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 8:47 AM
Updated: Nov 14, 2018 3:45 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."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1462456

Reported Deaths: 20308
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion2005922494
Lake992001456
Allen903391005
Hamilton70705539
St. Joseph63078746
Elkhart48098622
Vanderburgh46217523
Tippecanoe42115330
Johnson37119516
Hendricks35078455
Porter33900460
Madison28036530
Clark25186321
Vigo24768341
LaPorte22894307
Monroe22201243
Howard21344372
Delaware20937363
Hancock18289217
Kosciusko17513199
Bartholomew17399212
Warrick16060212
Wayne15757296
Floyd15399252
Grant14898293
Morgan13934230
Boone13172136
Noble11421140
Dearborn11355112
Henry11312201
Shelby11231150
Marshall11041166
Dubois10782152
Jackson10174104
DeKalb9944128
Cass9942142
Lawrence9914219
Huntington9823139
Gibson9131125
Montgomery9005140
Knox8762124
Harrison8718111
Whitley844771
Steuben8340102
Jasper8069113
Putnam795197
Clinton792994
Miami7914133
Wabash7598138
Jefferson7551124
Ripley6993111
Adams6508101
Scott629086
Daviess6266127
White602379
Greene5913111
Clay587173
Wells5814120
Decatur5754118
Jennings572276
Fayette5657121
Posey529146
LaGrange512996
Randolph4925128
Washington482067
Owen480398
Fountain463579
Spencer438156
Starke434086
Sullivan432164
Fulton426790
Orange412682
Jay403964
Rush395736
Carroll371349
Franklin369850
Perry362155
Vermillion345062
Pike308945
Tipton307974
Parke305038
Pulaski266973
Blackford266755
Newton228359
Brown222654
Benton213321
Crawford211231
Switzerland189414
Martin181921
Warren169520
Union163619
Ohio119516
Unassigned0742

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 2403645

Reported Deaths: 30922
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin2596932036
Cuyahoga2572672998
Hamilton1666711699
Montgomery1103831586
Summit1066861382
Lucas895171149
Butler78647924
Stark747301383
Lorain62885783
Warren49934468
Mahoning49735909
Lake46850586
Clermont43541428
Delaware38876210
Trumbull38576748
Medina37611416
Licking36901401
Fairfield33848331
Greene32124416
Portage31381356
Clark30277440
Richland28251420
Wood27660289
Allen24372392
Miami22806389
Muskingum22298244
Columbiana22095399
Wayne21275354
Tuscarawas18847423
Erie18041221
Ashtabula17932338
Marion17503231
Scioto16553203
Ross16163249
Pickaway15536173
Hancock15251227
Geauga15244221
Lawrence13847186
Huron13399182
Union1329683
Belmont13255247
Jefferson12864257
Sandusky12770197
Athens11949106
Knox11511195
Seneca11454200
Ashland10795174
Darke10673196
Washington10564168
Auglaize10152141
Crawford9854175
Shelby9699155
Brown9400140
Fulton9235148
Guernsey9109115
Defiance9057134
Highland9035143
Logan8955141
Clinton8719121
Mercer8640111
Madison8568104
Preble8002160
Williams7848135
Putnam7731135
Ottawa7629120
Champaign7556112
Jackson7383114
Perry714598
Coshocton7043136
Morrow694580
Fayette662287
Hardin6219125
Pike617086
Gallia594989
Adams5779124
Van Wert5779120
Henry565592
Hocking5521103
Carroll4828100
Wyandot482289
Holmes4747161
Paulding401163
Meigs375071
Monroe299368
Noble279851
Harrison279461
Morgan276848
Vinton239845
Unassigned08
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