WAVERLY, Ohio — Nearly three years after eight members of a rural Ohio family were found shot execution-style in their mobile homes, authorities have charged four members of another family long acquainted with the victims.
The brutal, execution-style slayings of two generations of the Rhoden family in Pike County in Appalachia in April 2016, had perplexed authorities who had dedicated thousands of hours of detective work and had interviewed over 550 people in the effort to track down the killers.
“We promised the victims’ families that the day would come when this case would be solved, and today is that day,” said Attorney General Mike DeWine. “These suspects developed a calculated plan to execute the victims in the middle of the night and then carefully cover their tracks. Their alleged plan was sophisticated, but not sophisticated enough.”
George “Billy” Wagner III, 47, Angela Wagner, 48, George Wagner IV, 27, and Edward “Jake” Wagner, 26, were charged with eight counts of aggravated murder and face the death penalty.
DeWine said the killings appeared to have stemmed from a custody dispute over the five-year-old daughter of Jack Wagner and 19-year-old Hanna May Rhoden.
“There was an obsession with custody of the children. There was an obsession of control of the children,” DeWine said. He dismissed a long-standing theory that the murders were connected to a marijuana business relationship between the families that had gone sour.
Additionally, authorities arrested Angela Wagner’s mother, Rita Newcomb, 65, and Billy Wagner’s mother, Fredericka Wagner, 76, on charges of obstructing justice, perjury and forging custody documents.
Suspicion had long been cast on the Wagner family, but DeWine said efforts the clan had made to cover their tracks had slowed the investigation. At one point, members of the Wagner family had moved to Alaska, purportedly to get away from the glare of the investigation, but had since moved back to Ohio.
The case dates backs to April 2016, when authorities found seven members of the Rhoden family, plus the fiancée of one of the Rhoden victims, each shot numerous times at four different mobile homes in Pike County.
Among the dead were:: Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40, his ex-wife Dana Manley Rhoden, 37, and their three children, Hanna Rhoden, 19, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20. Frankie Rhoden’s fiancée, Hannah “Hazel” Gilley, 20, was also killed, along with the elder Christopher Rhoden’s brother Kenneth Rhoden, 44, and cousin Gary Rhoden, 38.
Most of the victims were killed as they slept. Three young children at home at the time of the murders were left unharmed.
The turning point in the case came last week, when authorities determined that one of the Wagner’s had built a homemade silencer for a gun.
“The Wagners were friends with the Rhodens and had been for years. They knew the layouts of the Rhodens’ homes, and they knew the victims’ routines. It is our belief that the suspects used this knowledge to meticulously plan these horrendous, cold-blooded murders,” DeWine said.
The indictments allege that the suspects purchased ammunition, a magazine clip, bags to catch spent shell casings and a bug detector in preparation for the crimes.
Jake Wagner is also charged with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor for having sex with Hanna Rhoden when she was 15 and he was 20.