PIKE COUNTY, OH (FOX19) - By the end, we'd made 125 trips up and down Bridge Street in Waverly, passing the Rhoden murder investigation evidence warehouse. One trip would take us from the northern end of the warehouse, to a gravel turnaround about a half mile away.
Then, we'd head back the way we came. Photographing a dark and empty warehouse and parking lot that holds the homes and property where eight members of a single family were murdered.
They were in their beds. There were children inside some of the homes. One was a four-day-old baby in its mother's arms, the sheriff said.
Each pass of the warehouse was documented. We were looking for any sign of law enforcement, a sign someone was guarding the evidence.
We found no signs of that.
For six weeks, we made the same trip out of Cincinnati: Interstate 471 to I-275 to Highway 32. Then it's about 75 miles until you hit Highway 23 inside Pike County. The trip is 100 miles.
WHAT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE THERE
A cop. A person donned with the credentials of a peace officer in the state of Ohio, according to former Hamilton County elected prosecutor, Mike Allen. Allen is a man who's prosecuted murderers. He's also served as a judge who's called balls and strikes over chain of custody of evidence.
He's now a criminal defense attorney, working to undo investigations and charges against his clients. Part of that job, for any criminal defense attorney, is to make sure when someone is convicted, it was done honestly and truthfully.
Done in a way the public—and those accused—can be assured justice is truly served.
We took Mike Allen out to the Rhoden evidence warehouse on Sept. 18, 2016. This was nearing the end of our surveillance project of the warehouse. We wanted Mike Allen to see the warehouse, the gates, the outside evidence lot and the unmanned guard shack for himself.
We drove the same path we'd driven the dozens of days before, down Bridge Street, to the gravel turnaround, then back by the warehouse.
After Allen took several minutes to look around the parking lot by himself, we started the interview.
"Any evidence that they would pull out of that thing would be virtually useless," Allen argued as he stood, pointing to the unguarded evidence lot.
The unlocked main gate could have provided anyone access to the outside lot, Allen pointed out. Once inside, the possibility someone could break into the chemical company was another possibility, according to Allen.
"I don't see a police officer here. It's just a very bad situation that compromises this evidence and compromises the investigation," Allen said.
We spent just short of an hour in the parking lot that Sunday evening. No one showed up while we were there.
SHERIFF TAKES THE SECURITY INTO HIS OWN HANDS
From start to finish of our nearly four-hour-long meeting with Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader on Monday Sept. 26, 2016, Reader contended the evidence inside and outside the evidence warehouse was "secure." Reader told us, he did not see any trouble with getting any of it into court.
In an interview with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, he told FOX19 NOW that he wasn't concerned about any of the security at the warehouse and its potential impact on the prosecution.
There are no suspects named or anyone charged.
The on camera interview lasted 57 minutes. After initially refusing to provide details of any of the security at the warehouse, later Reader admitted during the interview that he did not have deputies posted there around the clock.
That admission came after we told Reader about what we'd uncovered during out 70 hour-long surveillance project.
"I will not tell you that they're there 24 hours a day," Reader said, "I will not argue the fact they're not there 24 hours a day. I will tell you that they are there."
A few days before this interview, we went to the warehouse, which is actually a chemical company, to ask that question of the people who were there during the day: the employees.
"They're not here hardly at all anymore," a worker who unlocked the front lobby door to let us in said. "Somebody might stop in once in a great while, but they haven't been here for a while," the worker told us.
There weren't any investigators there that day, the worker confirmed.
The remaining three hours with Sheriff Reader were spent off camera. He went off the record with us, details of those conversations we will not report. But, in what we can report, Reader told us he's giving some of the evidence back to the Rhoden families within the next six weeks.
But, not all. Reader admitted some of the evidence he had locked away in the outside lot did contain some "value" as far as evidence goes. He would not discuss what that evidence yielded.
We also obtained invoices from the $60,000 the county spent with a contractor to "preserve evidence" in the case. Reader denied our original open records request to see how those tax dollars were spent. Our attorneys wrote Reader back, telling him they believed the invoices were public record and that he was required by Ohio law to turn them over.
Reader never did. So, we got the invoices from the county. In them, it showed something in one of the homes that Reader—while on the record—told us, "I don't need the public knowing that s—t." That something is still inside the trailer where Christopher and Gary Rhoden were murdered.
The first sign of a security change came as we drove into the parking lot of the warehouse to set up our live shots for the night on Sept. 28, 2016. The main gate—that was unlocked for most of the days and nights during our surveillance—had a chain wrapped around it and what appeared to be a brand new padlock.
Our first detailed report aired just past 10 p.m. on Sept. 28. In it, we outlined what we found during our six-week investigation into the warehouse's security: the unlocked gate, the unguarded property, the multiple trips we made through the parking lot and the public road in front of the warehouse—undetected, the gate secured with a wire, the civilians inside the warehouse with no sign of law enforcement guarding the evidence.
The next report aired just past 10:30 p.m. In it, the sheriff admitted there were no deputies at the warehouse 24 hours a day. Reader also promised in that report that he'd conduct "security audits" and he'd "re-evaluate" the outside security of the warehouse.
