PIKE COUNTY, OHIO (Cincinnati Enquirer) - Agents with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation had been tracking a truck being driven by the brother of a victim of the Rhoden family massacre, according to a search warrant obtained The Enquirer Monday afternoon.
The warrant was issued April 21 and gave authorities 45 days to track James. T. Manley's 1997 Chevrolet K2500 truck. Manley is the older brother of Dana Manley Rhoden, who was shot to death during the April 22, 2016 homicide that left seven of her family member dead, sparking the largest and most complex investigation in Ohio history.
According to our media partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer, the warrant, signed by Pike County Common Pleas Judge Timothy Hogan, indicated authorities believe the truck was "used as a means of the commission of the crime'' of aggravated murder. Or it was in the possession of another person with the intent to use the vehicle as a means of committing the crime.
However, the warrant never names Manley as a suspect; nor does it say the warrant is tied to the Rhoden homicide investigation.
Three BCI agents went to James Manley's home on Union Hill Road Monday afternoon to remove the GPS tracking device, said his father, Leonard Manley. Manley was at the home and spoke with agents.
However, Manley said he told the agents that they would not find the device on the truck. Manley said a BCI agent told him that they were going to arrest his son on felony charges tied to the destruction of government property.
The agents left a copy of the search warrant with James Manley's wife. They also told her to call her husband at work to tell him to come home. She made that call, but the younger Manley declined to leave his logging job in Lima, his father said.
The Monday disclosure came just two days after intensive searches at two area farms in the area.
The property owner of one of those sites said Monday morning that authorities combed through household items left there by a former boyfriend of one of the victims.
Bernie Brown said Jake Wagner and his brother needed a place to store their household goods "for a few days" after they sold their 71-acre farm because the new owners were moving in and they had nowhere to take it. The Wagner brothers also indicated they were looking to move "north."
Authorities swarmed Brown's property on Route 41 in rural Peebles, and the Wagner farm nearby on 260 Peterson Road about 11 a.m. Friday. State officials have declined to publicly acknowledge that the searches, which widened Saturday to include a more than 300-acre horse farm owned by Wagner's grandparents in neighboring Pike County, are linked to April 26, 2016 killings of eight members of the Rhoden family. All the properties are about 10 to 12 miles from the sites of the Rhoden killings.
Jake Wagner was the long-time boyfriend of Hanna Rhoden, whose parents and siblings were among those slain. The couple has a daughter, Sophia, now 3, who is believed to be in the custody of Wagner. Authorities have never named a suspect in the case, nor have they stated a motive in the most complex homicide investigation in the state's history.
"They called and said they wanted to park their stuff for a few days until they could find a place,'' Brown said, adding that Wagner, 24, and his older brother, George Washington Wagner IV, 25, indicated that they had gotten "good-paying jobs up north."
Brown said the brothers, both diesel mechanics and one-time over-the-road truck drivers, often worked on his vehicles. He said he was doing them a favor by letting them store the items on his property.
The Wagners showed up a week before the search and dropped a container about the size of a semi-tractor trailer, a horse trailer as well as a small enclosed trailer on the north side of a barn on his property. The larger container contained numerous boxes as well as household items and was covered in a blue tarp, Brown said. He also said the horse trailer was loaded with items.
Those two containers remained at his property Monday along with two pickup trucks. The beds of trucks were also loaded with items including a rocking horse, a stuffed bear and small plastic kid's motorized car.
Authorities, however, towed away the enclosed trailer around 11:30 p.m. Friday, Brown said.
Authorities did not search Brown's home, garages or barn. Nor did they search the car lot, which is owned and operated by his son and is also on the property, he said. Brown said authorities told him they had a warrant to search the items left by Wagner. He did not see, nor was he given, a copy of that warrant.
The searches that spanned Friday and Saturday were the most public activity in the case for months. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has made repeated assurances over the past year that authorities were working the case and chasing leads. Just last month, DeWine and Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader, implored anyone with information to step forward. It was unknown if the searches were sparked by a recent tip or were born out of the ongoing probe.
Brown said he hopes that investigators solve the case and make an arrest.
"What happened over there is too bad,'' said Brown. "I hope they get them... We are not involved in anything and I hope those boys aren't either."
In addition to Hanna Rhoden, 19, killed were: her parents, Christopher, Sr., 40, and Dana, 37; her brothers, Christopher, Jr., 16, and Frankie, 20, and his fiancee, Hannah Gilley, 20; her uncle Kenneth, 44; and a cousin, Gary Rhoden, 38.
The Enquirer interviewed Jake Wagner and his mother, Angela Wagner, at the Peterson Road farm a year ago. The farm was filled with children's toys, many of which could be seen stacked in the containers stored on Brown's farm Monday afternoon. Wagner said in July he still had not told his daughter that her mother was killed. The toddler was with him the morning of the killings.
Attempts to reach Wagner and his mother remained unsuccessful Monday.
A woman, who answered the phone of the Flying W horse farm on Camp Creek Road in Pike County - the site of a raid Saturday afternoon - declined to discuss the searches. That 300-acre farm is owned and operated by George Washington Wagner, Jr., and his wife, Fredericka C. Wagner, according to property records.
"I don't know anything,'' the woman said and hung up the phone.
According to a real estate web site, the Wagner's Peterson Road farm was sold in March for $165,000 - $10,000 less than what they bought it for in 2014. Dozen of state and local investigators used metal detectors and dug in area's on the property and they towed two red all-terrain vehicles from the area as well.