5th anniversary of Pike Co. massacre
Four members of the Wagner family face in the execution-style slayings of eight members of the Rhoden family
WAVERLY, Ohio (FOX19) - Thursday marks the fifth anniversary of Ohio’s most complex homicide investigation.
And in court, Jake Wagner pleaded guilty to eight counts of aggravated murder.
He also pleaded guilty to gun specifications, conspiracy, burglary, possession of dangerous ordnance and tampering with evidence.
In all, Jake pleaded guilty to 23 charges.
Eight members of the Rhoden family were found dead the morning of April 22, 2016, in their Pike County homes in southern Ohio.
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 say.
FULL SECTION | Pike County Massacre
The victims are family patriarch 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.
PREVIOUS | TIMELINE: Rhoden family murder investigation
More than two and a half years went by before authorities made arrests in the case.
Six people with blood ties to the Rhodens through a young child were arrested the morning of Nov. 13, 2018, and charged in connection with the murders.
George “Billy” Wagner III, 49, Angela Wagner, 50, George Wagner IV, 29, and Edward “Jake” Wagner, 27, all were taken into custody on aggravated murder charges with the possibility for the death penalty.
Jake is also charged with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor for having sexual contact with Hanna Mae Rhoden when she was 15 and he was 20 years old.
They’ve made multiple court appearances in the Pike County Courthouse in the now more than two years since their arrests as the case progresses very slowly toward their trials.
State lawmakers have approved funding to help pay for the trials, which officials have said likely will cost $1 million.
The young child connecting the two families is now-7-year-old Sophia Wagner, the daughter of Hanna Mae Rhoden and Jake Wagner.
Ohio Governor and then-Attorney General Mike DeWine has said the child’s custody was a factor in the elaborately planned crime.
“After extensive joint investigation – these individuals are now in custody for committing these heartless, ruthless cold blooded murders,” DeWine said the day the Wagners’ indictments and arrests were announced.
“Many were killed as they slept. All eight victims were killed in cold blood. They were brutally and viciously executed.”
All of the Rhodens 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.
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 parents 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 Mae Rhoden and was found next to her dead mother.
Billy’s mother Fredericka Wagner, and Angela’s mother, Rita Newcomb, also were charged with obstruction of justice and perjury.
The charges were eventually dropped against Fredericka Wagner, and Newcomb pleaded guilty to obstruction official business, a misdemeanor.
Her other charges, perjury and forgery, were dismissed.
Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader said at the time of the slaying that Sophia was in the care of the Wagners when the Rhodens were killed.
Reader is no longer in office.
He is a convicted felon who is in prison,
He was suspended from office amid criminal charges in 2019 and did not run for re-election last year.
Reader pleaded guilty last fall to stealing money seized from arrests and then covering it up.
He sobbed in open court, pleading for leniency, before the judge recently sentenced him to three years in prison.
Reader was one of the initial investigators on the case, and it’s not clear yet if his criminal case will impact his credibility and the prosecution of the Wagner family.
Criminal justice experts have said that if Reader were convicted of crimes, that could be a problem for the prosecution, especially if he played a major role in the investigation.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost previously told FOX19 NOW Reader’s indictment would “have no impact on the Wagner capital murder case, as Reader was not the primary witness for any issue of fact or law. Ohio sheriffs act with integrity and honor, and this rare occurrence does not reflect the excellent work they do daily throughout their counties.”
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