Wagner family patriarch pleads not guilty in Pike County massacre

'Billy' Wagner pleads not guilty in Rhoden massacre

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The final member of the Wagner family charged with aggravated murder in the execution-style slayings of eight Rhoden family members appeared in court Tuesday.

George “Billy” Wagner III, 47, pleaded not guilty to all 22 counts he’s facing in Pike County Common Pleas Court.

The final member of the Wagner family charged in the execution-style slayings of eight Rhoden family members appears in court. --> https://bit.ly/2EdWzm4

Posted by FOX19 on Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Billy Wagner, his wife, Angela Wagner, 48, and their two grown sons, Edward “Jake” Wagner, 26, and George Wagner IV, each face eight counts of aggravated murder that carry the possibility of a death sentence if they are convicted.

Their multi-count indictments also accuse them of conspiracy, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, tampering with evidence, unlawful possession of a dangerous ordinance, forgery, unauthorized use of property, interception of wire, oral, or electronic communications, obstructing justice, and aggravated burglary.

Angela Wagner and the sons have all pleaded not guilty and waived their rights to a speedy trial.

Photo: The Wagner family from left to right: George "Billy Wagner III, Angela Wagner, George Wagner IV and Edward "Jake" Wagner. (Photo: FOX19 NOW)
Photo: The Wagner family from left to right: George "Billy Wagner III, Angela Wagner, George Wagner IV and Edward "Jake" Wagner. (Photo: FOX19 NOW)

When they were arrested Nov. 13, their family attorney, John K. Clark Jr., said they looked forward to 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," he said. “Moreover, we look forward to the day when the true culprit(s) will be discovered and brought to justice for this terrible tragedy.”

Billy Wagner appeared in court for his arraignment on Dec. 4.
Billy Wagner appeared in court for his arraignment on Dec. 4.

All four members of the Wagner family must be separately arraigned and likely will be separately tried because of the death penalty possibility.

They also are being held at separate jails:

  • George “Billy” Wagner III: Butler County 
  • Angela Wagner: Scioto County 
  • Edward “Jake” Wagner: Franklin County 
  • George Wagner IV: Ross County

Pike County Common Pleas Court Judge Randy Deering has imposed a gag order in the case.

Anyone involved, including law enforcement and attorneys, is barred from talking to the media.

Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk has said he wants to keep the trials in the county.

“It will be several years before these cases are concluded,” he said the day of the arrests, Nov. 13. “We all have a lot of hard work ahead of us.”

Authorities announced the arrests more than two years after the Pike County massacre.

The bodies of the Rhodens were found in four separate trailers at two locations near Piketon the morning of April 22, 2016.

The slayings are considered the state’s most complex homicide investigation to date, resulting in more than 1,000 tips, hundreds of people interviewed and dozens of search warrants.

The victims are 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.

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.

Two babies and a small child who also were in the homes were not harmed.

Hanna Rhoden had a child with Jake Wagner, her longtime boyfriend. Their daughter, Sophia, was 3 at the time of the killings but not with the Rhodens when they were killed, turned 5 last month.

It’s not clear now where Sophia is. The day he announced the Wagners' arrests, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine would only say children services was involved.

Dana Rhoden’s father has told our news partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer the little girl is in state custody in Scioto County.

Jake Wagner also is charged with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor for having sexual contact with Hanna Rhoden when she was 15 and he was 20 years old.

A custody dispute over Sophia is believed to be at the heart of this case.

DeWine has said an “obsession” with custody and control of the children played a role in the murders.

Officials have said they found marijuana “grow operations,” including one with more than 100 marijuana plants, as they searched the crime scenes.

DeWine and Pike County Sheriff Charlie Reader, however, would not say in a news conference last month the day the arrests were announced if the drugs contributed to the motive.

DeWine did say drugs were an “undercurrent” in the case, along with money.

Rita Newcomb and Fredericka Wagner
Rita Newcomb and Fredericka Wagner

Also charged in the case is Billy Wagner’s mother Fredericka Wagner and Angela’s mother Rita Newcomb.

They are accused of covering up the crime by forging custody papers related to Jake and Hanna’s daughter,

The two women are free after posting bond and are on house arrest.

Fredericka Wagner has asked the court to modify the terms of her electronic house arrest so she can go to work.

A confidential informant told investigators the four Wagners charged with killing the Rhodens met at Fredericka Wagner’s home and talked about what they would do if anyone was arrested, a special prosecutor with DeWine’s office has said at other bond hearings.

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