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ATLANTA — An 88-year-old man was decapitated in an exclusive gated community in Georgia and his wife has gone missing, the sheriff said today, adding that the man’s head hasn’t been found.
Putnam County Deputy Coroner Marcus Turner said an autopsy showed that Russell Dermond was already dead when his head was cut off, and authorities believe he died of a head or brain injury. His body was found Tuesday by friends.
Investigators fear Dermond’s 87-year-old wife, Shirley, was abducted or killed. They were searching for her with the help of the FBI.
“We looked in the woods adjacent to the house, we looked in the lake,” Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills said during a news conference. “Her pocketbook and things like that are there, her cellphone is there, the car is there — we don’t have anything to track.”
Sills said the couple’s lakefront home showed no signs of a struggle or forced entry and no ransom note was left behind.
Those details are among the reasons why he thinks the killing wasn’t random.
The couple had been married for nearly seven decades, Sills said.
“The best we can determine from all sources is that this was a perfect marriage,” he said. “There’s nothing that we have found out so far that looks askance or gives us any particular motive.”
The Dermonds lived in Reynolds Plantation, a gated neighborhood of expansive homes guarded by security officers where crime is rare, Sills said. He added that the couple’s adult children live in other states and have been cooperative with investigators.
“This home is in one of the most exclusive gated communities in the state of Georgia,” he said. “I don’t remember even a burglary that I can even recall in the whole subdivision.”
The home is on the shore of sprawling Lake Oconee in the Greensboro area. Sills said the killer may have arrived by boat, though they haven’t ruled out other possibilities.
Investigators are interviewing people who knew the Dermonds, and authorities are also reviewing surveillance footage from the community.
“I certainly hope that she’s still alive but I’m not overly optimistic because of her husband,” he said today. “If it’s an abduction, you would expect some sort of extortion demand. If it was an assassination you would think both of the people would be there — both bodies would be there.”