Wagner family members arrested in execution-style murders of Pike Co., OH family
The Rhoden family was shot and killed in their Pike County homes in 2016
PIKE COUNTY, OH. (FOX19) - More than two years after eight members of a southeastern Ohio family were massacred execution-style in their homes, authorities arrested three generations of another family in connection with the murders.
The Rhodens were found in four separate trailers at two locations near Piketon on April 22, 2016.
The slayings are considered the state’s biggest and most complex homicide investigation to date, resulting in more than 1,000 tips, hundreds of people interviewed and dozens of search warrants, officials said Tuesday.
On Tuesday, agents arrested six people with blood ties to the Rhodens through a small child, the daughter of one of the suspects and the victims.
That child’s custody was a factor in the elaborately planned crime, Ohio Attorney General and Governor-Elect Mike DeWine announced, finally revealing at least part of the motive.
George "Billy” Wagner III, 47, Angela Wagner, 48, George Wagner IV, 27, and Edward “Jake” Wagner, 26, all were taken into custody on aggravated murder charges with the possibility for the death penalty.
They face several additional charges including conspiracy, aggravated burglary and tampering with evidence.
Jake is also charged with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor for having sexual contact with one of the victims when she was 15 and he was 20 years old.
The couple shared a child, Sophia, who was 3 when her mother was gunned down. Sophia was not there at the time and is now 5 years old.
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.
All were shot in the head -- most several times in three mobile homes on Union Hill Road and at another home a few miles away, according to autopsy records released in September.
Christopher Rhoden was among the first killed and was awake when he was confronted by at least one person with a gun, the reports showed.
He was shot a total of 9 times, and at least one bullet went through a door before hitting him, according to reports.
“They did this quickly, coldly, calmly and very carefully - but not carefully enough," said Pike county Sheriff Charles Reader. “They left traces, they left a trail, the parts to build a silencer, the forged documents, the cameras, the cell phones, all that they tampered with. And the lies, all the lies they told us.”
Three children were at two of the trailers during the killings, but they were spared.
- Brentley Rhoden 4: His father was Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden
- Brentley’s half-brother, Ruger Lee, who was 6 months old. Ruger’s mother and father were Frankie Rhoden and Hannah Gilley. The couple was engaged to be married.
- Kyle Mae, 5 days old: She was the newborn daughter of Hanna Rhoden and was found next to her dead mother.
READ MORE: Rhoden family members speak about frustration in massacre investigation
DeWine said police had also arrested Billy Wagner’s mother Fredericka Wagner and Angela’s mother Rita Newcomb for covering up the crime. by forging custody papers related to Jake and Hanna’s daughter, Sophia, who is now 5.
Billy Wagner was taken into custody in Lexington. Several units with the Pike County Sheriffs Office and BCI agents followed him to Kentucky as he hauled a horse trailer on his vehicle, according Reader.
“We reached out to the Fayette County Kentucky Sheriff’s Office and they assisted in that stop where he was apprehended without incident,” the sheriff said.
The other members of the family were arrested at various locations in Ohio: in Ross county, Scioto County and Pike County.
They are being held without bond at separate jails in southern and central Ohio. Their first court appearance will be held in Pike County sometime in the next week, Prosecutor Rob Junk said.
“It will be several years before these cases are concluded,” he said. “We all have a lot of hard work ahead of us.”
The case included an “obsession” with custody and control, according to DeWine.
Prosecutors allege Angela Wagner purchased several items in the months leading up to the slayings.
According to her indictment, that included “specific shoes from Walmart, ‘brass catcher(s),’ items with which to build ‘brass catchers,’ ammunition, a magazine clip, a ‘bug’ detector, and or items with which to build a ‘silencer(s),’ and/or various other items in preparation for these crimes."
Brass catchers collect discharged bullet casings.
While searching the crime scenes, officials have said they found marijuana “grow operations,” including one with more than 100 marijuana plants.
Reader and DeWine would not say if the drugs contributed to the motive, but DeWine did say drugs were an “undercurrent” in the case, along with money.
DeWine said investigators didn’t think anyone else was involved.
An attorney for the Wagner family, John K. Clark Jr., released a statement when we called his office for comment.
“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,” the statement read.
"However, the Wagners eagerly look forward to their trials, and to have their day in court so they can vindicate their names. T
“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.”
READ MORE: Pike County Massacre
A Family Connection
DeWine announced last year he was “laser focused” on the Wagners. He stopped short of calling them suspects or persons of interest but said investigators were interested in information on them.
The disclosure came just after the Wagners moved from Peebles to Kenai Alaska, a spot they had vacation at previously and enjoyed.
DeWine’s office was unusual and explicit:
“Investigators are interested in receiving information regarding any interactions, conversations, dealings, or transactions that the public may have had with these individuals, which could be personal, business or otherwise. Specifically, information could include, but is not limited to, information regarding vehicles, firearms and ammunition.”
The Wagners moved back to the area in the spring when the ran out of money, authorities have told FOX19 NOW.
Jake Wagner had custody of his daughter with Hanna Rhoden. Before the slayings, authorities have said the two were embroiled in a contentious custody battle.
The Wagners had denied that and said the dispute had been amicably settled.
Sophia was in the care of the Wagners at the time of the killings and was not in the home when they occurred, Reader has said.
READ MORE: Investigators focused on family of 4 in unsolved Rhoden family killings
In August, two properties were searched in connection with the slayings: one in Pike County and another in Scioto County.
Authorities never explained why the properties were searched or said what, if anything, they seized, or what led them to have enough probable cause for search warrants.
The searches took place over several hours during the afternoon and evening of Aug. 16 under heavy law enforcement presence that included SWAT teams.
READ MORE: Few details about Pike County slayings in autopsy reports | Pike County massacre: 2 properties searched, no arrests
READ MORE: Sunday marks 2 years since Pike County massacre
BCI agents and deputies from Pike and Scioto counties were involved.
After, a spokesman for the AG’s office would only say the case remained under investigation and no arrests were made.
He also would not confirm the Wagners had moved back into the area.
Stay with FOX19 NOW on-air and online for the latest on this developing story.
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