Pike County massacre: Jurors see text messages showing custody was issue for years

Pike County massacre: Jurors hear more about evidence found on Wagner properties
Published: Oct. 20, 2022 at 8:54 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 21, 2022 at 8:24 AM EDT
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WARNING - Trial coverage could contain graphic images or language

WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - New evidence revealed to jurors in the Pike County massacre trial Thursday showed custody disputes and threats over the daughter of one of the confessed killers and one of the victims began before their daughter was even born.

Pike County massacre: Complete trial coverage

BCI Criminal Intelligence Analyst Julie Eveslage took the stand to read pages and pages of text messages that date back to 2013 between George Wagner IV’s younger brother, Jake Wagner, to Hanna May Rhoden including this one from Jake to Hanna:

“I’m telling you right now, make a choice and make it now. If you do this it’s over and I will take Sophie and if I have to by force.”

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.

Pike County massacre: Complete trial coverage

Jake Wagner, his older brother George Wagner IV and their father Billy Wagner and mother Angela Wagner, were all charged with killing Hanna Rhoden and seven of her relatives in April 2016 in Pike County.

Jake Wagner and his mother pleaded guilty to their roles in the massacre last year.

George Wagner IV, and Billy Wagner continue to plead not guilty and fight the charges.

George Wagner IV’s trial is now in its sixth week and is expected to stretch into November.

Both Jake Wagner and Angela Wagner are set to testify soon against him.

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.

George Wagner IV’s defense attorneys tried to keep the jury from seeing the text messages during an evidentiary hearing.

Pike County Judge Randy Deering ruled the text messages are admissible state evidence.

Eveslage, who testified about other text messages between Jake and Hanna Thursday, is among several BCI agents who returned to testify this week about the wide array of evidence they collected as they worked to solve the slayings.

Evidence includes shell casings, magazines, a modified flashlight thought to be used as a gun silencer, bug detector, a prescription pill bottle, two pairs of gray mens’ Walmart gym shoes and even a Captain America Winter Soldier mask.

The agent who oversaw the investigation, Ryan Scheiderer, told jurors Thursday morning as testimony that BCI even bought replicas of some of the same items the Wagners purchased in the months leading to the shootings as they tried to figure out how they thought the killings happened.

Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa described these items as “demonstrative aid.”

Scheiderer said they also noticed a purchase of a device to detect surveillance electronics on the receipts.

He said the devices are “for detecting wireless audio detecting devices. Detecting both wireless and wireless cameras and detecting GPS trackers while detecting the signal.”

Canepa asked Scheiderer about BCI’s 2017 search of property on Bethel Hill Road. The Wagners lived there until 2014.

Jurors saw several photos taken at that land and items BCI recovered, including a prescription pill bottle in the name of George Wagner and a wristband of Hanna May Rhoden’s.

George Wagner’s defense attorney said there’s no proof his client bought any of the items.

John Parker, Wagner defense: “You testified a few minutes ago that George’s credit card was used to purchase the bug detector, correct?

Agent Scheiderer: “Correct.”

Parker: “Alright, are you saying that George himself purchased the bug detector?”

Scheiderer: “I can’t say who purchased it.”

The prosecution then moved on to bullets and cartridge casings they said were found on the Wagner’s property in Peebles and at the home of Chris Rhoden Sr. Prosecutors call it “Crime Scene #1.”

“Based off the comparisons of the head stamps, looking at the manufacturer, the caliber, they’re all consistent,” BCI Ballistics Expert Matt White testified Thursday.

George Wagner’s defense team elected not to cross-examine him following that testimony.

On Wednesday, jurors heard extensive details about the Wagner family’s finances and purchases in the months leading up to the Pike County massacre.

Jurors also got their first look at a key piece of evidence that state law enforcement agents during a search of property linked to the Wagners.

Former BCI agent Bryan White held up part of a modified flashlight.

George Wagner IV’s brother, Jake Wagner, has told authorities it was made into a gun silencer. Divers found it in a pond.

In other testimony Wednesday, BCI’s forensic accountant, Michael Kaizar, testified about his analysis of multiple Wagner financial accounts and purchases in the months leading up to the Pike County massacre.

He told jurors he reviewed hundreds and hundreds of pages of bank statements for some accounts, as well as dozens of purchases on them including an “enormous” receipt from Amazon.

Kaizar said BCI investigators asked him to keep a lookout for any suspicious items and to flag any tools, equipment, and other items purchased that could be used to make a gun silencer or suppressor. He told jurors he found purchases on George Wagner’s accounts for ammunition and a magazine (to hold bullets, not to read) and flashlights and drill bits on one of Jake Wagner’s cards that could be used to make a suppressor.

Kaizar testified he noticed frequent transfers between different accounts among the Wagners over 3.5 years that totaled more than $100,000, suggesting parallels to what he often sees in a criminal organization.

Frequent transfers of money, sharing of funds and expenses show that even though accounts may be in separate names, ‘what you might see is that maybe they are working as a coordinated group.’

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