DeWine: Custody dispute played role in Rhoden killings, prosecutors seek death penalty

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WAVERLY, OH (WCMH)– More than two years after the murder of 8 family members, officials announce the arrests of four people.

According to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, Pike County Sheriff Charles S. Reader, and Pike County Prosecutor Robert Junk, four people have been arrested for the murders of eight people in Pike County on April 22, 2016. 

  • George “Billy” Wagner III, 47
  • Angela Wagner, 48
  • George Wagner IV, 27 
  • Edward “Jake” Wagner, 26

According to DeWine, the suspects are facing eight counts each of aggravated murder, with death penalty specifications. They are also charged with engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence, unauthorized use of property, obstruction, unlawful possession of dangerous ordnance and forgery.

DeWine said the four spent months planning the killings, studying the habits and routines of the Rhoden family. The Wagners knew the layouts of the homes, knew where the family slept, and were meticulous in the planning, DeWine said.

DeWine would not go into detail about the motive for the killings, but said it was in part related to a custody dispute involving the daughter of Hanna Rhoden and Jake Wagner.

George Wagner III was arrested while hiding in a horse trailer in Lexington, Kentucky, WLEX reported. Sheriff Reader said Angela Wagner was arrested at her home in Scioto County. George and Jake were arrested during a traffic stop in Ross County.

The victims include 40-year-old Christopher Rhoden Sr.; his ex-wife, 37-year-old Dana Rhoden; their three children, 16-year-old Christopher Rhoden Jr., 19-year-old Hanna Rhoden and 20-year-old Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden; Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s brother, 44-year-old Kenneth Rhoden; their cousin, 38-year-old Gary Rhoden, and 20-year-old Hannah Gilley .

Redacted autopsy reports show most victims were shot multiple times. Three children were found unharmed.

Investigators said the Wagners were good friends with the Rhoden family and they recently moved to Alaska. They were never named as suspects in the initial investigation. 

Jake Wagner was a long-time former boyfriend of Hanna Rhoden, one of the eight victims, and shared custody of their daughter at the time of the massacre. The forgery charge against the Wagners is related to the alleged forgery of custody documents involving that girl.

Children Services is now involved in the girl’s care, according to DeWine.

Attorney John Clark represents the Wagner family. Clark says family members look forward to their day in court so they can clear their names.

Clark says in a statement:

Given the fact that the Wagners have been indicted  with capital murder and death penalty specifications, we respectfully decline making any statements at this time. However, the Wagners eagerly look forward to their trials, and to have their day in court so they can vindicate their names. The Wagners are also ever hopeful that in the ensuing months there will be a thorough vetting of all the facts.  Moreover, we look forward to the day when the true culprit(s) will be discovered and brought to justice for this terrible tragedy.

Clark has previously said Wagner family members provided laptops, phones and DNA samples to investigators, and agreed to be interviewed about the slayings.

Both Jake Wagner and Angela Wagner told the Cincinnati Enquirer they were not involved in the April 2016 killings.

Angela Wagner said in an email to the newspaper that what happened was devastating and Hanna Rhoden was like a daughter to her.

The Wagner family has lived in Peebles, Ohio, at the time of the killings but later moved to Alaska.

It appeared some of them were killed as they slept, including Hanna Rhoden, who was in bed with her newborn nearby, authorities said. The child, Hannah Gilley’s 6-month-old baby and another small child weren’t hurt.

Three funerals were held for the victims.

The office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has said one of the victims, Christopher Rhoden Sr., had “a large-scale marijuana growing operation,” leading some to speculate the killings were drug-related or even connected to Mexican drug cartels.

For more information on the original investigation click here. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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