Six arrests were made Tuesday in connection with the gruesome murder of eight members of the Rhoden family in rural Pike County, following more than two years of investigation.
Four members of the Wagner family, who are residents of South Webster, have been arrested by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office in connection with the murders, which occurred in April 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 of child custody documents.
Two grandmothers, Rita Newcomb, 65, of South Webster, and Fredericka Wagner, 76, of Lucasville, were also charged with felony obstruction of justice and perjury for allegedly misleading investigators. Newcomb was also charged with forgery involving a custody case with one of the children.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said in a press conference Tuesday that while he could not speak much on motive at this time, there was a definite fixation on child custody. DeWine said investigators believe the responsible parties are now in custody and no other individuals are 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 at three separate homes on Union Road just off SR 32 in Pike County and one 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 that there were children in the house, noting a mother was killed in bed with a 4-day-old infant. The children were placed under the care of Child Protective Services.
Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader said in an earlier press conference that the investigation is the largest ever in the 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) my guess is we have never tackled an investigation involving eight people of the same family who were killed.”
In the investigation, DeWine confirmed there was marijuana being grown at three of the four homes in which the bodies were discovered.
DeWine, Reader and Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk announced the arrests at a press conference Tuesday afternoon, detailing the charges against the Wagners.
The suspects had a sophisticated plan to murder the victims and cover their own tracks, but DeWine said it was not sophisticated enough to evade investigators.
“This is the most bizarre story I’ve ever seen,” DeWine said. “It’s just amazing.”
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. Angela Wagner was arrested at her Scioto County home, and George and Eric Wagner were arrested in Ross County on a traffic stop. The arrests were a total surprise to the Wagners, according to authorities. The authorities say the raid of a farm in Pike County a few months earlier was related to the case.
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.
DeWine, who is the governor-elect, said death penalty cases can move forward in a small county with state funding. Junk said the case could take two years to prosecute.
All who were arrested remain in custody, according to authorities. No court dates have been set and no bonds have been set, although with death penalty specifications, bail can be denied on the four suspects with those charges, according to Junk.