BCI agents testify about shoeprints, phone records in Pike County massacre trial

Published: Sep. 28, 2022 at 8:45 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 28, 2022 at 8:53 AM EDT

WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - A shoeprint expert with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation testified again Wednesday as George Wagner IV’s murder trial continues in the 2016 Pike County massacre.

Special Agent Suzanne Elliott continued telling jurors about the shoe impressions found at the four slaying scenes.

She decided against having her testimony recorded and shown on the trial’s live stream, but FOX19 NOW Reporter Mike Schell was listening in the courtroom.

In her testimony Tuesday, Elliott said the shoeprints at Chris Rhoden Sr.’s trailer did not match him or his cousin, Gary Rhoden.

On Wednesday, Elliott showed the jury the bottom of the shoes that he and his cousin Gary were wearing the night they were murdered.

She said they do not match the souls of the shoes that made the imprints. The brand name of the shoes is Athletic Works and sold at Walmart.

Prosecutors say, Angela Wagner, George IV’s mother, has admitted to buying that brand of shoes for her two sons at the Walmart in Waverly.

Someone else who owned a pair of the same shoes according to analyst Elliott was Dana Rhoden’s father, Leonard, who passed away last December.

But Elliot testified that the treads on the bottom of his shoes were too worn to be able to place the distinct markings on the floor in Chris Rhoden Sr.‘s home and inside the front door of Dana Rhoden’s home that leads to her son’s bedroom.

When asked by Wagner’s defense team if another brand of shoe could have the same outsole, Elliott said she didn’t know.

The prosecution then turned the jury’s attention to the cell phone records of the victims.

”We had three phones that were recovered from the crime scenes,” said BCI Agent Julia Eveslage. “Those would be Frankie Rhoden’s phone, Hannah Hazel Gilley’s phone and Kenneth Rhoden’s phone.”

Eveslage testified that since most of the Rhoden’s phones were missing, she had to rely on their cell carriers to provide their interactions on the night of April 21, 2016, beginning with Chris Rhoden Sr., the first victim the prosecution said was killed just after 11 p.m.

“The first line is an outgoing voice call with a duration of 27 seconds to Billy Wagner’s phone. It was at 8:51 pm,” said Eveslage.

The prosecution says Chris Sr. was expecting Billy Wagner to come over that night to discuss a possible drug deal arrangement.

The last phone activity on Chris Sr.’s phone the night he died was five minutes before 11 p.m. and it was to Billy Wagner.

“Less than a minute later, another outgoing call to Billy Wagner’s phone and that’s the last activity,” the BCI agent said on the stand.

Prosecutors say the Wagners killed the Rhoden family to gain custody of 2-year-old Sophia, who is the daughter of Jake Wagner and Hanna Rhoden

Agent Eveslage said Hanna was in contact with Jake the night she was murdered.

Here’s the timeline Eveslage laid out in court:

”At 9:02 p.m., an outgoing text message to Jake Wagner.”

“At 9:03 p.m., and incoming text from Jake Wagner.”

“9:07 p.m., an incoming text from Jake Wagner.”

“At 9:35 p.m., there’s an outgoing voice call attempt to Jake Wagner’s phone,” Agent Eveslage testified. “It has a zero-second duration. Without having the other end of the records in front of me, I can’t exactly determine what happened with that call, but it did have a duration of zero seconds on her side.”

Geroge Wagner’s defense attorney, John Parker, questioned Agent Eveslage saying, “I can loan my phone to someone and it would still show up as the person who owns the phone is the one who used it.”

The agent said, “yes.”

She also testified that retaining the content of the text messages and what was said in the phone conversations is impossible in this case because AT&T, the company the Rhoden’s used, does not record them.

The slayings are considered the state’s biggest and most complex homicide investigation.

Wagner IV, 30, is the first member of his family of four who was indicted in the April 21-22, 2016 slayings to go on trial.

Pike County massacre: Complete trial coverage

He has pleaded not guilty to killing Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; his older brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44; his cousin, Gary Rhoden, 38; his former wife, Dana Lynn Rhoden, 37, and their children: Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, Hanna May Rhoden, 19, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Frankie’s fiancé, Hannah “Hazel” Gilley, 20.

Most of the victims were found shot execution-style shortly before 8 a.m. on April 22, 2016, in three separate trailers on Union Hill Road. The eighth victim, Kenneth Rhoden, was found shot once in the head at his trailer some 6.5 miles away on Left Fork Road.

Wagner IV’s younger brother, Jake Wagner, and their mother, Angela Wagner, pleaded guilty for their roles in the killings last year.

Both are scheduled to testify against him in the coming weeks.

Download & Listen on Spotify or Apple: Cincinnati’s Crime Vault | Beyond the Broadcast: Pike County Massacre - Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4

Days before the slayings, Angela Wagner, was seen on security camera footage buying shoes at the Walmart store in Waverly, according to prosecutors.

In her plea agreement, Angela Wagner admitted that she bought a brand of shoe that she said her sons would never wear and sizes that were larger than her sons’ feet.

The shoes have never been found.

Prosecutors have said that evidence was destroyed.

Jake Wagner, 28, pleaded guilty to eight counts of murder and 15 other charges including gun specifications, conspiracy, burglary, possession of dangerous ordnance and tampering with evidence.

Pike County Massacre: Judge rules to allow shoe expert to testify before a jury

In exchange, prosecutors say they will drop the possibility of the death penalty and Jake Wagner agreed to serve eight life sentences without parole.

His lawyer said Jake Wagner “knows he’s going to die in prison without any judicial relief.”

He is held at the Franklin County Jail.

His mother 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 the 51-year-old woman serve 30 years in prison with no possibility of the death penalty. She currently is held at the jail in Delaware County.

Exhibit from prosecution during opening statements in the trial of George IV.
Exhibit from prosecution during opening statements in the trial of George IV.(Liz Duf | Cincinnati Enquirer)

The other Wagner still facing trial and accused of actually shooting and killing anyone is the family patriarch, 50-year-old George “Billy” Wagner III.

He has pleaded not guilty and remains locked up at the Butler County Jail.

He is charged with eight counts of aggravated murder, four counts of aggravated burglary, three counts of tampering with evidence, two counts of unlawful possession of dangerous ordnance and single counts of conspiracy, forgery, unauthorized use of computer or telecommunications, interception of wire, oral or electronic communication, obstructing justice and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.

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