A silent and shackled James Manley appeared before a Pike County judge Wednesday, accused of removing and destroying a GPS tracker authorities attached to his truck in the murder investigation of his sister and seven others.
Manley, 40, was held on $80,000 bond, but was released by paying 10 percent of that Wednesday evening. He will appear Monday for a preliminary hearing on charges of tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony, and vandalism, a fifth-degree felony. He turned himself in Tuesday in Chillicothe.
The first arrest in the 390-day-old murder investigation following the middle-of-the-night deaths of eight Rhoden and Gilley family members, Manley’s booking was met with anger from his father, who blasted investigators for “grasping at straws.”
“Every friggin’ day someone is tearing the scabs off us,” said Leonard Manley, whose daughter Dana Manley Rhoden died in the April 22, 2016, massacre. “It’s one thing if you lose eight people, and then they blame your boy for it.”
James Manley is not charged in the murders, nor is anyone else.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s spokesman declined to say if James Manley is a suspect in the case, but authorities have made no comments on specific suspects.
DeWine himself said the public should not “read a lot into” the arrest or a series of massive searches over the weekend at three locations in Pike and Adams counties.
“I would just caution people, if they see what appears to be a flurry of activity, that this is just a continuation, frankly, of a long-term investigation,” DeWine said in an interview Wednesday with Larry Hansgen on AM 1290 and News 95.7 WHIO Radio.
Nevertheless, that flurry of activity — as many eight agencies from across the state participated the searches — and James Manley’s arrest have raised new questions.
Among them: Why did investigators seek to track James Manley’s vehicle? Leonard Manley said the vehicle did not belong to his son the day of the murders, but couldn’t remember who owned it then.
Leonard Manley said that if someone put a tracker on his truck, “so help me God, I’ll break it in front of them.”
He told reporters the family is a target of suspicion, and he asserts investigators told him it is because of an apparent text message between his son and Jake Wagner the night of the murders.
One of the victims, Hanna Rhoden, had a 2-year-old daughter named Sophia Wagner, who was not with her the night of the murders. Sophia’s father is Jake Wagoner, who now has custody of the child.
“That boy used to come to my house for all the holidays,” Leonard Manley said.
Investigators over the weekend searched property co-owned at the time of the murders by Edward Jacob Wagner, reported to be Jacob Wagner, and George W. Wagner IV. WCPO-TV in Cincinnati reported authorities seized a trailer belonging to the Wagner family.
James Manley had been considered a witness in the case because he discovered his sister’s dead body in her trailer.
Killed at four crime scenes were 40-year-old Chris Rhoden Sr.; his cousin Gary Rhoden, 38; his brother Kenneth Rhoden, 44; Chris Sr.’s ex-wife Dana Manley Rhoden, 37; their children Hannah Rhoden, 19, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; and Frankie’s fiancé Hannah Gilley, 20.
Leonard Manley believes the text message is the impetus behind investigators’ interest in his son. He said he did not know what the text message said.
The father said his son was recently picked up at his logging job in Lima by investigators and taken to Dayton for a polygraph test, before being dropped back off early in the morning. He said this is one of several such tests family members have submitted.
“One lie detector test should be plenty,” Manley said.
“We bent over backwards,” he said. “I give them DNA, I give them my phone so they could go through it. I mean, I’ve answered their stupid questions.”
One example that he cited: investigators asked why he was dressed in black after his relatives’ deaths.
“They just won’t quit,” Leonard Manley said.
“I just told the prosecutor, the next time they come to my house, they’d better have a warrant,” he said.
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Reporters John Bedell and Larry Hansgen contributed reporting.