PIKE COUNTY, OH (FOX19) - For the first time since the Hadsell Chemical Processing building became the Rhoden murder evidence warehouse, it's surrounded by "no trespassing" signs. There are also locks and chains where there haven't been locks and chains before.
That happened just one week ago - within hours of a FOX19 NOW investigation into what appeared to be a lack of security at that warehouse.
Inside are the four mobile homes where investigators said gunmen murdered eight members of the Rhoden family in April. In a lot outside the warehouse is dozens of cars, trucks, ATVs, enclosed trailers and heavy equipment; all tagged as evidence by the Ohio Attorney General's Office.
FOX19 NOW spent six weeks, starting on Aug.14, watching the warehouse. We spent 70 hours waiting to see if the warehouse was guarded by law enforcement. We never saw a single uniformed officer during our surveillance that ended in late September.
What we did see during most of our surveillance was the main gate left unlocked and cracked open. The only surveillance camera you could see near the outside evidence lot was pointed away from the evidence lot.
That camera also has a crack across the entire lens.
We never saw anyone posted inside the guard shack that stands between the warehouse's main gate and the parking lot.
Our investigation ended with an interview with the Pike County sheriff on Sept. 26. In that interview, the sheriff admitted the Rhoden evidence was not guarded 24 hours a day.
"THE DAMN GATE WAS OPEN"
Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said they had no concerns over the evidence in the Rhoden case when we interviewed both men last week. Both men knew what our six-week surveillance of the evidence warehouse uncovered, but neither thought what we found would have any impact on the evidence in the case.
"I disagree with that, completely," Sheriff Reader told us during an hour-long interview last week. Reader was responding to former Hamilton County prosecutor, Mike Allen's, assessment that evidence taken from what he called an "unsecured warehouse" could "jeopardize the Rhoden prosecution."
"It's almost law enforcement 101, you've got to protect evidence. This evidence, neither outside, nor inside is protected," Allen said last month, standing in the parking lot of the evidence warehouse. Allen was arguing the fact that without the warehouse being guarded 24 hours a day by law enforcement, prosecutors would have trouble getting evidence admitted in a prosecution of the case.
We took Allen to the warehouse on a Sunday afternoon. The main gate was unlocked. We spent around an hour in the parking lot interviewing Allen and no one showed up to question us about what we were doing so close to the Rhoden evidence warehouse.
We showed Allen the interviews with the sheriff and the attorney general so he could respond to their assertions that he was wrong on his chain of custody statements to us.
"I don't know how a judge can decide it wasn't when no one can raise their right hand and testify that that evidence was secured. The damn gate was open. Anybody could have walked in. The evidence was compromised, pure and simple and that's all there is to it," Allen said.
Mike DeWIne's spokesman denied multiple interview requests for this investigation. DeWine, if his investigators ever find someone to charge in the case, would be responsible for prosecuting the killers. We needed to question DeWine about what we found at the warehouse and whether he was concerned about Mike Allen's belief the evidence was in jeopardy.
DeWine never agreed to the interview. We found him Sept. 27, stepping off the elevator to make a public appearance at the Cincinnati Public Library.
"All the evidence that we're going to use is already been taken from the crime scene and secured somewhere else," DeWine told FOX19, putting to doubt Allen's concerns over the chain of custody of the Rhoden evidence.
"It's going to be tough for a prosecutor to be able to justify that the chain of custody in that evidence was not broken, simply because you've got civilians walking around in there with no police officer watching them," Allen said during the trip to the warehouse in September.
Chain link fences separated us from the outside evidence lot. Another problem with the security Allen said he found while we were there, "Like I said, an old guy like me could get over that thing (the fence) in 15, 20 seconds and pull anything out of there that they wanted to—or—perhaps plant something in there. It's just not secure," Allen said.
As far as DeWine's assertion that all the evidence they'd need was already collected, Allen said that's "bogus," because there's no way to know what is—and is not—evidence until a suspect is identified and charged.
Meaning, a tip could come in at any time that might lead investigators back to a piece of evidence inside those vehicles and mobile homes.
DeWine, seemed to agree.
"It is true, sometimes you get a lead and sometimes there's something there to find and you go back and that is certainly a rare occurrence," DeWine said. "But, the possibility is here there could still be something in those mobile homes and those vehicles that could be of evidentiary value," FOX19's Jody Barr asked DeWine. "Well, I suppose that anything's possible and it's possible that could be," DeWine said.
The proof investigators knew they'd made a mistake with the evidence, according to Allen, was the sheriff's actions in the hours following our broadcast, detailing what we discovered in our six-week-long surveillance of the Rhoden evidence warehouse. Those acts included adding a chain and padlock to the warehouse's main gate, placing trespass notices around the property and securing an access road's gate that ran alongside the warehouse.
That access road was locked with a thin piece of wire until about 3:30 a.m., the morning following our initial reports.
"I think it speaks volumes. Why would he go out there and--immediately after this report airs--and do that if there were no problem," Allen said.
The evidence warehouse still does not have a full time deputy posted, but the sheriff told us he's ordering his patrol units to stop and conduct checks at the warehouse during the night.