George IV ‘ashamed’ by family, denies all involvement in Rhoden murders

Published: Nov. 16, 2022 at 8:33 AM EST|Updated: Nov. 16, 2022 at 8:41 AM EST
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WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - A surprise in the courtroom as George Wagner IV took the witness stand in his own defense in the 2016 Pike County massacre trial, denying any involvement in the killings of the eight Rhoden family members.

Perhaps the most significant statement from George was that he was never approached by his brother Jake, his mother Angela, or his dad Billy to take part in the murders.

Jake Wagner and Angela Wagner both told the jury the entire family participated in the massacre.

George explained that he was at home sleeping on the night of the murders in April 2016.

On the stand, he said if he would have known about the murder plot, he would have stopped it.

“I don’t know how, but I would have never let it happen,” he told the jury.

The first time George said he heard anything about the killings was the next day on the news.

“I was trying to ask my dad what was on the news and what was going on and he just kept saying that Chris wouldn’t answer the phone and then Jake came in and said that Andrew Carson had told him that Hannah and Frankie and everyone had been killed.”

Over the next few days, Billy stayed around the house, which he says was unusual. He further stated that his dad and mom were constantly fighting in the days after the crimes.

George said he also stayed around the house and not once did any of his family members talk about the murders.

Just hearing about the murders was “heartbreaking,” because he liked the Rhodens, George explained.

Eventually, the Wagners decided to Move to Alaska in the spring of 2017.

When asked why they did this, George said selling the farm would help them get out of debt and because Jake didn’t want Sophie, the daughter he shared with Hannah May Rhoden, to see or hear what people were saying about the murders.

It was at the Montana border in May that BCI agents stopped George and questioned him.

He testified that they showed him a Walmart receipt from when Angela said she bought shoes for her sons to wear during the Rhoden killings. George told jurors Wednesday he had never seen or worn the shoes Angela bought at Walmart.

By the end of the interview, George says the agents told him they were either going to call him a suspect or a witness.

George said he became “distraught” by the fact that the agents were accusing his family of being the ones behind the execution-style murders in 2016.

They wanted him to spy on Jake - George agreed - but each time his brother denied knowing anything about the murders.

“He swore up and down he didn’t know who did it and that he didn’t have nothing to do with it,” George recalled.

The family moved back to Ohio in the spring of 2018. They were arrested several months later on multi-count indictments accusing them of planning and carrying out Ohio’s biggest and most expensive homicide case to date.

While in custody is when George learned of the confessions from his brother and mother.

He said once he found out Jake had pleaded guilty, he still didn’t believe his family could have done such a thing.

That changed though once he heard his brother’s confession.

“I’m ashamed to know that my family would do something like this,” George explained from the witness stand.

Knowing what Jake confessed to, and given the testimony he gave, George said he does not like referring to him as a brother anymore. George said he has similar feelings toward his mother, now.

Several aspects, like the Bucky Barnes Winter Soldier mask, from the prosecution’s claims, came into question while George was on the stand.

One of the defense attorneys asked George why he bought that mask.

The state claimed Jake bought it for his brother, but George claimed he got it to use while riding his motorcycle because it didn’t interfere with his sunglasses.

Back on Oct. 7, BCI Special Agent Todd Fortner testified that three ski masks were seized as evidence during a search of a property on State Route 41.

Earlier Wednesday, George IV described how he learned to be a thief, his relationship with his family, and several times how the family home was set on fire.

George’s testimony began with details about how his father Billy Wagner showed him and his brother Jake Wagner how to steal including breaking into vending machines at motels to take coin boxes and breaking into trucks to steal their contents.

George also testified that his father taught him how to steal gas from truck stops and gas stations then Billy Wagner would sell the gas.

He said he could “go for days” about items that had been stolen including a truckload of boots and laptops.

George’s testimony went on to describe how Billy Wagner began taking pills and became very irritable. The pair grew apart and got into several fights.

He said the last fight they had, Billy tried to rope him and tie him up but George said he jerked Billy down.

Watch George Wagner IV’s earlier testimony below:

Regarding Hanna Rhoden, George said he met her at the Pike County fair, which was around the time she was 18 and had not yet started dating Jake.

George said he looked at Hanna as his baby sister. Jake didn’t like their relationship; he thought George and Hanna were too close.

Then there were the attempts, some successful, to burn down the family homes.

George testified that his mother Angela tried to burn down the family’s house when he was 6-years-old.

He said it was Angela’s plan but Billy Wagner set the home on fire. They successfully burned down another house in 2000.

George said the family’s home in Bethel Hill was the last one to burn.

He said Angela didn’t want to leave and that’s why the house was set on fire.

George said his brother started that fire.

Pike County massacre: Complete trial coverage

Wagner IV, 31; his younger brother, Jake Wagner, 28 and their parents: Billy Wagner, 51, and Angela Wagner, 52, were all indicted in November 2018 in the biggest and most expensive murder case and prosecution to date.

They are accused of killing eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families in four separate trailers on April 21-22, 2016 in Piketon: Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; his older brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44; his cousin, Gary Rhoden, 38; his former wife, Dana Lynn Rhoden, 37, and their children: Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, Hanna May Rhoden, 19, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Frankie’s fiancé, Hannah Gilley, 20.

The motive in the slayings was the custody and control of the 2-year-old daughter of Jake Wagner and one of the victims, Hanna May Rhoden, 19, prosecutors say.

George Wagner IV is the first member of his family of four to go on trial.

Angela Wagner and Jake Wagner both testified recently against him as part of their plea deals with the state. They admitted their roles in the slayings last year.

George Wagner and his father have pleaded not guilty and continue to fight the charges.

Billy Wagner’s trial is expected to be held in Pike County next year.

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