Reader didn't give a timeline for doing those things. But, it didn't take him long to get to work after our first two reports aired that Wednesday night.
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)
"I ARRIVED AT 3:38 A.M."
The alarm sounded at 3:30 a.m.—sharp. It was Thursday morning, long before the sun would come up over the hills that surrounded Waverly and the day's first light would hit the Rhoden evidence warehouse.
Our crew grabbed the hotel cart and loaded our cameras, tripods and lights back into the news car.
We'd spent the night in Piketon following our first live reports from the evidence warehouse. Our first live shot this morning would hit at 5 a.m. Our first stop would be the evidence warehouse, to look for a place to park the live truck that would be out of the way of the chemical company and their business operations.
There wasn't a place, other than the large parking lot we'd gone live from the night before.
We drove up to the warehouse just past 4 a.m. and spotted headlights in front of the yellow gate on the southeastern side of the warehouse. It was the first time in six weeks that we'd spotted anyone anywhere around the warehouse property, except when the workers were there.
There was a dark colored SUV, on the other side of it was Pike County Sheriff Charlie Reader's marked, Dodge patrol truck with license tag "01."
We passed by and pulled over on that gravel turnaround. I jumped out and grabbed my camera and we headed back to record what was going on. We saw the sheriff and at least two other men standing by the gate. I shot video of them. They saw and I told them we were only shooting video of them working.
We soon left to head back to the sheriff's office. A few seconds later, what appeared to be that same SUV, was closing on us quickly. We were in a 35 miles an hour speed zone. I had the cruise locked on 35, which is what I'd done the entire time during this investigation.
The SUV followed us all the way to the sheriff's office. The driver sat at the stop sign between the Waverly Police Department and the Pike County Development offices. The driver sat there for the 57 seconds I shot video of him and several more seconds after I stopped.
That driver later pulled into the sheriff's office parking lot and out stepped a man in jeans, a flannel shirt and a sock cap. He turned toward us in a hurried walk. That man told us he was undercover and that the sheriff had "ordered" us to not show this man's face on television.
We wouldn't show video of an undercover police officer. The man left and we went on with our work.
We later reported on air seeing the sheriff at the warehouse when we passed at 4 a.m. The sheriff later texted me that, "I arrived at 3:38 am." We reported that text in a later live shot.
After our 6 a.m. live shot that morning, I went back to the warehouse to see if I could find any evidence of what the sheriff was doing at that yellow gate. It was obvious: he'd installed a new padlock. He also hung three "no trespassing" signs on it and hammered several metal stakes on either side of the gate.
That's when I saw—for the first time in six weeks—a law enforcement officer sitting outside the warehouse. It was Pike County Sheriff Charlie Reader, backed up to the main gate that had been unlocked nearly every day we spent watching the warehouse.
He was sitting in his patrol truck, with his park lights on. Reader, by 8:45 a.m. that morning was gone. That gate was wide open and workers were inside it, loading—or unloading—a white box truck at the side of the warehouse.
We went back later in the day to look for more signs of security changes there. Aside from what we'd already seen, there were brand new "no trespassing" signs, attached to the chain link fence surrounding the warehouse property.
We didn't see any deputies outside the warehouse.
Our final reports aired Sept. 29 at 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. While we were setting up for those live shots, we saw at least two different Pike County deputies driving through the warehouse parking lot. One was in a Ford Crown Victoria, the other was in a Ford Explorer. Both were shining spotlights on the building and driving slowly by the outside evidence lot.
Both spent about a minute in the parking lot, then left. It was the first time since our surveillance started on August 14 that we'd seen a deputy sitting at the warehouse.
"I'VE GOT ENOUGH GRIEF FOR A DOZEN MEN"
"I've got enough grief for a dozen men," Leonard Manley told us, "And a lot more hate for them that even that."
Leonard Manley is Dana Rhoden's father.
Manley's Union Hill Road home was the first stop we made after finishing our Sept. 26 interview with Sheriff Charles Reader. We wanted to show Manley everything we found out before he heard it elsewhere.
Manley informed us that he wasn't surprised and that he'd questioned the integrity of the evidence when he saw his daughter's mobile home being hauled down the highway following her murder in April.
Manley was also angry because he said he can't get any information from the sheriff's office. Not only that, Manly wants his daughter's purse back so he can provide his attorney her bank account records for probate.
Manly said he dropped the "papers" off at the sheriff's office to reclaim his daughter's belongings five weeks ago, but hasn't heard anything from the Pike County Sheriff's Office. "Not even a phone call," Manley said.
We told Manley about what former prosecutor Mike Allen told us about the evidence warehouse and that he believed some of the evidence in the case could be "virtually useless."
"He keeps telling us he's crossing his Ts and dotting his Is, but if that's what you call crossing your Ts and dotting your Is, it's wrong," Manley said.
"When he towed them [sic] trailers, he guaranteed us they'd be guarded 24 hours a day," Manley said. We asked what he thought that mean. "There's supposed to be someone there," Manley explained.
Manly also lost three grandchildren in the April 22 massacre.
"No, they didn't secure it. If you've got something secured, it's supposed to have a locked gate and someone there," Manley said.