The warehouse lot where pieces of murder evidence are stored. (FOX19 NOW)
Top: Christopher Rhoden, Jr.; Clarence "Frankie" Rhoden, Hannah Gilley, Hanna Rhoden. Bottom: Dana Rhoden, Christopher Rhoden, Sr.; Kenneth Rhoden; Gary Rhoden. (GoFundMe/Facebook)
An aerial view of the trailers before they were relocated. (FOX19 NOW)
Pike County Sheriff Charlie Reader says the crime scene evidence is protected by security measures, but our undercover investigation found no traces of guards, law enforcement, or even a lock on the gate around the warehouse property. (FOX19 NOW/Jody Barr
One morning, our investigator caught a look at one of the Rhoden trailers through an open door to the warehouse. Employees were sitting near that open door. (FOX19 NOW/Jody Barr)
PIKE COUNTY, OH (FOX19) -
More than a dozen shots were fired the morning of April 22, 2016. Those shots killed eight members of the same family.
They were shot and killed in their beds, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine told the world during the first press conference the afternoon of the killings. It was an execution-style murder, DeWine said.
Now, five months later, it’s still a mystery who did it.
Hundreds of deputies from across the state of Ohio, including dozens of state investigators, stormed Union Hill Road. That’s where seven of the victims lay dead.
Hours later, a 911 call from Left Fork Road led investigators to the eighth victim.
In one night, nearly an entire family was wiped out.
THE ‘UNPRECEDENTED’ INVESTIGATION
It’s not common. It’s rarely - if ever - done.
When it comes to the Pike County mass murder case, nothing seems to be business as usual for the team tasked with figuring out who shot and killed eight members of the Rhoden family.
“I decided to move those crime scenes,” Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader told FOX19 NOW.
The reason: the sheriff wanted the scenes preserved.
Had those trailers stayed where they were, Reader explained, they would have “been burned” or destroyed.
The decision was made. Pike County would pay local contractors to move three of crime scenes from Union Hill and the one from Left Fork Road. They dragged them 20 miles away into a warehouse in Waverly.
The tow bill alone totaled $12,994, according to spending records provided to FOX19 NOW by the sheriff’s office.
That total, the sheriff later told us, wasn’t all the towing cost to taxpayers. But, as of this report, the sheriff’s office has not provided the rest of the spending.
The county decided to lease a part of a 122,000 square foot warehouse in Waverly from a chemical compounding company. The sheriff told FOX19 NOW he negotiated a deal: the county would spend $15,000 to house the Rhoden evidence inside the Hadsell Chemical Processing warehouse through sometime around May of 2017.
“We did it to protect the crime scenes,” DeWine told reporters the day the trailers the Rhodens were murdered in were parked inside that warehouse.
For a while, the Pike County Sheriff’s Office kept deputies posted at the warehouse around the clock, Reader told us during an interview at his office Monday morning.
Reader could not provide a date that those security details stopped, but said the county couldn’t afford the security any longer.
That decision ended in a FOX19 NOW investigation.
“THIS AIN’T GOOD ENOUGH”
“Any evidence that they would pull out of that thing would be virtually useless,” former Hamilton County prosecutor Mike Allen said as he stood in the parking lot of the evidence warehouse two weeks ago.
“You can walk straight through the gate there and over that fence. An old man like me can get over that thing in 20 seconds,” Allen said, pointing out the fact that the main gate into the warehouse compound was cracked open and unlocked.
That was on a Sunday afternoon. The chemical company was closed. There were no police officers in sight.
Reader says the crime scene evidence is protected by security measures, but our undercover investigation found no traces of guards, law enforcement, or even a lock on the gate around the warehouse property.
In 70 hours over a six-week period, FOX19 NOW never saw a cop in the area. The warehouse’s main entrance was often left unlocked for anyone to walk through and a gated access road alongside the property is secured with only a piece of wire.
Barr drove by and through the warehouse’s parking lot 125 times in the middle of the night. No one ever knew it.
The lack of security shocked Allen, who said this development could make that crucial evidence “virtually useless.”
“If they’re able to identify and charge and indict who committed these horrible crimes, yeah, the whole thing could be jeopardized because of this,” Allen said.
“Is it hard to get all the evidence together and make sure it’s secured? Of course it’s hard,” Allen said. “But this ain’t good enough.”
A fence surrounds the property, but Allen says that fact might not hold up in court.
“Any evidence that they would pull out of that thing would be virtually useless,” Allen said. When asked why, he responded, “Because you can walk straight through that gate there and over that fence… An old man like me can get over that in 20 seconds.”
The warehouse is also home to at least two private companies.
During 20 different trips to Pike County, FOX19 NOW watched those employees walk into work and come within feet of the evidence.
The evidence’s close encounters with civilians would be a “prosecutor’s nightmare,” Allen said.
Authorities would not allow FOX19 NOW inside the warehouse to see exactly how the four trailers were protected.
One morning, our investigator caught a look at one of the Rhoden trailers through an open door to the warehouse. Employees were sitting near that open door.
SHERIFF: I HAVE SECURITY MEASURES IN PLACE
Reader has been working with the AG’s office since Day 1 of the murder investigation. Through our four-hour interview, Reader declined to comment on who is guarding the evidence.
FOX19 NOW would not report the specific details of the security measures. We simply wanted to know if the sheriff’s office is doing its job to ensure the chain of custody of the evidence.
We showed Reader our video of the warehouse’s empty guard shack unlocked and unmanned over an entire weekend.
Barr: If anyone was in or around that warehouse at any point in time during the day, you would know about it?
Barr: On that property?
Reader: Yes… Or someone else with my staff should know about it, Yes.
The sheriff eventually acknowledged that the warehouse was unmanned by law enforcement.
“I will not tell you that they’re there 24 hours a day. I will not argue the fact they’re not there 24 hours a day. I will tell you there are there,” he said.
We walked into the chemical company inside the warehouse and asked to see an investigator with the sheriff’s or AG’s office.
“They’re not here hardly at all anymore,” the chemical company worker said. “Somebody might stop in the office once in a great while, but they haven’t been here for a while.”