In what was to become the biggest murder investigations in Ohio’s history, 8 people from the same family were murdered in one night, across 4 locations, as they slept in their beds. The killers?.. Family friends – turned – rivals!
On the night of April 21st 2016 in Pike County, the Rhoden family were asleep in their beds, unaware of the atrocities about to befall them. 7 members were shot, execution style, in 3 adjacent trailers on Union Hill Road, Pike County, Cincinnati. An 8th victim was shot in his camper van several miles away in Piketon. A four year old boy and 2 babies were left unharmed.
In the first trailer authorities discovered bodies of Christopher Rhoden Sr (40) and his cousin, Gary Rhoden (38). An autopsy determined that Christopher had actually been awake when he was attacked due to a defensive wound to his arm which had caused the forearm bones to shatter. He had also received gun shot wounds to his torso, cheek and head. He had been shot a total of nine times. Gary had been shot 3 times in the face and head. The gun had been pressed into his head so hard it left a muzzle mark.
In the second trailer the bodies of Christopher Rhoden Sr’s ex wife – Dana Manley Rhoden, (37), their youngest son Christopher Rhoden Jr (16) and and daughter Hanna May Rhoden (19) were found. Dana had been shot 4 times in the head and once in the chin. Chris Jr had been shot multiple times in the head and Hanna was shot twice in the head, her body was found next to her 4 day old daughter who was physically unharmed in the massacre. Hanna also shared a 4 year old daughter, Sophia with her ex Jake Wagner. It’s believed Sophia was with her father at the time of the murders.
A third trailer contained the bodies of Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden (20), his girlfriend Hannah “Hazel” Gilley (20). Frankie, Dana and Chris Rhoden’s eldest son had been shot multiple times in the head and Hazel had been shot 4 times in the head and once in her left eye. Also in the trailer but physically unharmed was Frankie’s son (4) from a previous relationship and Frankie and Hazel’s 6 month old son, who was discovered laying between his parents.
The 8th victim was Christopher Rhoden’s older brother – Kenneth Rhoden (44), who was found dead in his camper van in Piketon. He had been shot once in the eye. He was the only victim not to have been shot multiple times.
Police believed there had been two or more perpetrators who had gone to great lengths not only in planning the murders but also in covering their tracks. It was clear they knew what they were doing so these murders weren’t a last minute decision. They were also thought to be known to the family and familiar with the territory where the Rhoden’s lived. Detectives initially suspected the murders to be drug related due to finding around a hundred cannabis plants growing on the properties where the victims were found but this was later dismissed.
On November 13th 2018, following a long, complex murder investigation, police announced the following people had been arrested and charged for planning and murdering the Rhoden family. – George “Billy” Wagner III (47), his wife, Angela Wagner (48) and their sons – George Wagner IV (27) and Edward “Jake” Wagner (26). (who is also Sophia Wagner’s father. Her mother was Hanna Rhoden who was murdered in the shootings).
George “Billy” Wagner’s mother, Fredericka Wagner, was charged with obstructing the course of justice and perjury, but these charges were later dismissed. Angela Wagner’s mother, Rita Newcomb, was charged with, (and pleaded guilty to) forgery, obstructing the course of justice, and perjury.
During a press conference discussing how the Wagner family came to be arrested, Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader said “They left traces, they left a trail – the parts to build a silencer, the forged documents, the cameras, cell phones, all that they tampered with. And the lies, all the lies they told us.”
It is alleged that Jake Wagner and Hanna Rhoden were embroiled in a custody battle of 4 year old Sophia and police believe this to be the main motive behind the shootings. After the murders and up until his arrest, Sophia had been in the custody of her father Jake. She was removed and taken into care but now resides with family members, as do the other children that were physically unharmed during the murders.
At the time of writing, those arrested for the Rhoden family murders / Pike County shootings are still awaiting trial but remain in prison. The four accused of the murders all deny having any involvement.