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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.

Cases: 501652

Reported Deaths: 10024
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34353540
DeSoto32162408
Hinds31977631
Jackson24508383
Rankin22015390
Lee15596235
Madison14597280
Jones13867243
Forrest13461252
Lauderdale11998317
Lowndes11065188
Lamar10522136
Pearl River9547237
Lafayette8557140
Hancock7740127
Washington7443160
Oktibbeha7147133
Monroe6787178
Warren6706176
Pontotoc6677104
Neshoba6642206
Panola6542131
Marshall6476135
Bolivar6323150
Union605794
Pike5824152
Alcorn5676102
Lincoln5439135
George497479
Scott473098
Tippah470381
Prentiss469182
Leflore4663144
Itawamba4640105
Adams4592119
Tate4592111
Copiah448792
Simpson4448116
Yazoo444887
Wayne440072
Covington429094
Sunflower4240105
Marion4232108
Coahoma4168107
Leake408688
Newton381779
Grenada3711108
Stone360664
Tishomingo360092
Attala331789
Jasper330165
Winston314691
Clay308977
Chickasaw301067
Clarke292594
Calhoun279447
Holmes267987
Smith264150
Yalobusha234547
Tallahatchie228251
Greene219449
Walthall218764
Lawrence213140
Perry205956
Amite205256
Webster203046
Noxubee186840
Montgomery179657
Jefferson Davis172243
Carroll169338
Tunica160039
Benton149239
Kemper141941
Choctaw133326
Claiborne132837
Humphreys129638
Franklin120328
Quitman106528
Wilkinson105139
Jefferson94734
Sharkey64220
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 820312

Reported Deaths: 15407
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1148731924
Mobile726221339
Madison52362697
Shelby37640350
Baldwin37266552
Tuscaloosa35120612
Montgomery34123740
Lee23540246
Calhoun22236488
Morgan20958378
Etowah19838500
Marshall18381304
Houston17394412
St. Clair16078339
Cullman15468293
Limestone15354199
Elmore15271286
Lauderdale14323295
Talladega13851283
DeKalb12664261
Walker11221370
Blount10207176
Autauga10048148
Jackson9877184
Coffee9211191
Dale8904185
Colbert8877201
Tallapoosa7093198
Escambia6778134
Covington6715183
Chilton6648162
Russell637559
Franklin5969105
Chambers5612142
Marion5010127
Dallas4979200
Pike4796106
Clarke475884
Geneva4575127
Winston4522103
Lawrence4327117
Bibb425386
Barbour357876
Marengo338390
Monroe331664
Randolph329864
Butler326796
Pickens316584
Henry312866
Hale311688
Cherokee302960
Fayette294180
Washington251651
Cleburne247760
Crenshaw245375
Clay243368
Macon234863
Lamar224847
Conecuh186353
Coosa180340
Lowndes175464
Wilcox168939
Bullock151744
Perry138940
Sumter133238
Greene126744
Choctaw88527
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