents.

The GBI state crime lab performs an autopsy on Russell’s mildly decomposing body on Thursday, May 8, 2014. Dr. Sandra Thomas determines that his cause of death is craniocerebral trauma due to a single clean cut that “transected the cervical vertebral body.”

The manner of death is homicide.

A positive identification is made by his fingerprints, which were on file with the U.S. Navy from his time served.

Russell Dermond Autopsy Report | May 8, 2014

Eight days later, a second ghastly discovery is made just five miles from the Dermonds’ home.

On Friday, May 16, 2014, Dennis Higgs, 53, of Eatonton, and Ronald Serrao, 65, are leisurely fishing on Lake Oconee, near the Greene County shore.

It’s a cool 58 degrees at 2:24 p.m.

Inside a group of standing timber, not far from the Wallace Dam, they spot something in the water. They think it might be a buoy.

But then, as they get closer and approach the object, they catch a glimpse of a disturbing sight.

It’s a body.

Higgs calls 911.

“Yes, ma'am. We just come out, left our house to go fishin' near Long Shoal boat ramp and we went down towards the dam, Rock Island and that way, and just before you get to Rock Island, on the left there, I seen... what appears to be—we can't get close enough to it, and I don't want to get close enough to it—but it appears like a body floating in the water against the tree over here.”

Lt. Luke responds to the scene via the patrol boat. He locates the severely bloated, badly decomposed, gray-tinted body.

Sills, along with Sgt. Bob Rogers and FBI Supervisory Special Agent Carlton Peeples, head to the scene on a DNR boat—driven by Ranger David Allen.

At 3 p.m., the rescue crew retrieves the white, female body from the water. They hoist her into the boat and onto a large blue tarp.

She has two red cinder blocks tied around both of her ankles and over her white socks with a parachute cord, in an effort to weigh her down in the water. The cement blocks are inside a blueish-gray mesh bag, a tad larger than a laundry bag.

She’s donning Army-green Capri pants with soggy tissues in her pocket, a water-stained, brown and tan floral, short-sleeved shirt, and laced, size 8, white Easy Spirit shoes with orthopedic inserts.

Her appearance is consistent with the missing 5’2" grandmother everyone has been searching for, for the past two weeks.

Dr. Jonathan Eisenstat performs an autopsy on Shirley on May 17, 2014 at 9 a.m., and she is positively identified by dental records.

Eisenstat surmises that Shirley’s skull was fractured and as a result caused hemorrhaging in her brain. Her injuries were made with a circular weapon, such as a hammer. She was struck at least twice.

Therefore, Eisenstate finds her cause of death is blunt impact injury of the head.

Her manner of death is homicide (assaulted by others.)

Shirley Dermond Autopsy Report | May 17, 2014

►FLASHBACK: Sheriff: Beheading is most frustrating homicide in his career

Chapter 6

Inside the investigation, a sheriff’s frustration

Once a detective always a detective. But, for Sills, this is first.

A cold case.

In fact, of the 14 murders in his county over his 21 years as sheriff, 12 have been solved. Only two—the Dermonds—remain.

His motto has always been, we "better have something before the blood dries," Sills recites in a thick southern drawl through his snow-white mustache.

But all clues have dried up and for the first time in his 44 years in law enforcement, and he’s at a stalemate.

Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills has never had a cold case in his files... until now. (Jessica Noll / WXIA)
Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills has never had a cold case in his files... until now. (Jessica Noll / WXIA)

Just down the road from a roadside produce stand featuring raw honey as a delicacy, is the Sheriff's Office and jail. Black and white deputy cruisers are lined up in single-file rows next to the red brick building.

Just before entering the double doors, a daunting silver Sheriff’s Department star can’t help but greet its visitors.

A faded “REWARD” flyer is pinned to bulletin board straight ahead, featuring a color photo of the couple—donning pearls, a suit and tie and smiles—and offering $45,000 for information directly leading to the arrest and prosecution of the murderer(s).

A door at the end of the hallway, is a canvas for a Scotch-taped an election flyer with a black and white headshot of a younger Sills.

