Pike County murder weapons hidden in cement-filled buckets

Published: Oct. 25, 2022 at 8:30 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 25, 2022 at 8:01 PM EDT
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WARNING - Trial coverage could contain graphic images or language

WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - Confessed Pike County killer Jake Wagner told the jury in his brother’s murder trial Tuesday that George Wagner IV and their dad helped him get rid of the guns and other things they used in the execution-style killings of eight people in April 2016.

Pike County massacre: Complete trial coverage

Earlier Tuesday, Jake Wagner said his family agreed to tell law enforcement they were all at home watching TV when it happened.

“I believe my dad said don’t offer gains,” Wagner recalled on the stand.

Under questioning from Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa, he said he and his family never talked about the killings or his daughter’s custody, which is believed to be the motive in what has become Ohio’s biggest and most expensive murder case to date.

“No. I couldn’t without having immense guilt ...I decided to erase the memory completely.”

On Monday, Jake Wagner nonchalantly described committing crimes such as arson and theft for years with his family and talked just as calmly about gunning down most of the eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families.

Jake Wagner describes massacre: ‘’She looked up and made a gasping noise and then I shot her’

Prosecutors say the Wagners planned the execution-style murders for months so Jake Wagner could have sole custody of his daughter, Sophia, born in 2015 to one of the victims, Hanna May Rhoden, 19.

The other victims are her father, Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; his older brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44; his cousin, Gary Rhoden, 38; his former wife, Dana Lynn Rhoden, 37, and their sons: Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Frankie’s fiancé, Hannah “Hazel” Gilley, 20.

Legal analyst talks latest Pike County trial developments

During a sidebar in court Monday, Jake Wagner looked at several of the victims’ relatives in the courtroom and appeared to mouth the words: “I’m sorry.”

George Wagner IV, 31, is the first of the Wagners to go on trial.

He has pleaded not guilty to 22 charges, including eight counts of aggravated murder, along with his father, Billy Wagner.

George Wagner didn’t shoot and kill anyone, but prosecutors say he can and should be convicted of aggravated murder because he conspired with his family in the planning and carrying out of the massacre.

Jake Wagner told the jury Monday that his brother was supposed to be the one who shot Chris Rhoden Sr., but he froze so Jake pulled the trigger.

Jake Wagner and his mother pleaded guilty to their roles in the massacre last year. Then, Jake Wagner led investigators to the weapons and vehicles used in the killings.

On Monday, Jake Wagner told the jury he used a Walther Colt 1911 .22 caliber pistol. His father, Billy Wagner, was armed with a .40-caliber Glock. An SKS rifle also was used in the offense.

Jake Wagner testified Tuesday that he cut at least two of those three weapons in half with a grinding tool. He said his brother helped him, describing George Wagner as “strong as a bull ox.”

Jake Wagner told jurors he used a torch to melt down the firing pins and serial numbers to prevent the weapons from being traced back to the crimes.

Jake Wagner disposed of the ashes in a Rumpke Dumpster on the Peterson Road property. He said he also burned several items in an old metal feeding trough. Everything was burned until there was nothing left and the ashes were disposed in a Rumpke Dumpster on the family’s property.

He said he burned:

  • The clothes and shoes they wore
  • DVR they removed from a marijuana grow house on Chris Rhoden Sr.’s property
  • Cell phones collected from the victims’ rooms after they were shot to death
  • Shell casings at some of the shooting scenes

Prosecutor Canepa asked Jake Wagner if he planned to destroy the weapons before the slayings.

“I did,” he responded.

He also admitted on the witness stand that he and his brother dug a hole under a new barn on their land, placed the broken-up gun parts into a duffel bag and buried it under the barn.

Jake Wagner said he and his father dug the duffel back up later, removed the gun parts and put them in 5-gallon buckets filled with concrete, along with Jake Wagner’s hunting knife. He used the knife to try to pry open the door on one of the victim’s locked trailers but the knife broke off.

The buckets with the weapon parts were then filled with cement and put into the water as anchors for a goose house the brothers gave their grandfather as a Father’s Day or birthday present. Their grandfather used it on his lake at Flying W Farms in Lucasville.

Jake Wagner told the jury his brother initially helped him build the goose house.

Discovery filed in the case in Pike County Common Pleas Court on June 21, 2021, shows the state submitted several items as evidence against George Wagner IV after Jake Wagner helped them retrieve them.

The discovery report includes “concrete bucket contents,” “Glock comparisons,” “Walther comparisons” and reports from dive teams in Franklin and Ross counties who searched the lake at Flying W Farms.

Canepa showed Jake and the jury an aerial photo of the lake at Flying W Farms.

He pointed to the top right portion of the lake and said the goose house was in that location.

In her opening statement, Canepa briefly touched on BCI gun expert Matt White reassembling the weapons after they were retrieved.

More testimony about this evidence and how BCI’s gun expert literally pieced the weapons back together is expected in the coming days.

The jury also will hear 2018 wiretaps of the Wagners that prosecutors say will corroborate their conspiracy charge against George Wagner IV.

The judge overseeing this murder trial, Pike County Common Pleas Court Judge Randy Deering, has allowed each witness to decide before he or she testifies under oath if they want to have it recorded on camera or opt-out.

Jake Wagner, a confessed killer of at least five people who is a co-defendant in his brother’s capital murder trial, has been allowed to testify off-camera all week.

