Child custody battle was factor in Rhoden family massacre

4 charged with aggravated murder with death penalty specifications

Wagner family members arrested in execution-style murders Pike Co., OH - Attorney General Mike DeWine Press Conference

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A custody dispute is a factor in a massacre that wiped out eight members of one family and led to the arrests of six members of another family Tuesday, more than two years after the brutal slayings, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced Tuesday.

“We won’t be able to say much about motive, but you’ll see from the indictments, custody of this child was a factor,” he said in a news conference.

Eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families were gunned down execution-style during the early morning hours of April 22, 2016.

The victims were family patriarch Christopher Rhoden, 40; his older brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44; his cousin, Gary Rhoden; his former wife, Dana Lynn Rhoden, 37, and their children: Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, Hanna Mae Rhoden, 19, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Frankie’s fiancé, Hannah Gilley.

All were all shot in the head -- most several times -- according to autopsy records released in September.

Eight members of the Rhoden family were killed in Pike Co. in April 206.
Eight members of the Rhoden family were killed in Pike Co. in April 206.

Hanna Rhoden and 26-year-old Edward “Jake” Wagner, who was arrested on Tuesday and charged with aggravated murder, had a young daughter together.

Sophia was 3 when her mother was fatally shot as she slept. The child was not there at the time.

“Along with physical evidence, forged child custody documents were found,” DeWine said.

Leonard Manley, father of the slain Dana Manley Rhoden and great-grandfather of Sophia Wagner, 4, told our media partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer he couldn’t speak about the ongoing case against the Wagner family, but that his great-granddaughter was safe in neighboring Scioto County.

Report: Child in Portsmouth

She had previously been in the custody of Edward “Jake” Wagner.

[Wagner family members arrested in execution-style murders of Pike Co., OH family]

George "Billy” Wagner III, 47, Angela Wagner, 48, and George Wagner IV, 27 also were arrested and charged with aggravated murder and numerous other charges.

DeWine announced during the news conference with Pike County’s prosecutor and sheriff that two Wagner family grandmothers, Fredericka Wagner, Billy’s mother, and Angela’s mother, Rita Newcomb, are accused of covering up the crimes.

“After extensive joint investigation – these individuals are now in custody for committing these heartless, ruthless cold blooded murders,” DeWine said. “Many were killed as they slept. All eight victims were killed in cold blood. They were brutally and viciously executed.”

The killers knew the territory and planned these murders, DeWine said.

“We believe that the Wagners conspired together to develop an elaborate plan to kill the eight victims under the cover of darkness and then carefully cover their tracks. Our investigation alleges that the suspects studied the victims’ habits and routines. They knew the layouts of their homes. And they knew where they slept,” he said.

Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader said he and other law enforcement officers were obsessively focused on solving the case.

“Today, we have the answers. They did this quickly… coldly… calmly and carefully, just not careful enough,” he said.

READ MORE: Pike County Massacre

Agents with Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation and deputies from Pike and Scioto counties were involved in the investigation.

“I know the past 2.5 years has been very tough, agonizing. We appreciate your patience. We appreciate that very much… your faith in us and the process. It has been our job to find the truth. We’ve done that. That has all led to today,” DeWine said.

He said there is no evidence that anyone else is involved, but the agencies continue to take tips and information in the case.

John K. Clark, an attorney for the Wagner family, released a statement Tuesday afternoon:

“Given the fact that the Wagners have been indicted with capital murder and death penalty specifications, we respectfully decline making any statements at this time. However, the Wagners eagerly look forward to their trials, and to have their day in court so they can vindicate their names. The Wagners are also ever hopeful that in the ensuing months there will be a thorough vetting of all the facts. Moreover, we look forward to the day when the true culprit(s) will be discovered and brought to justice for this terrible tragedy.”

Several community members are feeling a sense of relief now that the alleged killers are behind bars.

“I know the past 2.5 years has been very tough, agonizing. We appreciate your patience," DeWine said.

“We appreciate that very much… your faith in us and the process. It has been our job to find the truth. We’ve done that. That has all led to today.”

Reaction after 6 arrested in Rhoden case

DeWine said there is no evidence that anyone else is involved.

Investigators continue, however, to take tips and information in the case.

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