Today in “Holy Hell, What?” crimes, this horror movie-level mystery.
Dateline Putnam County, Georgia, where county coroner Gary McElhenny tells the media that Russell Dermond, 88, was beheaded in his million-dollar lakefront home sometime between Saturday, May 3, and Monday, May 5. Dermond’s wife, Shirley, is missing.
Shirley Dermond is not a suspect. She is 87, and Putnam Sheriff Howard Sills told reporters that Mr. Dermond’s “body was moved,” and he didn’t “think an 87-year-old lady” could do such a thing.
The Dermonds lived in the gated and presumably secure Great Waters community at Reynolds Plantation. Investigators believe the person or persons responsible approached the Dermond residence from Lake Oconee, a central Georgia reservoir that ranges across Morgan, Greene and Putnam counties.
The Macon Telegraph reported that Sheriff Sills described the murder and disappearance as “baffling” and there aren’t that many clues as to what happened, so far:
There is no sign of forced entry to Russell and Shirley Dermond’s home where friends found his body about 10 a.m. Tuesday.
She was gone.
The cars are still there.
There is no sign of a struggle, either, inside the house…
To compound the mystery, security cameras inside the Great Waters community may have been for show, or perhaps poorly maintained, as they weren’t working at the time of the crime. The home was described as immaculate and nothing was stolen.
Based on the Telegraph’s reporting and some online searches, it’s hard to figure out why anyone would target an elderly couple like the Dermonds–and investigators have told the media they do think the Dermonds were targeted.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported today that the Putnam County Sheriff has asked the FBI to assist their investigation.
Edited to add: Missed while finding links earlier, this, from WSB, Atlanta’s ABC affiliate: “A law enforcement source told Channel 2 Action News that Dermond was beheaded and the head was not found at the crime scene.”
Last month police in Tennessee arrested Richard Parker, age 49, for allegedly killing his in-laws, Jon and Marion Setzer. As I wrote then, this was a shocking twist in the case from my perspective because I knew Richard when we were kids. My family had already been friends with the Parkers for years when I was born. We knew them through church and other social ties. I thought they were relatives until I was 7 or 8.
Today, another mystery. This report in the Tennessean states that the Parker case has been completely sealed. That’s unusual:
It’s the first time Wilson County Circuit Court Clerk Linda Neal remembers a case completely sealed in her 16 years in the position and 32 years in the office.
“Sometimes some of the pleadings, but not an entire file,” the clerk said.
While the basic facts available in the case are strange–death by bombing is still pretty rare in personal cause homicide–they don’t on the surface hint at why police would lock the case against Richard Parker completely from public view.
* Sealed birth records (usually for so-called closed adoption, in which the birthparents’ identity is usually anonymous)
* Juvenile criminal records may be sealed * Other types of cases involving juveniles may be sealed, anonymized, or pseudonymized (“impounded”); e.g., child sex offense or custody cases * Cases using witness protection information may be partly sealed
* Cases involving trade secrets
* Cases involving state secrets
The first bullet point doesn’t apply in the Parker case. It is unlikely the second applies, as far as I can tell. The final pair of points don’t make much sense based on what’s known about the crime for which Richard stands accused. That leaves two possibilities to which I added emphasis above: juveniles are somehow involved (Richard has four children), or there may be some need for witness protection.
In the Tennessean’s report, attorney David Raybin told reporter Andy Humbles that he’d want the files sealed to ensure protection of witnesses or informants. Raybin said sealing cases is “becoming more and more common because courts and prosecutors are becoming increasingly sensitive to the defendant’s right to a fair trial.”
“Discovery material,” Raybin said, “is not intended to be public record.”
Last Sunday morning at the 11:00am service, Marion Setzer sat in a pew over to my right.
After worship we talked briefly about getting together for a conversation she wanted to have with me.
Ripski mentioned that Mrs. Setzer wanted to have that conversation an interview after Richard’s arrest (I was unable to find it online this morning) and also noted that Marion Setzer seemed concerned about something, but he didn’t seem to know what it was. I’m not sure why this feels like it may be relevant to the case against Richard Parker being sealed, but intuition says it could be.
Ripski wrote something else in his sermon that applies here, too:
I have learned that there are questions that don’t have answers, there are human experiences that can’t be explained or understood. We will ask the question Why? We will try to answer it. But none of our answers will ever satisfy our soul. Not really.
I’m not the most spiritual person, sometimes, too much of a doubter, but Reverend Ripski has a good point. Sometimes we have to accept unanswered questions. Where this case–and a lot of other things–is/are concerned, I hope I can do that, one day.
The paper also reports a grand jury indicted Richard on Feb. 13. Charges against him include felony first-degree murder and premeditated first-degree murder. Richard is in the Wilson County jail on a $1 million bond after his Valentine’s Day arrest. Police focused on him after an explosion killed Jon Setzer, 74, and mortally wounded Jon’s wife, Marion, age 72. Richard, who is 49, attended bedside vigils for his dying mother-in-law before his arrest.
The Setzers and Parkers lived on Vance Lane in Lebanon, TN. The Setzers, according to some reports, moved there a few years ago to be closer to their grandchildren. Richard’s mother, Sarah Lee Parker, may have been living in Richard and Laura Parker’s home. A friend who lived near Mrs. Parker’s former home in Antioch, TN told me she sometimes checked in on Sarah Lee Parker until a few years ago. My friend believed Mrs. Parker, who would be in her early 80s, was suffering from dementia. In the last couple of years, Google’s camera car captured a For Sale sign in front of Richard’s childhood home (see left), but online records show Sarah Lee and “George W Parker et Ux” still own the property.
