Wagners attended Rhoden funerals in 2016, according to witness testimony

Published: Sep. 30, 2022 at 6:52 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 30, 2022 at 12:09 PM EDT
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WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - George Wagner IV’s murder trial in the 2016 Pike County massacre case resumed Friday after illness canceled it Thursday.

Two relatives of some of the eight victims testified, providing background as prosecutors continue to lay out their case against George Wagner IV.

Those relatives included Dana Rhoden’s brother, James Manley, and his wife, April Manley,

Testimony covered the stormy relationship between Hanna Rhoden and Jake Wagner, with some witnesses describing Jake and his family as controlling.

Manley said Hanna was afraid of the Wagner family.

“Hanna was always ‘a chunky little monkey,’ and she had got down so tiny because he would tell her that she was fat and tell her not to eat,” Manley testified.

Manley lived less than a mile to the east of Dana Rhoden’s home. On the morning of the murders, she said she rode in the ambulance to Adams County Regional Medical Center with Hanna’s newborn, Kylie, who wasn’t injured.

“Eventually, at the end, Jake showed up,” she said. “Jake Wagner.”

Manley recalled Jake was emotionless and seemed only to care about the newborn even though he was told the baby wasn’t his.

She said Jake hugged her at the hospital, which still bothers her to this day. “Because I have to wonder,” she said, “if he had my baby’s blood on him when he touched me.”

The defense attorney countered Jake didn’t appear to her as threatening then. “There was nothing about that conversation,” he posed, “that caused you to alert BCI immediately about Jake Wagner, right?” Manley replied, “No.”

Manley also confirmed the three Wagner men attended the funerals of seven of the eight Rhoden victims.

Pike County massacre: Complete trial coverage

Wagner IV is the first of his four family members to go on trial in the April 21-22, 2016 killings of eight members of another family, the Rhodens.

This is the state of Ohio’s biggest and most complex homicide investigation to date.

Wagner IV, 30, has pleaded not guilty to eight counts of aggravated murder and other charges.

His 2018 indictment says Wagner IV, his father, George “Billy Wagner III, his mother, Angela Wagner and his younger brother, Jake Wagner, all carefully planned for months to kill the Rhodens. The motive was to gain “custody and control” of the 2-year-old daughter of Jake Wagner, and one of the victims, 19-year-old Hanna May Rhoden, prosecutors say.

All of the victims were shot to death, mostly execution-style in their beds as they slept, at four separate trailers on two properties in or near Piketon.

In addition to Hanna May Rhoden, the other victims are her father, Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; two of her uncles, Kenneth Rhoden, 44 and Gary Rhoden, 38; her mother, Dana Lynn Rhoden, 37, and both of her brothers: Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16 and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, as well as Frankie’s fiancé, Hannah “Hazel” Gilley, 20.

April Manley knew the victims well. She was married to Dana Rhoden’s brother for nearly three decades and remembered Dana started working as a nurse’s assisting her senior year in high school.

They all lived near each other at a section of Pike County on Union Hill Road that borders and runs into Adams and Scioto counties.

Her son, Cody, and one of the victims, Frankie Wagner, were best friends and Frankie rode with her son each day to work.

She testified Friday that Jake Wagner was controlling of Hanna May and chased her with his vehicle at one point. Hanna May hid behind a church and called her. April Manley said she called Dana Rhoden to alert her.

April Manley told jurors she and Jake Wagner didn’t like each other. He thought she was too nosy, she said, and she thought he was “very controlling” of Hanna.

“Jake told Hanna he bought everything for the baby when she was pregnant and he would take it all away and she would have nothing,” April Manley testified.

Hanna, she said, was ‘always a chunky little monkey” but had lost so much weight because Jake told her she was “fat and not to eat.”

Jake Wagner showed up at the hospital the day the victims’ bodies were found, along with two toddlers and Hanna’s newborn baby, Kylie, who was born five days earlier, on April 17, 2016.

The newborn’s father was Charlie Gilley , April Manley testified.

At the time of Hanna May Rhoden’s death, her boyfriend was a guy named Corey but Jake Wagner thought Kylie was his, April told jurors.

Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa asked her why it bothered he so much that Jake Wagner hugged her when he came to the hospital to try to take Kylie and then left shortly after when that wasn’t permitted.

“Because,” she broke down on the stand, eyes filling with tears and voice quivering, “I have to wonder if he still had my baby’s blood on him when he touched me.”

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

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)

Jake Wagner and Angela Wagner both pleaded guilty for their roles in the killings last year.

They are scheduled to testify against him soon.

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.

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.

George “Billy” Wagner III, 50, is continuing to fight his charges and will be the next one to go on trial.

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

April Manley testified Friday that the Wagners owned land around her when she was growing up and she found Billy Wagner “scary.”

He wore his gun out on his side, hooked on his belt, she told jurors.

Chris Rhoden Sr. was badly beaten with “a 2X4″ hospitalized at one point, she recalled.

Billy Wagner came to the hospital with his brother, Kenneth Rhoden, she said, and she overheard them “talking about getting revenge” on whoever beat up Chris Rhoden Sr.

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