No arrests have been made in the shooting investigation of eight execution-style killings of members of the Rhoden family in Pike County, Ohio.
- Vehicles towed from crimes scenes Tuesday
- Large-scale marijuana grow operations discovered at three of four murder scenes
- Preliminary autopsy results released
- Cockfighting cages found at crime scenes
Investigators in Pike County on Tuesday towed vehicles from the various crime scenes as evidence, confirmed Jill Del Greco, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General. No word on how many vehicles were being towed away or where they were taken.
The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents and Pike County Sheriff deputies continued working on the murders over the weekend, they announced in a press release Monday.
During the course of the investigation, which is in its 10th day, more than 100 total items of evidence have been sent to the BCI crime laboratory for DNA, ballistics, latent print and trace analysis, according to the release.
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Since April 22, more than 450 tips have been received by both BCI and the Pike County Sheriff’s Office, all of which are being investigated. In addition, BCI and Pike County Sheriff investigators have conducted 128 witness interviews and witness contacts as part of the ongoing investigation, the release said.
Authorities continue to request that those with information about the shootings call 855-BCI-OHIO (224-6446) or 740-947-2111.
On Friday, Loyd Gilley, 78, of Otway, recalled watching Hannah Gilley get on and off the school bus after days at the public school in McDermott.
“She was a beautiful young girl,” he said. “She was raised about a mile up the road from me.”
Gilley was shot and killed April 22, one of eight people slain “execution style,” according to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
Loyd Gilley counted five families of Gilleys living along the Hackworth Hill Road. On Saturday, she was buried in the Hackworth Hill Cemetery.
Gilley said the family had no other information about the case.
“All we know is what we heard on the news,” he said in a phone interview.
Hannah was his brother Donald Ray Gilley’s granddaughter.
“He’s in such a state,” Loyd Gilley said, adding his brother’s wife also was beyond words.
“They just don’t like to talk about it,” he said.
Her father, Raymond Gilley, also lives in Piketon, although his address lists him in Lucasvile, according to Loyd Gilley.
Gilley said he never got to see Hannah’s 6-month-old son, Ruger Rhoden, who was unharmed, and he called on authorities to catch the killers.
“I think it’s terrible. I think they ought to be caught. Somebody ought to have pay for that,” he said.
An initial investigation report was released last Thursday in the shooting deaths of eight people in Pike County. The first deaths were reported about 7:51 a.m. April 22.
Deputies were first called to a home at 4077 Union Hill Road for a report of two bodies.
Arriving deputies were flagged down to dispatch additional medic units after more bodies were found at multiple residences.
Deputies found the front door open at 4077 Union Hill Road, and a large amount blood on the living room floor. Two deceased males were found in a back bedroom.
A Pike County resident who said she’s familiar with the Rhoden family said Thursday that growing pot is a way of life in the county, so she’s not surprised that marijuana grow operations were found at three of the crime scenes.
“There’s little jobs down there. Everybody has to survive some way. This is how they survive,” said the resident, who asked not to be identified because she fears for her life.
She said the discovery of the grow operations has created a misconception of who the victims were.
“It’s really sad to see how everybody turns them into monsters,” she said. “You have Mr. Ruby, who has now taken back his $25,000 reward because there’s now a criminal investigation. This is not a family of criminals. They were good-hearted people who loved their family.
“These people did not live a luxurious, fancy lifestyle,” she continued. “They didn’t drive the best vehicles or wear the best clothes. These were just down-to-earth people just trying to get by.”
The woman added that she doesn’t believe Mexican drug cartels are responsible for the killings, as some believe. Instead, she believes the killings are the result of a common practice in the area known as “hillbilly justice” in which people take the law into their own hands as opposed to calling the police.
“There’s a lot of drugs that are relevant in the hills right now, and with meth and heroin being two of the main ones, I don’t think this is over pot,” she said.
Cincinnati-area businessman Jeff Ruby said on Twitter last Thursday afternoon he has withdrawn his $25,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of anyone involved in the murders. He cited “recent complex criminal developments” in the case.
“It was generous of Mr. Ruby to offer the reward, and it is his choice to withdraw it,” a spokesperson for the Ohio Attorney General’s office said. “He has had access to the same information that we have made public to everyone.”
Earlier, Ruby offered $25,000 for information that led to the arrest of anyone involved. He told reporters in Pike County on April 25 that he planned to meet with the surviving family members to let them know that he cares.
