George “Billy” Wagner, Angela Wagner, George Wagner IV, and Edward “Jake” Wagner are facing murder charges for the deaths of eight members of the Rhoden family.
The shootings took place the night of April 21 and the morning of April 22, 2016. Eight members of the Rhoden family were shot and killed in four Pike County homes.
Christopher Rhoden Sr., Dana Rhoden, Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, Christopher Rhoden Jr., Hanna Rhoden, Hannah Gilley, Gary Rhoden and Kenneth Rhoden were all found dead the morning of April 22, 2016. The Pike County Sheriff’s Office said three young children, including a baby, were discovered unharmed.
Redacted autopsy reports show most victims were shot multiple times.
Then-Attorney General Mike DeWine described the killings as a ‘pre-planned execution’ and a ‘sophisticated operation.’
The investigation went on for more than two years before arrests were made.
During the first weeks of the investigation, dozens of people were interviewed by detectives.
DeWine said that investigators did find marijuana-growing operations at three crime scenes, leading to early speculation that the crimes were drug-related.
In June of 2017, the Ohio Attorney General’s office first identified a connection between the Wagner family and the Rhoden killings. The attorney general sought information from the public about the Wagners. At the time, the Wagners were believed to be residing in Alaska.
Wagner family charged
On November 13, 2018, the arrests of the Wagners were announced.
- George “Billy” Wagner III, 47
- Angela Wagner, 48
- George Wagner IV, 27
- Edward “Jake” Wagner, 26
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.
George Wagner III was arrested in Lexington, Kentucky. Angela Wagner was arrested at her home in Scioto County. George and Jake Wagner were arrested during a traffic stop in Ross County.
All four have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.
Could a custody dispute be the motive for the killings?
DeWine said the motive for the killings was in part related to a custody dispute involving the daughter of Hanna Rhoden and Jake Wagner.
The forgery charges against the Wagners is related to the alleged forgery of custody documents.
Court documents show Jake Wagner sought custody of a child he shared with 19-year-old Hanna Rhoden six days after she and other family members were killed. He was granted custody of the child a week later. Court documents say the child was placed in the care of child protective services after the arrests.
Jake Wagner said he and Hanna were in an exclusive relationship from 2013 to 2015. He said they broke up because he was working too much and didn’t have enough time for Hanna, according to court documents.
Grandmothers accused of covering-up massacre
Rita Jo Newcomb and Fredericka Carol Wagner were arrested on charges of obstructing justice and perjury. Newcomb was also charged with forgery.
Fredericka Wagner was accused of lying to a grand jury during the investigation. Charges against her were dismissed in June of 2019. She is the mother of George “Billy” Wagner III.
A state prosecutor says investigators continue their work and still could refile charges against Wagner. Her attorney told the judge she has maintained her innocence and denied any involvement.
On December 2, 2019, Newcomb agreed to a plea deal. She pleaded guilty to obstructing justice, a misdemeanor. Charges of forgery and perjury were dropped.
Newcomb is the mother of Angela Wagner.