For two years the execution-style slaughter of a Pike County, Ohio family, has left the community in a constant state of fear and swirling rumor. Now, four people, all members of another local family, are under arrest for the murders.
On April 22, 2016 the bodies of eight members of the Rhoden family, ranging in age from 44 to 16 were discovered dead in various locations in Piketon in Southern Ohio. Three small children — a 4-day-old, 6-month-old, and 3-year-old were found unharmed. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced Tuesday afternoon that 4 members of the Wagner family had been arrested and charged with the deaths, following the largest homicide investigation in Ohio history. They each face eight counts of aggravated murder with death penalty specifications among a slew of other serious charges.
In addition to the arrests of George “Billy” Wagner III, 47; his wife Angela Wagner, 48; and their two sons George Wagner IV, 27 and Edward “Jake” Wagner, 26, two other Wagner family members — 76-year-old Fredericka Wagner and 65-year-old Rita Newcomb — have also been arrested and charged with obstruction of justice and and perjury. The women are the mothers of Billy and Angela, respectively.
DeWine told members of the press that "We have absolutely no evidence that anyone else was involved. The people who did it are in custody."
An indictment alleges that the Wagners spent months planning the killings and police believe they were motivated by a custody battle. Jake Wagner was the father of one of the victim’s — 19-year-old Hanna May Rhoden — 3-year-old daughter. In the indictment Jake is also charged with having unlawful sexual contact with Hanna when she was 15 and he was 20.
"There certainly was obsession with custody, obsession with control of children," said DeWine.
State and local police first began to investigate the Wagners in May 2017. Shortly after the family moved to Kanai, Alaska. At the time they denied any involvement in the crime, with Angela telling reporters that Hanna Rhoden was “like their daughter.” Indeed the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Billy Wagner was “best friends” with Hanna’s father, Christopher Rhoden Sr. who was shot nine times.
The case continues to shake the Ohio community, but residents expressed relief that the arrests had been made. Pike County prosecutors have cautioned the case could take years to try.
Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader had been on the job less than a year when the murders took place. "Members of one family conspired, planned, carried out and then allegedly covered up their violent act to wipe out members of another family," he told reporters. "They did this quickly, coldly, calmly and very carefully ... but not carefully enough."