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Authorities ask for help via billboards in man's death, wife's disappearance

By Eliott C. McLaughlin and Catherine Shoichet, CNN
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Wed May 14, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Officials seek help in case of beheaded Georgia man, missing wife
  • Shirley Dermond is missing and in danger; agencies ask anyone with more details to call
  • Worried friends went to their home in upscale neighborhood, found body in garage
  • Pastor describes parents of three as "beloved in the community"

(CNN) -- With no breakthrough in the Eatonton, Georgia, case of a decapitated man and his missing wife, authorities are reaching out to commuters.

The FBI says that it has commissioned at least 100 billboards throughout the state in its search for 87-year-old Shirley Dermond and her husband's killer.

The digital billboards say, "Missing and in danger," and include a photo of the gray-haired, blue-eyed Dermond, along with her height, 5 feet 2 inches tall, and weight, 148 pounds.

Anyone with information is encouraged to call the FBI at 404-679-9000 or the Putnam County Sheriff's Office at 706-485-8557.

"They're basically running in all corners of the state," said the Outdoor Advertising Association of Georgia's executive director, Conner Poe. "They'll run once a minute, every minute, 24-7."

The billboards can be seen as far south as Valdosta, as far east as Brunswick, and as far north as Chattanooga, Tennessee, with 50 in metro Atlanta alone, Poe said.

Investigators are treating Dermond's disappearance as an abduction, Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills said last week.

There is no indication she's a suspect, and there's "plenty" to indicate she was taken, he said. Her pocketbook, cell phone and vehicle were all at the million-dollar waterfront home where her husband's headless body was found.

Report: Man beheaded, wife missing

Investigators believe Russell Dermond was killed between May 2 and May 4, and they're still searching for his severed head, Sills told reporters.

"I don't think it's a random incident. I think for whatever reason these people were singled out for this," Sills said last week. "They live in the most exclusive neighborhood, or one of the most exclusive neighborhoods, in this county. ... They're on a cul-de-sac in a gated, multimillion dollar resort community that we have no crime in."

The Dermonds' friends hadn't heard from them in days and went to their home in the upscale, gated, lakeside Great Waters community, where they found Russell Dermond in the garage.

Authorities have searched Lake Oconee in the vicinity of the Dermonds' home -- turning up only a lawn chair and a Christmas tree -- and sent cadaver dogs into the nearby woods, to no avail, Sills said.

Residents described Reynolds Plantation -- a tony resort complex about 75 miles east of Atlanta, which also boasts a Jack Nicklaus signature golf course and a Ritz-Carlton Lodge -- as a safe enclave where people were comfortable leaving their doors unlocked.

The 3,300-square-foot home where the Dermonds have lived since 1994 is valued at more than $1 million.

The Rev. David Key of Lake Oconee Community Church last week said he has known the couple for about eight years and counts them among his church's 350 attendees. He's "baffled" as to why anyone would commit such crimes against them, he said.

He described the couple of 68 years, who had three adults children, as grounded, "beloved in the community" and "sweet as can be."

CNN's Vivian Kuo, Devon M. Sayers, AnneClaire Stapleton and John Murgatroyd contributed to this report.

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