ELECT HOWARD SILLS, SHERIFF, PUTNAM COUNTY – EXPERIENCE, EDUCATION, INTEGRITY– “Professional Law Enforcement for Putnam.”

Someone has penned RE- and ED on both sides of the word “ELECT.”

Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills has never had a cold case in his files... until now. (Jessica Noll / WXIA)
Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills has never had a cold case in his files... until now. (Jessica Noll / WXIA)

Just above, a meme, also taped to the door, states, “CRIMINALS BEWARE!”

It’s a daily reminder of Sills’ duty to the county each day.

His walls are covered in framed memories of hard-fought arrests and “Sheriff of the Year” plaques. Below, his office floor is cluttered by stacks of white cardboard boxes labeled, “Dermond.”

Piles of paperwork from those boxes are chaotically strewn across his sturdy wooden desk—all within reach at a moment’s notice in case a new tip comes in to solve the case.

Hundreds have been interviewed.

Everyone has been cleared.

There are no suspects.

There is no clear motive.

“I go to sleep every night thinking about this case…and I wake up every morning thinking about this case," Sills said in 2014. "And I'm not exaggerating at all.”

Four years later, not much has changed.

Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills has never had a cold case in his files... until now. (Jessica Noll / WXIA)
Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills has never had a cold case in his files... until now. (Jessica Noll / WXIA)

Sills holds the phone to his ear, which meets his fading blonde, turned-white hair. His large blue eyes peer above his thin, round glasses to look over some notes.

His exclusive gold star badge is clipped to his jacket's handkerchief pocket.

Donning a gray suit and maroon, patterned tie, with freshly polished, black cowboy boots, the sheriff swivels to the desk behind him in his squeaky, black chair.

He slides open the top draw and grabs his gun for his holster, before heading out the door to again drive past the house and community where the Dermonds once lived.

It’s noon when he leaves the confines of his office in his black Suburban.

After a quick pit stop at the local post office, he heads to a rustic, roadside BBQ joint for a quick lunch.

Just outside Old South BAR*BE*QUE, where they boast, “We’re smoking the good stuff,” everyone greets Sills with, “Hello, sheriff!”

He has a few hearty laughs with his constituents and then heads inside.

The place is a dive, but the undeniable aroma wafts from the kitchen where fresh pork skins, baby back ribs and pulled pork sandwiches are made, and served with Brunswick stew, a side of coleslaw and a heaping dish of warm, homemade peach cobbler.

After lunch, the sheriff pulls into the gated community, where the security guard on duty insists he shows his badge before lifting the lever for entrance.

Sills makes a snide remark about it not being so secure when the Dermonds were here.

One piece of the puzzle he will never have is the security video from the gated community.

The community’s security cameras were running at the time that the Dermonds were killed, however due to a storm a few weeks earlier, they were not recording.

As he drives around the shaded cul-de-sac, he remembers that 2014 day when the mailbox had a different last name.

And he remembers that this isn’t over.

“The killers are still out there,” he said.

The crime.

Since the coroner did not find any evidence of trauma to Russell’s body that could cause his death, and with a lack of evidence at the scene, Sills is confident that the decapitation occurred after Russell was already deceased.

And since his shirt contained gunshot residue, his death was likely caused, Sills surmised, by a gunshot wound to the head. Further, he believes that Dermond was decapitated after he was murdered in an attempt to hide evidence, such as a gunshot wound and bullet.

Both murders were likely committed at another site other than their home—and that it was not a random crime, Sills said.

“Mrs. Dermond, the injuries she sustained, almost certainly should have left some physical evidence that wasn’t present at the home. So, she might not have been murdered there. Or neither he. All we know is Mr. Dermond’s head was removed there. There’s physical evidence of that,” he said.

“And there really isn’t physical evidence of anything more than that at this home and obviously she was found some five miles to six miles away, and had been disposed of by boat. It literally could have happened on a boat. It could have happened anywhere, but somewhere in the vicinity of that.”

Sills described the upscale neighborhood as practically crime-free, but with easy access by car, foot or by boat.

