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: 291891

Reported Deaths: 6605
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19470226
Hinds18555383
Harrison16385273
Rankin12498260
Jackson12401216
Lee9635160
Madison9353193
Jones7836144
Forrest7055135
Lauderdale6735225
Lowndes5989137
Lamar579379
Lafayette5688113
Washington5124128
Bolivar4567120
Oktibbeha438091
Panola424092
Warren4091113
Pearl River4070127
Pontotoc406066
Marshall397992
Monroe3971125
Union391372
Neshoba3746166
Lincoln343799
Hancock337773
Leflore3346118
Sunflower315785
Tate299172
Pike297792
Scott291367
Alcorn289760
Itawamba288471
Yazoo282662
Tippah275265
Copiah273357
Coahoma272265
Simpson269278
Prentiss267158
Leake250870
Wayne250140
Marion249478
Covington246277
Grenada244576
Adams232374
George229545
Newton222551
Winston220174
Tishomingo210965
Jasper210343
Attala205669
Chickasaw200250
Holmes181470
Clay177348
Stone170729
Tallahatchie169039
Clarke167671
Calhoun155327
Smith151131
Yalobusha141936
Greene126333
Walthall123040
Noxubee122429
Montgomery120537
Perry120133
Lawrence118420
Carroll117123
Amite110632
Webster108629
Jefferson Davis99831
Tunica97923
Claiborne97329
Benton92524
Humphreys91226
Kemper89222
Quitman76614
Franklin75319
Choctaw69316
Wilkinson62226
Jefferson60827
Sharkey48817
Issaquena1676
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 488973

Reported Deaths: 9660
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson703321342
Mobile35725716
Madison32088437
Tuscaloosa23913404
Montgomery22369481
Shelby21714209
Baldwin19554263
Lee14827147
Morgan13529243
Etowah13091309
Calhoun13063281
Marshall11197202
Houston10019255
Limestone9303130
Elmore9283179
Cullman8856176
St. Clair8747214
Lauderdale8541209
DeKalb8419173
Talladega7424161
Walker6466240
Jackson6450101
Autauga614384
Blount6058125
Colbert5973118
Coffee522299
Dale4606106
Russell400530
Franklin396575
Covington3918105
Chilton380096
Escambia375970
Tallapoosa3533138
Clarke342348
Dallas3385139
Chambers3382102
Pike292471
Lawrence280685
Marion277492
Winston244563
Marengo243454
Bibb243259
Geneva238168
Pickens223453
Barbour208450
Hale208064
Fayette198755
Butler194865
Henry181741
Cherokee175737
Monroe165538
Randolph161240
Washington155832
Crenshaw143052
Clay142554
Macon140344
Cleburne136139
Lamar130632
Lowndes130148
Wilcox120525
Bullock116033
Conecuh106423
Perry104927
Sumter98231
Greene86732
Coosa86323
Choctaw54723
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