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Pike County Massacre: Angela Wagner pleads guilty

Published: Sep. 10, 2021 at 5:11 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 13, 2021 at 2:25 PM EDT
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WAVERLY, Ohio (FOX19) - Angela Wagner pleaded guilty Friday in connection with the 2016 Rhoden family massacre.

She is the second member of the Wagner family to admit a role in the death of eight members of the Rhoden family more than five years ago in rural southern Ohio.

Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk says Wagner pleaded to conspiracy to commit aggravated murder, several counts of aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence, and other charges as part of a plea deal. The remaining eight counts of aggravated murder were dismissed.

The prosecution is recommending Wagner receive 30 years with no possibility of the death penalty. As part of the plea, she has agreed to testify against the other defendants.

Junk says the victim’s family was aware of the plea and agreed to the terms.

Wagner faced 22 felony charges including eight counts of murder in connection with the Rhoden family slayings on April 22, 2016.

Prosecutors say Wagner, 51, her husband, George “Billy” Wagner III, 50, and their two grown sons planned the execution-style murders for months so one of them, Edward “Jake” Wagner, could have sole custody of the young daughter he shared with one of the victims, Hanna Mae Rhoden, 19.

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

The other victims are Hanna Rhoden’s father, Christopher Rhoden, 40; his former wife and Hanna’s mother, Dana Lynn Rhoden, 37; his older brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44; his cousin, Gary Rhoden and Christopher and Dana Rhoden’s other children: Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; Christopher Rhoden Jr.; 16, and Frankie’s fiancé, Hannah Gilley.

All were shot in the head, most several times, according to autopsy records.

Three children were at the scene of the slayings but were spared:

  • Brentley Rhoden 4, the son of Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden
  • Brentley’s half-brother, Ruger Lee, 6 months old. His parents were Frankie Rhoden and Hannah Gilley, and they were engaged to be married.
  • Kyle Mae, 5 days old, the newborn daughter of Hanna Rhoden. Kyle was found next to her dead mother.

READ MORE | Pike County Massacre

Eight members of the Rhoden family were found fatally shot near Piketon, in rural southern...
Eight members of the Rhoden family were found fatally shot near Piketon, in rural southern Ohio, on April 22, 2016. (Provided photos)

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost released a statement following the plea agreement, saying Angela Wagner “failed in her responsibilities” as a mother.

“Our society reveres mothers for taking care of their children and teaching them to do the right thing, even when it’s hard. But by actively plotting the murder of an entire family and encouraging her own kids to carry out the violence, Angela Wagner abjectly failed in her responsibilities,” Yost said.

He also praised the law enforcement officials and others who tirelessly worked on what would become the largest homicide investigation in Ohio history.

“I send my thanks to the dedicated special agents, forensic scientists and intelligence analysts at the Bureau of Criminal Investigation — at least 33 past and present by my office’s count — who have worked this case without ceasing since the start. Their work will continue until each of the perpetrators of these crimes are held accountable.”

The murders are a result of what investigators said was a cold-blooded, elaborate and planned execution plot to get rid of anyone who might stand in the way of the custody of Jake Wagner and Hanna Rhoden’s daughter, Sophia.

The two began dating when Hanna Rhoden was 13 years old and she was pregnant at 15, according to prosecutors. The relationship later ended, and then she had a second child with another man.

That’s when prosecutors say Jake Wagner began to pressure her about custody over their daughter.

The little girl was in the care of the Wagners when the Rhodens were killed.

Edward "Jake" Wagner has pleaded guilty to the slayings and agreed to testify against his...
Edward "Jake" Wagner has pleaded guilty to the slayings and agreed to testify against his family. (Photo: FOX19 NOW)

The Wagner family moved to Kenai, Alaska after the killings.

They returned to Ohio in the spring of 2018 when they ran out of money and remained in the Pike County area until their arrests in November 2018.

In a surprise twist in the case earlier this year, Angela’s youngest son, Edward “Jake” Wagner, 28, pleaded guilty to eight counts of aggravated murder.

He admitted to killing five members of the Rhoden family and to spying on the family before the killings, tampering with evidence and obstructing the years-long search for the killers.

Jake Wagner agreed to cooperate in the cases against his family in exchange for a deal to help all four avoid the death penalty.

He could receive up to eight consecutive life sentences for the Rhodens’ murders and 160 years imprisonment for the other charges.

When Angela Wagner appeared before Judge Randy Deering last year, he punished her for violating his order to not have contact with co-defendants.

He prohibited her from making and receive phone calls and from writing and receiving letters.

The only exceptions to his ruling are for her defense team, investigators for the defense and mitigation experts.

The judge also expanded a no-contact order for Angela Wagner’s mother, Rita Newcomb, reiterating she may not have any interactions with her.

According to prosecutors, Angela Wagner and her mother spoke in violation of the court’s order.

Her mother, Rita Newcomb, was accused of helping her family members evade arrest and lying to a grand jury.

She was initially charged with obstruction of justice, perjury and forgery but wound up pleading guilty only to obstruction of official business, a misdemeanor.

The other charges were dismissed.

Billy Wagner’s mother, Fredericka Wagner, also was charged but those were eventually dropped.

Rita Newcomb (left) and Fredericka Wagner (right).  (Photo: Ohio Attorney General Office)
Rita Newcomb (left) and Fredericka Wagner (right). (Photo: Ohio Attorney General Office)

George “Billy” Wagner’s court date has not been set yet.

His eldest son, George Wagner IV, will go on trial April 4, 2022.

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