Pike County murders: Victims’ pastor hopes arrests can bring closure, justice

Lexington, Kentucky, police arrest George "Billy" Wagner III, who is wanted in connection to the slayings of eight members of the Rhoden family in 2016 in Pike County.
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Lexington, Kentucky, police arrest George "Billy" Wagner III, who is wanted in connection to the slayings of eight members of the Rhoden family in 2016 in Pike County.

The pastor for the victims in the 2016 Pike County killings hopes the arrest of six suspects will lead to closure for the Manley and Rhoden families, as well as the community.

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Phil Fulton, pastor at Union Hill Church in Adams County, said he was “ecstatic” when he found out about the arrests.

“It was the greatest news we had in two and a half years,” he said.

On Tuesday the Ohio Attorney’s General Office announced the arrests and indictments of George “Billy” Wagner III, 47; Edward “Jake” Wagner, 26; Angela Wagner, 48; and George Wagner IV, 27.

The group was indicted on eight counts of aggravated murder and could face the death penalty.

Billy and Angela’s mothers, Fredericka Wagner and Rita Newcomb, were charged with obstructing justice and perjury.

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While many in Pike County believed the case would go unsolved, Fulton knew the answers would come eventually.

“I was expecting it to come, but I didn’t know when,” he said. “It was just great news to know they had finally made the arrests and that the closure could really come.”

The announcement capped a two-year investigation into the deaths of Hanna Rhoden, Dana Manley Rhoden, Christopher Rhoden Sr., Christopher Rhoden Jr., Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, Hannah Gilley, Kenny Rhoden and Gary Rhoden.

Fulton said that the arrests were a relief for the Manley family.

“They could go to bed last night knowing that the perpetrators were in jail.”

Though a motive hasn’t been announced, investigators said custody issues between a suspect and victim who shared a child played a role.

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“Jake was very good friends and was really close to this family until the custody battle came up,” Fulton said. “Why this set them off is the mystery to me. Why you’d murder eight people because you wanted full custody over a little girl. It just blows my mind.”

Though the case is far from over, the pastor hopes that the arrests means justice is coming for the victims and their families.

“The Rhoden family can finally rest assured that their family members will have justice,” Fulton said.

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