Although there is a guard house at the main entrance to the community, there is no gate keeping visitors from approaching the community from the lake.

Based on his investigation, Sills has narrowed the time-frame of the crime to somewhere between 4:30 p.m., on Friday, May 2—when the mail was delivered—to 4 p.m., on Saturday, May 3, when the couple did not show up for the party.

In May 2015, it came out that a mystery man was spotted on the Dermonds’ property around the time of their murders.

Sills interviewed him, but no arrest was made.

He’s confident that there is more than one assailant he is hunting.

“There’s no way one person did this. I’m not going to say it’s absolutely physically impossible, but it’s highly unlikely,” he said.

The couple moved to Eatonton, Ga., and built their million-dollar Reynolds Plantation's Great Waters home in a cul-de-sac, overlooking Lake Oconee. It was wooded and very private. (Jessica Noll / WXIA)
The couple moved to Eatonton, Ga., and built their million-dollar Reynolds Plantation's Great Waters home in a cul-de-sac, overlooking Lake Oconee. It was wooded and very private. (Jessica Noll / WXIA)

The motive.

There have been several theories—a New Jersey mob, a drug dealer seeking revenge, a family member—but nothing ever panned out, mainly because there is no glaring motive.

At one point in 2014, Sills believed that the Dermonds died after a botched robbery extortion – in which the Dermonds were unable to deliver the cash or valuables demanded of them.

“Their finances and expenditures are remarkably routine,” Sills said, after sifting through 80 years-worth of the couple’s financial records.

Furthermore, the couple had no discord in their marriage or any signs of mental or physical illnesses.

Unfortunately, Sills said, there is a lack of evidence to pinpoint a plausible reason for their deaths.

The investigation.

Investigators sifted through dozens and dozens of pictures and countless telephone records.

No fingerprints were found at the scene.

No foreign DNA was found at the scene.

No eye-witnesses came forward.

Hundreds of people were interviewed.

“The boxes are nothing but files with interviews after interviews after interviews of people. There's nothing magical in these boxes,” Sills said pointing to the many heaps of boxes littering his office.

The sheriff has started looking outside the box and outside of Georgia for help. And possibly a magical answer.

“Right now, we’re following up on cases that are similar – and let me stress, there haven’t been any cases that are truly similar – but every time an elderly couple is murdered or something like that – one in North Carolina recently – and I’ve followed up on there. Anything that looks like it remotely might be some type of decapitation when we’re hearing about something like that we’re following up on it, but in reality, that’s about all we’re doing right now.”

Sills has continuously utilized the FBI—as well as reached out to forensic experts in China and law enforcement in London on this case.

But they can only assist with evidence that is available.

“I wish it had not been three four days before we had been called. I wish the cameras had been working at the security house at Reynolds. I wish these people had used their cell phones and things more than they did. I wish we had some eye witnesses that saw something. My wish list goes on and on. And I sure as hell hope I haven’t overlooked something,” Sills said.

At the end of the day he’s counting on someone coming forward to help solve the case.

“It’s coming up on four years. I know that more so than anybody. I hope very desperately we get a call,” he said.

FLORIDA (1)_1525368699078.jpg.jpg
The Dermonds adored their nine grandchildren. (Jessica Noll / WXIA)
Chapter 7

4 years later a still-grieving family opens up, hopes for answers

Brad Dermond flips through albums and shuffles through a handful of photographs—remembering family road trips, golfing and how much his parents loved him and his siblings, not to mention how they adored their grandchildren.

But the memories are bittersweet, because that is all that remains. That, and unanswered questions.

Brad says his parents were very private people and that they would hate that he is talking about them at all.

But four years after their brutal murders, Russell and Shirley’s youngest son believes it’s time to talk and hopefully break someone else’s silence, uncovering a clue into who killed his parents in rural Putnam County, Ga.

“[In] that stage in life, you prepare for that call at any time, but not that type of call,” Brad said in his Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., home.

