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Pike County Murders: 'The People Who Did It Are In Custody'

Courtesy of Ohio Attorney General's Office

More than two years after the gruesome incident, four people are under arrest for the murders of eight people in Pike County. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says four members of the Wagner family were taken into custody Tuesday for the deaths of eight members of the Rhoden family on April 22, 2016.

These four are charged with planning and carrying out the murders:

  • George "Billy" Wagner III, 47
  • Angela Wagner, 48
  • George Wagner IV, 27  
  • Edward "Jake" Wagner, 26

All four are charged with a litany of crimes including aggravated murder with a death penalty specification. You can read the full indictments here.

"These four are now in custody for allegedly committing this heartless, ruthless, coldblooded murder," DeWine said Tuesday afternoon.

"We have absolutely no evidence that anyone else was involved," DeWine says. "The people who did it are in custody."

An attorney for the Wagner family members tells the Associated Press his clients will be vindicated. Attorney John Clark says the family is waiting for the day "when the true culprits will be discovered and brought to justice for this terrible tragedy."

The Wagner family allegedly spent months planning the murders. Though he wouldn't speak to a motive, DeWine suggested it was part of an elaborate custody scheme for one of the young children. Jake Wagner is the father of Hanna May Rhoden's older daughter, whom DeWine's office says was staying with the Wagner family on the night of the murders.

"All eight victims were killed in cold blood," DeWine says. "They were shot in their own homes. They were brutally and viciously executed. The killers knew the territory and meticulously planned these horrendous murders."

"There certainly was obsession with custody, obsession with control of children," DeWine says. "This is just the most bizarre story I've ever seen in being involved in law enforcement. The entire story as it will unfold at trial is just amazing."

Two other women, Rita Newcomb and Fredericka Wagner, the mothers of Angela and Billy Wagner, were also arrested and charged with participating in the cover up and misleading authorities.

DeWine's office asked for information about the fourWagner family members in June 2017.

The eight Rhoden family members were shot to death in four homes near Piketon, in southern Ohio. A newborn, another baby and a young child were left unharmed. The case stymied investigators, though they've always maintained they would solve the case.

Killed were: Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; his ex-wife Dana Manley Rhoden, 37; and their three children, Hanna May Rhoden, 19; Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16; and Clarence "Frankie" Rhoden, 20. Frankie Rhoden's fiancée, Hannah "Hazel" Gilley, 20, was also killed, along with the elder Christopher Rhoden's brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44, and cousin, Gary Rhoden, 38.

Credit Courtesy of Ohio Attorney General's Office

Three young children were left behind during the killing spree in what DeWine calls the only show of mercy the Wagners exhibited.

Pike County Prosecutor Robert Junk expects the trials will take several years.

Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader was nearly brought to tears while discussing the effect of this case on the Pike County community. He was on the job less than a year when the shootings occurred.

"Members of one family conspired, planned, carried out and then allegedly covered up their violent act to wipe out members of another family," Reader says. "They did this quickly, coldly, calmly and very carefully ... but not carefully enough."

Reader, Junk and DeWine all agree this is one of the biggest cases Ohio has ever seen.

"Without question, this has been by far the longest, most complex and labor intensive investigation the Ohio Attorney General's Office has ever undertaken," DeWine says. "It's been the most sophisticated, the biggest operation [the Bureau of Criminal Investigation] has ever undertaken."

Sheriff Charles Reader says Pike County is a resilient community, and much more than the place where eight people were murdered.
Sheriff Charles Reader says Pike County is a resilient community, and much more than the place where eight people were murdered.

Reader calls his community "resilient" and more than just the place where eight people were murdered.

"We are a place that doesn't let cowardly murderers get away with their crimes under the cover of darkness. We are the place that finds justice for victims and today is a big step on that path," he says.

He also made a point of reminding people the Rhoden, Gilley and Manley families are victims who will have to relive their horrors as the trials unfold. The Rhoden family's connection to drugs and certain illegal activities were frequently discussed as motives in the weeks following the murders.

"Regardless of if we found marijuana on the properties, the vehicles ... everything that we've done we've done because the victims had no voice and we're their voice now. We were working an eight person homicide, not a marijuana grow room.

"I believe today as I did back then that they deserve more respect - because they are true victims of a heinous crime that's never been seen before ... We're talking about arresting the people responsible for murdering eight people in this county. We're not talking about those eight people having a marijuana grow room."

"Part of the relationship that was going on with some of the individuals involved ... there was an undercurrent of drugs," DeWine says, adding "there's no evidence of all the speculation that this was drug related in the sense of the motive."

Copyright 2020 91.7 WVXU. To see more, visit 91.7 WVXU.

Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Most recently, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She served on the Ohio Associated Press Broadcasters Board of Directors from 2007 - 2009.