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Arrests made in 2016 killings of 8 Ohio family members

An Ohio family carefully studied the habits of members of another family -- their routines, the layouts of t...

Posted: Nov 14, 2018 7:48 AM
Updated: Nov 14, 2018 2:45 PM

An Ohio family carefully studied the habits of members of another family -- their routines, the layouts of their homes and where they slept -- as they planned a deadly massacre that stunned a rural town, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

The eight victims -- who ranged in age from 16 to 44 -- were found shot to death at four crime scenes in and around the small town of Piketon on April 22, 2016. At one scene, police found a 4-day-old baby next to his slain mother. That child, along with a 6-month-old and a 3-year-old, survived.

The suspects "spent months planning the crime," Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said. But they made mistakes, DeWine said.

More than two years later, authorities arrested four members of the Wagner family Tuesday in connection with killing the members of the Rhoden family. Two grandmothers of the Wagner family were also charged in an alleged cover-up of the crime, DeWine said.

He declined to identify a motive but said custody of a child "plays a role in this case."

"We believe that the Wagners conspired together to develop an elaborate plan to kill the eight victims under the cover of darkness and then carefully cover up their tracks," DeWine said. "The killers knew the territory and meticulously planned these murders."

George "Billy" Wagner III, 47; his wife Angela Wagner, 48; and their sons, George Wagner IV, 27; and Edward "Jake" Wagner, 26, were indicted Monday by a Pike County grand jury on several offenses, including eight counts each of aggravated murder with death penalty specifications.

Authorities: One suspect had fathered child with victim

Edward "Jake" Wagner was also charged with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor over sexual contact with one victim, Hanna May Rhoden, when she was 15 and he was 20, prosecutors said.

He is the father of her older daughter, who was staying with the Wagners on the night of the killings, prosecutors said.

The Wagners are also accused of forging custody documents, prosecutors said.

"There certainly was obsession with custody, obsession with control of children," DeWine said.

The Wagners are from South Webster, about a 30-mile drive southeast of Piketon, the community in and around where the killings happened. It's a town of about 2,000 residents, about 80 miles east of Cincinnati.

Angela Wagner's mother, Rita Newcomb, 65, of South Webster, Ohio, and Wagner's mother-in-law, Fredericka Wagner, 76, of Lucasville, also face felony charges of obstructing justice and perjury for allegedly misleading investigators, prosecutors said.

The six are in custody in Ohio and Kentucky, authorities said.

In addition to Hanna May Rhoden, 19, those who died included Kenneth Rhoden, 44; his brother Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; and Christopher's ex-wife, Dana Rhoden, 37. Also killed were two of the Rhodens' other children, Clarence "Frankie" Rhoden, 20, and Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16. Other victims were Hannah Gilley, 20, who was engaged to Clarence "Frankie" Rhoden, and Gary Rhoden, 38, a cousin.

Suspects 'left a trail,' sheriff says

There were no witnesses to the shooting, but the suspects left traces, authorities said.

"They left a trail: The parts to build a silencer, the forged documents, the cameras, cell phones -- all that they tampered with, and the lies," Pike County Sheriff Charles S. Reader told reporters.

At the request of prosecutors, a judge formed an investigative grand jury in July to meet regularly to examine evidence collected and gather additional evidence, according to DeWine. Investigators discovered a key piece of evidence October 30, the attorney general said.

Since 2016, investigators conducted more than 500 interviews and followed more than 1,100 leads during the investigation, which took them to 10 states, including Alaska. The Wagners lived in Alaska before recently moving back to Pike County, the attorney general said.

The Wagners had been "the prime suspects for some time," DeWine said, though he declined to say when they were identified as such.

"We promised that the day would come when arrests would be made in the Pike County massacres," said DeWine, who won the Ohio governor's race last week. "Today is that day."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 111322

Reported Deaths: 3202
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7796173
DeSoto670178
Harrison484483
Jackson435081
Rankin383786
Madison373993
Lee344979
Forrest296377
Jones283782
Washington252197
Lafayette242642
Lauderdale2376131
Lamar217138
Bolivar198377
Oktibbeha195854
Neshoba1814111
Lowndes174962
Panola166337
Leflore160787
Sunflower157649
Warren152755
Monroe145972
Pontotoc143819
Pike137256
Lincoln135555
Copiah135036
Marshall134826
Scott123829
Coahoma123436
Grenada120038
Yazoo119333
Simpson118649
Union115225
Holmes113560
Leake113340
Tate113239
Itawamba110424
Pearl River108958
Adams104343
Prentiss102619
Wayne98721
Alcorn96012
George93917
Marion92942
Covington92525
Tippah85921
Newton84427
Chickasaw82625
Winston82221
Tallahatchie81825
Tishomingo79341
Hancock78127
Attala77626
Clarke72349
Clay67621
Jasper67417
Walthall63327
Calhoun61412
Noxubee59617
Smith58316
Claiborne53216
Montgomery52923
Tunica52217
Lawrence49914
Yalobusha49314
Perry48122
Carroll46312
Greene45518
Stone45014
Amite41713
Quitman4146
Humphreys41216
Jefferson Davis39811
Webster36613
Wilkinson33020
Kemper32015
Benton3154
Sharkey27814
Jefferson27010
Franklin2373
Choctaw2036
Issaquena1063
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 153016

Reported Deaths: 2633
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson22563372
Mobile14335314
Tuscaloosa10023133
Montgomery9759196
Madison904893
Shelby709960
Lee644966
Baldwin640569
Marshall428248
Calhoun412759
Etowah405749
Morgan396833
Houston364632
DeKalb319628
Elmore310752
St. Clair282142
Limestone270828
Walker268892
Talladega258435
Cullman227623
Lauderdale208740
Autauga201029
Jackson200915
Franklin199731
Colbert192228
Russell19053
Dallas185627
Blount184824
Chilton181731
Escambia171328
Coffee16669
Covington166029
Dale163451
Pike130512
Chambers130143
Tallapoosa128686
Clarke127117
Marion104729
Butler99840
Barbour9889
Marengo97221
Winston90413
Geneva8417
Pickens80517
Lawrence80031
Randolph79814
Bibb79114
Hale74529
Cherokee72214
Clay71912
Lowndes70127
Henry6376
Bullock63517
Monroe6319
Washington62212
Crenshaw59330
Perry5806
Wilcox55912
Conecuh55713
Fayette55312
Cleburne5287
Macon52820
Sumter46721
Lamar4565
Choctaw38712
Greene33916
Coosa1973
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