“You have a 3-year-old, a 6-month-old and a 4-day-old now without any parents to grow up with, and who knows what their lives could be like?” Ruby said earlier this week. “Their lives will never be the same again. (The killings were a) bloodbath, it was brutal. It was out in the wilderness where these are poor people — I would imagine — who don’t have money, the wherewithal or the importance for it to be a priority because they are not rich and famous. … It’s a small town with little resources and they need somebody who cares to try to help find this animal that killed them.”
Sam Quinones is a California freelance journalist and author who lived in Mexico for 10 years, and wrote the book Dreamland: The true tale of America’s opiate epidemic.
He said although there’s been speculation that the eight Pike County victims may have been killed by Mexican drug cartels, there’s very little precedence of Mexican cartels killing people in the United States who are not part of other cartels.
Those types of killings are common in Mexico, but not in the United states, he said, stressing that he doesn’t know who the killers are, and his opinions are based solely on his past reporting. He added that he’s not part of the investigation, nor is he second-guessing investigators who are working on the case.
“When (cartels) do kill in the U.S., it’s typically not as public as the Pike County killings,” he said.
Besides, Quinones said, (Pike County) is predominantly white, and Mexican drug traffickers tend to go where there are people who look like them — similar to other immigrant organized crime groups — so they don’t stand out, and they tend not to target non-Mexicans.
“This may have something to do with Mexican drug trafficking,” he said. “However, the history of Mexican drug trafficking in America would seem to indicate something very different.”
Sheriffs from 25 sheriff’s offices across the state have offered support to the Pike County Sheriff’s Office to provide resources to the county following the shootings in Pike County.
Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader said at times he’s had 10 times the amount of deputies on the road in his county, because of the help from other counties.
“We have more manpower now than we’ve had in this county,” Reader said. “It will be that way for a while.”
Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart sent 10 deputies to Pike County who will remain in southern Ohio through May 6. Their task will be to help guard and secure the crime scenes, he said.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said last Wednesday his office does not intend to release any information about the investigation that would hinder the chance for prosecution in the case. DeWine and Reader said they toured the various crime scenes last Wednesday.
“I wanted to go inside and take a look,” DeWine said in a press conference that afternoon. “You get a better understanding of the case.”
Reader said, “It’s absolutely shocking some of these scenes.”
DeWine said that this shooting is not like other recent mass shootings across the country.
“This is not that type of situation,” DeWine said. “This is an old-fashioned, cold-blooded massacre of eight human beings.”
DeWine said it will take time to put the pieces of the investigation together.
“We’re going to follow the evidence wherever it leads,” DeWine said, indicating that the attorney general’s office would go anywhere in the country to find anyone involved in this investigation.
DeWine said he can’t say how much money has been spent so far on the investigation. However, he said investigators intend to do whatever it takes to provide justice for the victims.
“We’re going to do what we have to do,” DeWine said.
The FBI and DEA are both providing technical expertise to the attorney general’s office, DeWine said.
The children who survived the shootings are doing well, but Reader said that they will not devulge any details on where the children are staying.
Reader also said his department would provide whatever security measures are necessary at the upcoming funerals for the victims.
DeWine joined WHIO Radio’s Larry Hansgen on April 27, and said the investigation is “going to take a while.” He said his office has received 300-plus tips.
“Whenever you have a case where you have a body is found and there are no witnesses there, it’s just very difficult,” DeWine said. “It’s looking like a big, huge jigsaw puzzle. You take one piece of evidence and that fills in part of it, and after a while it starts to become clearer. We’re still in the interviewing stage of this investigation. I don’t expect any breakthrough in the immediate future.”
DeWine again emphasized this morning that the killings were “orchestrated and well-planned out. Just a brutal crime.”
“The people of Pike County are very concerned about this, as they should be,” DeWine said. “My commitment to them is that we are not going to leave until we figure this thing out. We have a lot of resources.”
The few official details released April 26 reinforced the brutality with which eight members of the same family were slaughtered by killers still at large.
The victims suffered 32 gunshot wounds altogether — one was shot nine times, two were shot five times each — and some showed soft tissue bruising, suggesting they may have been beaten, according to preliminary autopsy information.
The bruising is consistent with initial reports from the 911 caller who first reported the crimes April 22.
“There’s blood all over the house,” the caller cried, gasping. “My brother-in-law is in the bedroom. It looks like someone has beat the hell out of him.”
DeWine and Reader released an update, saying 61 additional items of evidence were taken to the state crime lab for analysis, in addition to 18 “high-priority” items already submitted.
Investigators continued to serve search warrants, but wouldn’t disclose how many or where.
Tips to state and local investigators now number more than 300, officials said, and anyone with additional information is urged to call 855-BCI-OHIO.
