Eatonton: The unsolved beheading of an elderly US retiree and the killing of his wife has so startled their gated, lakeside community that neighbours are reaching for even outlandish explanations. Was it a mob hit? A drug dealer? A hungry alligator?
In May, concerned friends found the headless body of Russell Dermond, 88, in the garage of his Georgia home. Shirley Dermond, 87, was originally thought to have been abducted until her body was found a few weeks later in the lake.
Russell Dermond's head has still not been found.
Law enforcement thinks the Dermonds likely knew the person or people who attacked them, but their age, the beheading and the fact that it all happened in a seemingly secure community has left neighbours shaken, according to Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills.
Despite interviewing hundreds of people and looking through reams of records, Sills has been frustrated by the lack of obvious motive and is hoping for a breakthrough. And for the first time in his four decades in law enforcement, he's asked the public to donate to a reward fund.
Sills says he can't even remember so much as a burglary in the Dermonds' community during his 18 years as sheriff.
"There are as many different theories as there are people in the county," said Karen Bridgeman, the local newspaper's managing editor.
Some of the most common are that the Dermonds, originally from New Jersey, had organised crime ties and were victims of a mob hit or that their deaths are related to the killing of their oldest son in 2000 in a drug deal gone bad.
The most unusual tip authorities got was that it was likely a female alligator seeking food for her young, the sheriff said.
Sills is tired of all the theories and speculation. He has investigated the Dermonds' lives in depth and has determined there's no indication of any illegal activity or association with unsavoury characters. There's no indication that anything was taken from the home.
He simply can't figure out who would want the Dermonds dead.
Russell Dermond had a corporate job and moved around until finally ending up in the Atlanta area. After he retired, he got into the fast food business, buying a number of chain restaurants. Shirley Dermond was an avid bridge player, rarely missing the twice-weekly meetings of her club.
They lived a remarkably simple life, Sills said. Russell Dermond only had two credit cards.
The Dermonds had three sons and a daughter. Their oldest son had a serious drug problem and was shot to death while trying to buy drugs in a rough neighbourhood in Atlanta in 2000, Sills said.
The Dermonds' oldest living son, Keith, did not return calls from The Associated Press seeking comment. The other two children could not be reached. But Sills said he's questioned all three at length and talks to at least one of them almost every day. They've been extremely cooperative, Sills said.
Sills believes the Dermonds likely were at least acquainted with the person or people who killed them because there was no sign of forced entry and no sign of a struggle. He's certain a boat was used to dispose of Shirley Dermond's body, which was found in the lake about five and a half miles from their home.
"They've done a good job concealing themselves," Sills said of the killers. "We've got to do a better job of finding them."