So–Richard’s mother may well be in failing health and her property slow to sell [see update]. Also, Tennessee business records show Richard’s Legacy Restorations was inactive.
If Richard Parker killed his in-laws, he did it for money.
It’s tempting to tell old stories I know about Richard, his parents, his aunt and uncle. I will save most for another time. After all, many stories are gossip, worthy of skepticism. However, a relative reminded me of one story over the weekend that was just strange. Hearing it again made me wonder about the real Parker household. What it was like when no one was putting on a good face for visitors.
Richard’s mother kept german shepherds in their fenced back yard. I don’t remember how many they had at any given time. I do remember the house smelling like their dogs–a problem we had in my home as well.
When Sarah Lee Parker was angry at her husband, Bill, the story goes, she would go and sit with her dogs. I’m told she did that because when she was with her dogs, Bill Parker wouldn’t go near her.
I don’t recall thinking Mrs. Parker mean (she was tall, and Richard has her eyes). She seemed distant compared to my warm and funny mother, or her sister-in-law Katherine, who was also friends with my mom and my paternal grandmother.
I’ve hated Richard Parker for 36 years. I wasn’t surprised to see him on every major newscast and all across my Twitter feeds, arrested for murder. I should have been, many who knew him were, but I wasn’t.
That said, the story of his mother surrounded by her dogs so his father would stay away kindled a moment of sympathy. Not for Richard, for his family. Then, and now.
At my 2006 high school reunion, I spoke with friends I’d known since elementary school. They told stories about their lives when we weren’t at school that opened my eyes to how little we see when we’re kids. We may get a sense of this or that–I often did–but unless we’re next door neighbors, we don’t know.
I knew by age 10 I wanted nothing more to do with the boy who became the alleged killer, Richard Parker.
I don’t know what was at work in Richard’s boyhood home that could explain the explosion that killed Jon and Marion Setzer. I do wonder if it began there, a mile away from me, in another house on Hamilton Church Road.
The person who used to check up on Sarah Lee Parker sent me a Facebook message regarding the status of Mrs. Parker’s home on Hamilton Church Road. This statement is interesting in how it may relate to Richard Parker’s finances before his in-laws were killed. My friend wrote:
Mrs. Parker’s house sold last year and now a Mexican family live there and they have remodeled. The proceeds from the sale and a subsequent ‘moving’ sale were used to build two rooms onto Richard’s house. Mrs. Parker has lived with Richard since then.
My friend watched Richard’s arraignment and said he has been appointed a public defender and cannot pay bail. He’ll remain in jail till his next court appearance in April.
(Based on advice from a wise friend and editor, this may be the last in-depth post I’ll do about this for a while. I will definitely still write about it. Some things take much more time, work, and deliberation, though.)
Since his arrest Thursday for the homicide of his in-laws, Jon and Marion Setzer, I’ve seen Richard Parker’s mugshot on CNN and on local news out of Boston. I have read the BBC’s account of his alleged crime.
My first post, written yesterday, may make it clear why I find this surreal.
Tennessee outlets have reported as much as they could about Richard, some emphasizing that he taught Sunday school at First Nazarene in Nashville, with his wife, Laura. Recently, Laura and Richard* had even had kids from their church over for a campout.
So Nashville news organizations have covered the usual “he was quiet, well-liked” angles often trotted out to stir up unneeded drama in a crime story pretty well. (No real criticism intended; I’ve damn sure done that myself.)
Today the Los Angeles Times published a report that helped me clarify why I was compelled to write about this crime, even though I’ve avoided covering crime stories since 2010.
The Times tracked down Danny and Rosemary Martin. They engaged Richard Parker to restore their historic home in 1990. Danny Martin told the paper that Richard
…first offered to fix up the house for nearly $150,000. He said Parker returned two weeks later and offered to do the work for $60,000 because he wanted to start doing business on his own and this could serve as a model to show potential customers. Parker and Martin signed a contract written by the now-dead father-in-law, Martin said.
Richard fell behind on the job. Sometimes he would work all night. Mr. Martin said he wouldn’t pay Richard if he couldn’t do the work. His house burned down.
The Times reports that investigators found traces of gasoline at the site, suggesting arson. Richard was arrested and ultimately sentenced to 4 years probation and ordered to pay $40,000 in restitution.
Danny Martin told the Times, “We want the people to know what he’s really like.”
That’s my point.
Richard Parker has seemed like a churchgoing family man with a stable marriage and four kids since the arson that saw him on probation from 1993 to 1997. Those unaware of certain church traditions of forgiveness and forbearance may be surprised at this, but I’m sure Richard’s church family will stand foursquare behind him, perhaps even if he’s convicted.
People with Richard’s qualities, rudimentary as they may have been when we were kids, probably don’t have real faith save in themselves. They can become close to a partner and their own kids, but it’s often out of recognizing the need for a stable home base as much as anything.
The Richard I knew as a boy was of a piece with the man described by Danny Martin. Quiet, apparently innocuous, but cold and calculating. Looking for an angle, an advantage, an out.
This story is more personal than anything else I’ve covered, so I want to step back and take a more classic “crime blogger” tack regarding the bomb police allege Richard used to kill his in-laws.
I discussed the case with a friend who is an expert in military ordinance and disposal. He’s my age and has been doing Hurt Locker-style work for I don’t know how long. He knows his stuff.
Regarding the parcel bomb that authorities say Richard left for his in-laws, he said he found it interesting that the bomb appeared to explode without causing “…significant structural damage to the home. Most people who do not know what they are doing tend to go overboard.”
My friend (I’m not naming him because he’s active duty and I don’t know if talking to me about this might be against some obscure regulation) also said he thought the killer “definitely knew what he was doing.”