After 19 months and more than 4,000 miles, focus on Wagner family turns into arrests for Pike County murders

Ohio investigators probing the Rhoden family murders followed the four arrested suspects in the Wagner family more than 4,000 miles from Pike County to Kenai, Alaska — and then back again.

In April 2017, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine had not named any of the Wagners as suspects in the case. But he asked the public to cough up more information about Jake Wagner, his mother Angela Wagner, his father, George “Billy” Wagner III, and brother George Wagner IV. At the time, all lived in Alaska.

On Tuesday, back in Ohio, DeWine finally oversaw the family's arrest on murder charges.

The family spent about a year in Alaska, according to interviews. DeWine’s 2017 request for tips was met with so many calls to Alaska authorities, the Anchorage Police Department begged residents to stop calling.

The family — according to Kelly Cinereski, a pastor friend in Seward, a two-hour drive from Kenai — long sought to live in Alaska and made three trips there in the past decade. The family even attended church on the peninsula, he said.

The family didn't stay long, Cinereski told the Dayton Daily News on Tuesday.

“They were trying to run from the story so they could live a normal life, but everywhere they went it wasn’t normal,” he said, calling the Wagners “just a down-to-Earth, good wholesome family."

“These people wept over dogs, I can’t imagine them taking people’s lives,” he said when told of the charges. “If they did it, I hope they get tried to the max. If they didn’t, I hope they get pleaded.”

An attorney for the Wagners said Tuesday the family looks forward to its day in court to vindicate their names. The attorney said the family also looks forward to the capture of the real culprits, though DeWine has said no other suspects exist.

Brad Conklin, of Kenai, told News Center 7's affiliate station in Alaska that the Wagners had "pretty much kept to themselves" before leaving Alaska in May.

Last year, Conklin told station KTVA the Wagners seemed "like a normal family trying to make a living." But on Tuesday, he was surprised to learn of the arrests.

"... Anybody can lie anymore," Conklin wrote in a text message. "It's a crazy world we live in today."

The peninsula is a fisherman’s paradise. The Kenai River, which winds through the peninsula, is the state’s most heavily fished river and is filled with salmon, trout and pike. Fishing and hunting appear to be Wagner family pastimes, as Jake, George III and Angela each possessed either Ohio hunting or fishing licenses over the past decade.

While rural, the borough is more affluent than much of southern Ohio. Unemployment is lower on the peninsula. Census data show the median household income is $63,684 compared to $42,778 in Adams County, Ohio, where the family lived.

About the Authors