Their mother, Angela Wagner, also will testify against him soon.

Their testimony against George Wagner is part of their plea deals wtih the state.

When witnesses opt out, only people in the courtroom can see it and hear it.

Multiple other witnesses have testified on camera including both George Wagner and Jake Wagner’s ex-wives, some relatives of the Rhoden family who cried on the stand at times as they recounted painful memories of their slain loved ones, all the agents from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the deputy coroner at the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office who performed autopsies on all of the victims.

On Tuesday, Ohio’s Fourth District Court of Appeals released a decision ordering Pike County Common Pleas Court Judge Randy Deering to allow all witness testimony to be recorded on camera unless he first holds a hearing to consider why the witness should be allowed to opt-out.

The prosecution and attorneys for the media can present their arguments for and against it at the hearing.

The decision from the appeals court came after Jake Wagner already testified off camera all day Monday, describing in vivid detail how the massacre was planned and carried out, and continued to testify off camera again Tuesday.

After a long lunch break, the judge announced he would hold a hearing at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday to consider reasons for witness testimony off camera.

Then, court resumed for the afternoon with Jake Wagner continuing to testify off camera.

Prosecutor Canepa asked him about his ex-wife, who testified Friday, and George Wagner’s ex-wife, Tabitha Claytor, who took the stand earlier this month.

Both women told the jury they fled the family home after separate episodes years apart in which they feared for their lives.

The ex-wives recounted disturbing details about living with the Wagners, describing a household of constant yelling and hitting. They said they were left out of family meetings and had to contend a mother-in-law who ran the show and hurled unfounded accusations against them, resulting in the final showdowns that ended both brief marriages.

Claytor said she fled the family home in 2014, leaving her young son behind, after George Wagner slapped her across the face and then her mother-in-law threw a large wooden board at her and “told George she was going inside to get a gun.”

Claytor testified she hid under a truck, telling the jury: “I didn’t want to get shot.”

Canepa asked Jake about the night George’s ex-wife left. He said he was there when the argument broke out and remembered it occurred a day or two before his birthday around Nov. 10 or Nov. 11.

He testified to the following claims:

He was sitting in the kitchen at the time and could see directly into the couple’s bedroom, where Claytor claimed George Wagner IV struck her.

Jake Wagner said he didn’t see his brother hit her.

“She was in a hysterical state.” He also described her as being “in an emotional craze.”

He said she “stomped into the kitchen” while he was in there with Hanna Rhoden and Angela Wagner.

She tried to take her son with George Wagner, Bulvine, out of the high chair but wound up pulling him out. She “stomped” again, this time out of the kitchen, and alleged she knocked her son’s head into the doorway.

He said at that point, George Wagner took his son from his wife.

Jake Wagner testified:

Claytor “stomped out” of the kitchen and said she was leaving.

He told his brother he would go look for her. He searched in the barn and under a truck he was working on but didn’t find her.

The two brothers got into a vehicle and went looking for her.

They found her alongside the highway in Peebles about a mile away

She was on a bicycle. George Wagner was talking to her out the vehicle window as she pedaled away and went to a gas station

Once there, she went inside. George Wagner told his brother he thought she might call the police.

Jake Wagner agreed and told George Wagner to call the police first “because the person who calls first will be served first”

He said a domestic violence report was filed. He testified he didn’t see anybody assault or threaten George’s wife.

Jake Wagner testified that his mom threw her hands up in the air and said “That’s it. I’m getting my gun.”

Canepa asked him about Alaska and when BCI made contact with Wagners.

Jake testified the family went to Alaska to pursue job opportunities and property.

BCI asked for Jake’s cell phone voluntarily but he declined, so they got it with a court order and took it before the Wagners moved to Alaska in 2017.

As the Wagners traveled to Alaska, Jake Wagner said they were made aware BCI was searching their former home on Peterson Road.

He said he wasn’t nervous but “we were all concerned” about the search.

Jake testified they were trying to keep their return to Ohio “low-key” when they moved back the following year and wanted to stay out of the “spotlight.”

They were fearful reporters would invade their privacy, he added.

Angela Wagner and George Wagner told Jake Wagner he should not make his daughter call his wife ‘Mom’ because “of how it would affect Bulvine.”

Canepa about Jake Wagner about Bulvine’s relationship with Angela Wagner.

“It was my observation that Bulvine looked to my mother as a mother figure,” he responded.

Jake was asked if he told his wife she couldn’t see her family.

“I did not want the family members of her family that has sexually abused her to know where we lived,” he answered.

He said he didn’t remember his wife being accused of food poisoning Bulvine and Sophia (she was she testified, by his mother, after making tacos for the children).

Canepa asked Jake Wagner if he remembered his mother telling him his wife had inappropriately touched his daughter.

He said he did and “covertly” asked his wife questions about it over the next few weeks.

He also told his mother there was a new rule: His daughter was not to be out of the line of sight alone with his wife.

Canepa asked if he had told his wife what he would do if he ever found out that had occurred.

He responded that if he ever found anybody molesting his child, he would “physically beat the person to death with my bare hands. I am talking about anybody, not just Beth Anne.”

His wife called a friend, a pastor from a church in Alaska who Jake Wagner also knew.

He told Jake Wagner the only way to get the truth was to pray on it.

Jake Wagner claimed on the stand his daughter told him his wife “was stealing her daddy from her and she just wanted her daddy to leave.”

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