To date, more than 251 law enforcement officials have contributed to the investigation, including manpower from 23 sheriff’s offices from across Ohio. FBI and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents provided limited technical expertise.
Investigators and prosecutors previously said three of the four murder scenes contained marijuana grow operations of a commercial scale, at least one of them indoors.
DeWine has characterized the killings as “execution-style.” The victims were Hannah Gilley, 20; Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16; Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; Dana Rhoden, 37; Gary Rhoden, 38; Hanna Rhoden, 19; Kenneth Rhoden, 44.
Three children under the age of 3 in the homes were spared.
DeWine called our newsroom April 25 to discuss the case, and said the possibility of a Mexican drug cartel connection has not been ruled out and that investigators are looking at everything.
He said although he would not rule out the fact that members of a drug cartel may have killed the eight members of the Rhoden family, there’s no evidence at this time to indicate that that’s the case.
In August 2012, Ohio law enforcement officers found “a major marijuana grow site in Pike County with suspected ties to a Mexican drug cartel,” according to a press release DeWine’s office issued at that time. Investigators discovered about 1,200 marijuana plants — which were destroyed — and they also found evidence of two abandoned campsites they believe belonged to Mexican nationals.
DeWine also would not say if there was forced entry at any of the four homes where the eight victims were killed, if they were tortured or if there was more than one killer.
DeWine added that he can’t definitively say the Rhoden family was involved in cockfighting, but when he visited one of the crime scenes April 22, he noticed roosters in cages that are normally associated with cockfighting.
Additionally, the marijuana grow operations that authorities discovered appeared to be for commercial use, he said, declining to go into specifics. He also declined to say if there are indications that any of the victims were aware of the grow operations.
The marijuana grow operations found were not simply a few random plants in a field somewhere, the Columbus Dispatch reported from an interview with Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk. He told Dispatch reporters at least one was indoors and there appeared to be several hundreds of plants.
“It wasn’t just somebody sitting pots in the window,” Junk told the Dispatch.
The identities of the eight people killed are: 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.
“This is a pre-planned execution of eight individuals. It was a sophisticated operation and those who carried it out were trying to do everything they could do to hinder the investigation and their prosecution,” DeWine said during a news conference Sunday. “We don’t know if it was one or two (shooters).
“We have received over 100 tips, we have conducted over 50 to 60 interviews … over 100 personnel were involved in this investigation. Five search warrants have been executed, four crime scenes have been worked,” DeWine added.
Also, 18 pieces of evidence are at the Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s state crime lab. Reader said the family did not have prior criminal contact with his office.
“This investigation is very large, probably the largest in Pike County we have ever been a part of,” Reader said.
On April 22, Reader advised residents “to lock their doors and stay alert.” At a press conference April 24, Reader said he warned other Rhoden family members to be on guard, but “for other citizens, I don’t believe there’s an issue.”
“If you are fearful, arm yourself,” he said, adding residents also could turn to law enforcement for protection.
Authorities said at least one suspect is believed to be at large, and should be considered armed and dangerous.
Seven of the deceased were found in three Union Hill Road homes in Piketon, while the eighth was found within a 10-minute drive from the other victims — most of whom were executed while in bed. All the killings occurred during the nighttime hours.
Three children — a 4-day-old, a 6-month-old and a 3-year-old — were found unharmed at the scenes.
The first 9-1-1 call that Piketon police received came from a woman at 7:49 a.m. April 22. The woman tells the dispatcher that she walked into a house in the 4000 block of Union Hill Road and “found them all dead.”
The home is where two males were found dead — one of four locations where bodies were found April 22.
“There’s blood all over the house,” the woman can be heard saying during the 9-1-1 call.
She found the two male victims lying on the floor. She reported that no one else was in the home and broke into tears, according to the 9-1-1 recording.
A man is heard in the second 9-1-1 call, recorded at 1:26 p.m. April 22.
The man was at a residence in the 700 block of West Fork Road. He told the dispatcher he walked in and called out for his cousin before finding him dead with a gunshot wound.
The news of the other deaths had already been reported by the time this death was discovered.
“All that stuff that’s on the news, I just found my cousin with a gunshot wound,” the caller tells the dispatcher.
DeWine — at a news conference with Reader on April 22 — said he would not use the term “person of interest” stemming from the person or persons reportedly detained in Chillicothe.
The detention in Chillicothe by police and Ross County sheriff’s deputies was just a part of the several interviews occurring as part of the investigation, DeWine said. His statements, in answer to a reporter’s question, counters media reports that evening that a person of interest had been detained in Chillicothe.
“The investigation will go wherever the facts take us,” he said. “Investigations like this can take a while.”