‘I was afraid they were going to kill me’: Jake Wagner’s ex-wife testifies in Pike County trial

Published: Oct. 21, 2022 at 8:51 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 21, 2022 at 1:40 PM EDT
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WARNING - Trial coverage could contain graphic images or language

WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - “I was afraid they were going to kill me.”

Jake Wagner’s ex-wife, Elizabeth “Beth Anne” Armer testified Friday that she feared for her life when she fled her brief, tumultuous marriage to Jake Wagner.

She told the jury she was so scared the day she left that she changed her clothes inside a Walmart store after his mother dropped her off in the parking lot.

She slipped out through the tire section in the back and met her father who took her to a friend who drove her out of state.

This is now the second ex-wife who has taken the stand at George Wagner IV’s murder trial in the Pike County massacre case and recounted disturbing details about living with his family.

Both Beth Anne and George Wagner IV’s former wife, Tabitha, described a household of constant yelling, hitting, being left out of family meetings and a mother-in-law who ran the show and hurled unfounded accusations against both women, resulting in the final showdowns that ended both young marriages.

George Wagner IV’s ex-wife takes the stand for second day

Pike County massacre: Complete trial coverage

Beth Anne’s testimony Friday comes one day after jurors saw text messages Jake sent the mother of his child in 2013, threatening to take their daughter “by force” if necessary.

George Wagner IV’s defense attorneys tried to keep the jury from seeing the text messages, which date back to 2013, during an evidentiary hearing Thursday before they were presented in court.

Pike County Judge Randy Deering, however, said it was appropriate evidence for the jury to see.

Jake’s ex-wife took the stand Friday morning as the final witness for the state this week, the sixth one of George Wagner IV’s murder trial in the 2016 Pike County massacre.

After a lunch break, George Wagner’s defense cross-examined Beth Anne.

She was asked why she refused to speak the defense before the trial.

Like Beth Anne’s earlier testimony, she pointed to the fear she has of the Wagner family.

“Because the Wagners terrify me,” she explained. “Would you want to talk to people who terrify you?”

Jake Wagner, his older brother George Wagner IV and their father Billy Wagner and mother Angela Wagner, were all charged with killing Hanna Rhoden, 19, and seven other members of the Rhoden and Gilley families in April 2016 in Pike County.

Prosecutors say a custody dispute over Jake and Hanna’s daughter was the motive in what is Ohio’s largest and most expensive criminal investigation to date.

Jake Wagner and his mother pleaded guilty to their roles in the massacre last year. They are expected to testify against George Wagner IV soon.

The family patriarch, Billy Wagner, continues to plead not guilty and fight the charges. Billy’s trial is expected to be next year.

Besides 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.

The bodies of members of the Rhoden family were discovered the morning of April 22, 2016. All...
The bodies of members of the Rhoden family were discovered the morning of April 22, 2016. All were shot execution style.(WXIX)

On Friday, Jake’s ex-wife told jurors she met him after the Wagner family moved to Alaska in the spring of 2017. They were married just under a year later, in March 2018.

She says she saw Jake for the first time at church with his daughter, Sophia; his mother, Angela Wagner, and his nephew, Bulvine (George’s son).

At first, she said she thought Jake and Angela were a couple.

The couple got engaged for what she thought would be two years but they wound up marrying much sooner. Jake told her he was moving to Missouri with the rest of his family in early 2018 and she could stay there or come with him.

She said her ex-husband and his mother had her sign an agreement before the wedding that she would not seek custody of his daughter if they divorced. Jake also told her that her family could not come around or he would kill them, she testified.

While they were married, she said they lived with his family the entire time despite Jake telling her he wanted them to get their own place.

The Wagners spent just days in Missouri. They all crammed into the same hotel room, a situation that she said “horrified” her.

The Wagners returned to Ohio from Missouri within days because Angela Wagner didn’t like any of the homes they looked at, Jake’s ex-wife said on the stand.

When they drove back to Ohio, she said she knew Billy Wagner would no longer be staying with the rest of the family once they reached their destination.

He moved to his mother’s place at the Flying W ranch and she said she lived in a home that was next door to Angela’s mother, Rita Newcomb. Beth Anne said she and Jake lived with his daughter, Angela, George and George’s son, Bulvine.

She described life with the Wagners similar to the way George Wagner IV’s ex-wife did when she testified recently.

The family was constantly yelling, Beth Anne recalled, telling the jury she was left out of decision-making discussions about most things of importance like finances.

Angela Wagner also accused her of doing things she said she didn’t do, creating friction between her son and his wife. Like his brother, Jake sided with his mother against his wife.

Beth Anne testified that Angela accused her of giving Bulvine and Sophia food poisoning by making tacos and ‘inappropriately touching’ Sophia.

As a result, Angela claimed said Beth Anne could no longer be alone in the same room with the kids. Jake also told her told his brother wasn’t comfortable with her living in the same home as Bulvine.

Jake threatened to kill her and said his entire family would too, Beth Anne testified, after Angela accused her of inappropriately touching his daughter.

So she left: “I was afraid they were going to kill me.”

During a trip to Walmart with Angela, Beth Anne said she went into the store and changed clothes.

BCI Agent Scheiderer, who later took the stand, said he was at the Walmart to monitor the situation.

They called in an agent to follow her and the others through the store, but the agent lost track of him.

Agent Scheiderer said he drive around the building and noticed a vehicle with out-of-state license plates and a woman inside messing with her hair.

He said something seemed suspicious so he radioed back that Beth Anne might be in the vehicle.

The agent said he followed the vehicle for a while as the driver seemed to be trying to elude someone. Scheiderer said they requested the sheriff’s office to make a traffic stop on the vehicle in question.

By the time the sheriff arrived, the vehicle had pulled into a rest area, according to the agent.

Then, the sheriff did a walk-by of the vehicle, which is when he was able to confirm it was in fact Beth Anne inside with her father.

Agent Scheiderer then said they stopped following the vehicle then.

George’s ex-wife, Tabitha, testified earlier this month he physically assaulted her in a dispute that prompted her to pack a bag and flee.

The argument started because she didn’t want to clean up the kitchen after Angela made lunch one day, she said.

“Me and George were in an argument and he slapped me,” Tabitha told the jury on Oct. 4. “I told him he’d just signed his divorce papers.”

The dispute grew more violent. She said her mother-in-law “threw a 2X4 board at me and told George she was going inside to get a gun,” Tabitha testified.

At that point, she ran and hid under her husband’s truck.

“I didn’t want to get shot,” she told the jury.

Then, did everything he could to keep her son from her for more than a year, even instructing her at one point not to tell the boy she was his mother.

Their divorce was final in January 2015 but she would not get custody of her son until she filed a legal action for it in 2018.

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