‘I was very good’ Jake Wagner says he grew up learning to be a criminal from his dad

Published: Oct. 28, 2022 at 4:15 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 29, 2022 at 8:16 AM EDT
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WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - Jake Wagner grew up learning to be a criminal at home from his dad.

Billy Wagner “gave me the basics” how to pick locks when he was as young as 10 years old. “I was taught how to steal trucks. I was very good.”

He also excelled at fires, setting his family’s garage ablaze the first time they set their house ablaze for the insurance money. They burned their home down twice, he said on the stand Friday.

“I was 10 or 11,” he recalled.

The second time they burned their house down, he said, they filled a crock pot with chicken, put it on a propane stove and it spilled over, igniting in flames.

He said they made sure Chris Rhoden Sr. was there as a witness. He was the one who called 911.

Pike County massacre: Complete trial coverage

George Wagner IV’s attorney elicited these disturbing childhood recollections Pike County’s confessed killer turned state’s star witness.

At the prosecution’s request and his, all of Jake Wagner’s testimony was under a court order to occur off camera without even an audio recording provided.

The trial has ended for the week. The eighth week of testimony will begin at 9 a.m. Monday.

Earlier Friday afternoon, Pike County Common Pleas Court Judge Randy Deering rejected attempts by George Wagner’s defense to get Jake Wagner’s attorney’s case file and notes. Those will remain private under attorney-client privilege.

George Wagner IV’s attorneys unsuccessfully claimed Jake Wagner’s testimony waived that privilege.

In other highlights of Jake Wagner’s testimony earlier Friday:

  • He said he was home-schooled by their mother, Angela Wagner. She was supposed to administer their tests, but Jake said his mother filled out his test papers for social studies, history, English and psychology. “I wasn’t doing that crap. I didn’t need it. I was a truck driver and farmer. I didn’t need those things.”
  • George Wagner’s attorney on cross got Jake Wagner to admit he can’t remember everything: “My memory is like a jigsaw puzzle with a few extra pieces.”
  • Billy Wagner, didn’t believe in going to doctors. When Jake was hurt as a teenager, his father would “use duct tape and black electric tape to mend the wounds.”
  • He said his dad sold a trailer full of stolen items for $100,000 in Mexico. When he came home, he brought a suitcase full of $100,000 in cash and gave it to his son to count. He bought Jake Wagner a custom pickup truck that cost $60,000.
  • When the Wagners burned down two of their homes for insurance money, did they bury any money there? Jake said no. But: “We did bury money in Mexico.”

Jake Wagner’s cross-examination began two days ago, on Wednesday afternoon, once Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa wrapped up her questioning. He testified off-camera for the state over about 2.5 days.

Jake Wagner his brother and their parents, Billy Wagner and Angela Wagner, were all indicted on eight counts of aggravated murder and several other charges in the execution-style killings of eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families on April 21-22, 2016.

The Wagners are accused of planning the execution-style murders for months so Jake Wagner would 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.

George Wagner IV is the first member of his family to go on trial. He and his father are continuing to fight the charges.

Jake Wagner, 28, and his mother, 52, pleaded guilty to their roles last year.

He has apologized and led investigators to the weapons and vehicles used in the killings.

As part of their plea deals, they must testify against George Wagner, 31. It’s also expected mother and son will testify against Billy Wagner, 51, during his trial next year.

In exchange, prosecutors have dropped the possibility of the death penalty and Jake Wagner has agreed to a sentence of eight life sentences without parole.

“We are fully satisfied,” Jake Wagner’s lawyer said at his April 2021 plea hearing. “He knows he’s going to die in prison without any judicial relief.”

On cross-examination this week, George Wagner’s attorney, John Parker, told Jake Wagner: “You got the best plea deal in the state of Ohio.”

According to the confessions of Jake Wagner and his mother, both his mother and George Wagner IV did not shoot any of the victims, court records show.

Angela Wagner was not present when the slayings occurred, and the murder charges against her were dropped when she pleaded out.

Jake Wagner testified this week that he and his father did all the shooting after the family plotted and planned the killings for months.

He said he had to talk his mom and brother into it.

His father pulled their vehicle over to the side of the road as the three Wagner men headed to the victim’s trailers the night of April 21, 2016.

He asked his youngest son if he really wanted to go through with it and Jake Wagner told his dad he did, according to his testimony Wednesday.

Jake Wagner shot and killed five of the victims, including the mother of his child, and shot and wounded a sixth, her father Chris Rhoden Sr., according to his confession and his testimony.

His testimony also indicates he did not shoot two of the victims, Kenneth Rhoden, and Gary Rhoden, and his father did.

His brother, George Wagner IV, didn’t fire a single shot, Jake Wagner confirmed on the stand under cross-examination.

“George went with you to protect you from your father?” his attorney asked Jake Wagner on the stand Wednesday.


In fact, Jake Wagner told the jury, his brother froze when it came time for him to shoot one of the victims, Chris Rhoden Sr.

“I told him to shoot but he didn’t,” Jake Wagner testified.

So he said he took his brother’s SKS rifle from him. He fired twice, missing the first time. He said he “panicked,” closed his eyes and just started shooting again.

He said he hit Chris Rhoden Sr. once as he stood by the door of his trailer.

Jake Wagner said he only shot Chris Rhoden Sr. one time.

In all, Chris Rhoden Sr. was shot nine times, according to earlier testimony from Hamilton County’s deputy coroner.

Jake Wagner also testified at length that his brother helped him and their parents plan the massacre, buy items for it and then hide the evidence after.

The judge has refused to dismiss eight counts of aggravated murder against George Wagner IV even though he didn’t fire a shot.

Prosecutors say he can and should be convicted of the murder charges because he conspired with his family to kill the victims and actively participated in the planning and cover-up.

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