FLORIDA02 (4)_1525368764358.png.jpg
Brad Dermond looks at years' worth of memories with his parents, Shirley and Russell Dermond. (Jessica Noll / WXIA)

“They don’t even know how he was murdered, because we don’t have his head,” a frustrated Brad said about his father’s brutal death.

Brad was at his son’s baseball game when he got the worst call of his life.

“We got the call from my brother-in law, and he was a total mess. [I] almost couldn’t even decipher what he was talking about,” he said.

His brother-in-law put his son on the phone to relay the horrific news.

“He said, 'Grandpa had been murdered; grandma was missing.'”

Eventually, Shirley was found.

But, the mystery of who and why remain.

One thing is known.

Brad believes that the hair found in his father’s wound indicates the last heroic act of a loving husband.

“It would appear that there was a struggle and dad was trying to be protective of mom,” Brad surmised.

Still, it's difficult for their son to fathom their last moments alive.

“At what point would you just have that sinking feeling, this is it?” he said. “It’s the horror that they must have gone through, from the beginning until it was finished... that’s what’s difficult to overcome.”

>>>MORE | 4 years later, elderly couple’s son opens up

Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills has never had a cold case in his files... until now. (Jessica Noll / WXIA)
Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills has never had a cold case in his files... until now. (Jessica Noll / WXIA)
Chapter 8

Will your clue break this case open?

Brad has dreams about his dad, in which he offers his son clues about his death. But he wakes up before it leads anywhere.

“It’s not clear, but there’s been a couple... where I almost feel like he’s got some answers and he’s trying to get me to see something, read something, that hasn’t happened,” Brad said.

Then, he’s left at a loss all over again—perplexed, because his parents, he said, had no dark side or secrets that would have resulted in their murders.

“It just always ends up with a big question mark.”

These days, he relies on the FBI, Sills and the public to come forward and shed light on who did this to his family.

“Somebody’s out there and they’re living in Hell. There’s such a thing of God’s wrath. So, if somebody does know something they have the responsibility of coming forward, even if it’s just a shred of information. They have the responsibility of coming forward.”

“We may not like how long it takes, but it will be solved,” Brad said with optimism. “When you start involving more and more people, it increases the chances of information being shared. And that’s the information we’re looking for.”

“If there’s somebody who’s going to get this thing solved, it’s going to be him,” Brad said about Sills.

Sills said they have never stopped investigating and won’t, and he’s waiting on that one day that he can look the killer in the eye.

“I hope I’m still around when the call comes in,” said Sills, who said he would take them to the death chamber himself.

Currently, there is a $45,000 reward for information that leads to the killer(s). Anyone with information is asked to call the Putnam County Sheriff's Office, at (706) 485-8557.

GONE COLD: More of Georgia's cold case mysteries

A family massacred, a case left cold

Justice for Love: A mother’s relentless pursuit to find her daughter’s killer

18 years later: Who killed Elaine Nix?

For more of Georgia's cold cases, visit 11Alive's Cold Case page.

Chapter 9

HOW WE DID THE STORY |

Gone Cold is an ongoing series, where 11Alive Journalist Jessica Noll investigates some of the most infamous and lesser-known cold cases in Georgia. She's digging for answers for the still-grieving families who long for them, and for the victims who have never found their justice.

11Alive Journalist Jessica Noll spent several months on this case—interviewing law enforcement and family to journalistically gather every aspect of the story possible. She investigated the cases, sifting through public records, police reports, autopsy reports, audio, surveillance video and photos.

This story is written in a narrative-style, long-form and was methodically reported in order to obtain each detail of the Dermonds’ case, in an effort to reveal what happened leading up to their May 2014 murders.

CONTACT THE REPORTER |

Jessica Noll is a multimedia journalist, who focuses on in-depth, investigative crime/justice reports for 11Alive's digital platforms. Follow her on Twitter @JNJournalist and like her on Facebook to keep up with her latest work. If you have a tip or story idea, email her at jnoll@11Alive.com or call, text at (404) 664-3634.

Join our "Gone Cold" Facebook group and join our discussions about cases like these, at https://www.facebook.com/groups/gonecold/ and follow us on Twitter: @11AliveGoneCold.