“We’re not going to leave the county until we have solved these horrible murders.”
These were the words of Ohio Attorney General, now Ohio governor-elect, Mike DeWine in 2016, following the gruesome murder of eight members of the Rhoden family in 2016. Over two years later, six arrests have been made in connection with those murders.
Four members of the Wagner family have been arrested by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Pike County Sheriff’s Office in connection with the Pike County murders of eight family members on April 22, 2016.
Those arrested Tuesday were George “Billy” Wagner III, 47; his wife, Angela Wagner, 48; and their sons George Wagner IV, 27, and Edward “Jake” Wagner, 26. The Wagners were listed as persons of interest last year in the case.
The four Wagners were each charged with eight counts of aggravated murder with death penalty specifications, as well as charges of tampering with evidence, conspiracy, aggravated burglary and forgery.
Two grandmothers, Rita Newcomb, 65 of South Webster, and Fredericka Wagner, 76, of Lucasville, also were charged with felony obstruction of justice and perjury for allegedly misleading investigators. Newcomb was also charged with forgery, possibly involving a child custody.
DeWine hinted in the press conference while he could not speak much on motive at this time, there was a definite fixation on child custody. DeWine said they believe the responsible parties are now in custody and no other individuals were involved in the mass murders.
Those who lost their lives on that April morning included: Hannah Gilley, 20; Christopher Rhoden, Sr., 40; Christopher Rhoden, Jr., 16; Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; Dana Rhoden, 37; Gary Rhoden, 38; Hanna Rhoden, 19; and, Kenneth Rhoden, 44. All the bodies were located on Union Road just off SR 32 in Pike County, at three separate homes, except one which was located on Left Fork Road. All those murdered were adults except for a 16 year old boy, according to the Attorney General’s office at the time of the incident.
DeWine said at the time there were children in the house, noting a mother, was killed in bed with a four-day-old infant. The children were put under the care of child protective services.
Pike County Sheriff Charlie Reader said in an earlier press conference the investigation is the largest ever in his county. He said his office was working around the clock to close the case. Not only was it the largest in Pike County, but DeWine said in earlier comments this was the first time eight members of the same family were murdered in Ohio. He said the murders were “pre-planned executions.”
“It certainly has been the worst tragedy,” DeWine told the Daily Times in 2016. “If you go back in the history of the attorney general’s office and BCI (bureau of criminal investigation and identification) my guess is we have never tackled an investigation involving eight people of the same family who were killed….”
DeWine, Reader, and Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk made the announcement at a press conference Tuesday afternoon of the arrests for the Wagners, stating eight counts of murder on each were with death penalty specifications.
In the course of the investigation, DeWine confirmed there was marijuana being grown at three of the four homes in which the bodies were discovered. During Tuesday’s press conference, Dewine declined to go into details regarding any alleged criminal activity by the victims. He did state there was “an undercurrent of drugs,” but also asserted this was, at its core, a murder investigation.
There was a sophisticated plan to murder the victims and cover their tracks, but not sophisticated enough, according to DeWine. This was a well orchestrated plan, according to DeWine.
“This is the most bizarre story I’ve ever seen,” DeWine said. “It’s just amazing.” Officials repeatedly stated they could not give details because of the ongoing prosecution.
He said people will be shocked when they find out what actually happened.
Newcomb was arrested at her home in Scioto County. Billy Wagner was arrested in Fayette County, Ky. Reader stated he did not know why the elder Wagner was in Kentucky but he said the Wagners were taken by surprise and he did not believe Wagner was fleeing at the time of his arrest. As of late Tuesday, the suspect still was in Kentucky, awaiting extradition.
Angela Wagner was arrested at her Scioto County home, and George and Eric Wagner were arrested in Ross County on a traffic stop. The authorities say the raid of a farm in Pike County a few months earlier was in relation to the case. Officials said all six arrests were made without incident.
DeWine said a final piece of important evidence was discovered on Oct. 30, but said the case involves an accumulation of evidence and does not rest solely on one piece of evidence. He waived off media questions regarding details on that last bit of evidence.
DeWine said death penalty cases can move forward in a small county with possible state help with the funding. He added funding such large cases in smaller jurisdictions is a statewide problem he hopes to address.
Junk noted the cases could take two years to prosecute, saying hundreds of motions are likely from both sides. During the press conference it was noted the Wagners’ attorney states the family welcomes their day in court and expressed hope the real killer would be brought to justice. Dewine said several times there is no evidence pointing to any other suspects.
All who were arrested remain in custody, according to authorities. No court dates have not been set as of yet. No bonds have been set, although with death penalty specifications, bail can be denied on the four suspects with those charges, according to Junk.
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