Monday marks the third anniversary of the execution-style shooting deaths of eight members of a Pike County family. This third anniversary is different because unlike the first two, people have been charged and the community is less on edge.
Prosecutors believe the killings were the culmination of a battle for custody of Sophia Wagner, the toddler whose mother, Hanna Rhoden, died in the April 22, 2016 incident and whose father, Edward “Jake” Wagner, is one of the four accused of committing it.
In addition to Hanna, the victims were her father Chris Rhoden Sr., 40; mother Dana Manley Rhoden, 37; brothers Chris Rhoden Jr., 16, and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; her uncle Kenneth Rhoden, 44; cousin Gary Rhoden, 38; and Frankie’s girlfriend Hannah “Hazel” Gilley, 20.
Charged along with Jake Wagner with eight counts of murder are his brother George Wagner IV, their father George “Billy” Wagner III and mother Angela Wagner. All have pleaded not guilty and waived their rights to a speedy trial.
Their court cases will likely last for many months. The costs for trying the four are estimated at more than $1 million, and state lawmakers last year approved $100,000 to offset those costs for the small Ohio county.
Also charged on lesser offenses are the Wagner boys’ grandmothers.
Fredericka Wagner pleaded not guilty to charges of obstruction and perjury in connection to the 2016 murders.
Rita Jo Newcomb pleaded not guilty to three counts of forgery, one count of obstructing justice and one count of perjury. Each is a felony count. Prosecutors allege she lied to a grand jury and forged custody documents before the murders.
The judge allowed both Fredericka Wagner and Newcomb to be put on house arrest with a GPS monitor. Court records show attorneys for both defendants have asked the judge to modify the conditions of the house arrests.
Fredericka Wagner is requesting permission to go to work and attend church, while Newcomb has asked for permission to visit her farm 12 miles from where she’s staying and care for the animals there, according to court records.
April 22, 2016
Pike County deputies responded to a 7:53 a.m. 911 call on the report that two men may be dead at a home in the 4000 block of Union Hill Road. By mid-afternoon, authorities had discovered a total of eight victims at four different locations.
Approximately eight hours after the sheriff’s office received the first 911 call, then-Attorney General Mike DeWine, now the governor, and Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader held a press conference to reveal findings of the initial investigation.
Surrounded by reporters, officials asked anyone with information about what happened to call the sheriff’s office. The victims appeared to have been slain in their sleep and whoever did it was at-large. Reader reported that three children were spared, an infant only 4 days old, a 6-month-old and a 3-year-old.
Later that evening, DeWine and Reader held a second press conference announcing that relatives of the Rhoden family victims had been notified, and investigators had already interviewed more than 30 people in connection to the family and the investigation.
In the days that followed, DeWine revealed that three marijuana grow operations were discovered at two of the four crime scenes; Sheriff Reader advised the surviving members of the Rhoden family to arm themselves as a precaution; and Cincinnati restaurant owner Jeff Ruby offered and days later withdrew a $25,000 reward for information that led to convictions.
Around the 1-year anniversary of the slayings, numerous search warrants were served on properties in Adams and Pike counties. While authorities at the time would not say whether the searches were connected to the Rhoden family slayings investigation, property records showed the searches were of properties co-owned by George W. Wanger IV and Edward Jacob Wagner.
In June 2017, authorities asked the public for information on the four Wagners who were later charged with murder. It was learned the four had moved to Kenei, Alaska. In November 2018, the four charged with the murders were arrested and DeWine revealed investigators believe a custody battle between Jake Wagner and Hanna Rhoden played a role in the killings.
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