WAVERLY, Ohio — As a murder trial for a man accused of killing eight people in Pike County in 2016 continues, several witnesses were called to testify on the stand Tuesday, including family of the victims who were the first to discover their loved ones had been murdered.
The trial is the first time a person has faced a jury for the deaths of eight members of the Rhoden family six years ago.
George Wagner IV — along with his mother Angela, father George “Billy” Wagner and brother Edward “Jake” Wagner — is accused of shooting and killing the Rhoden family members “execution-style.” The family’s bodies were found on April 22, 2016. He faces eight charges of aggravated murder, along with other charges associated with tampering with evidence, conspiracy and forgery.
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Found dead that day were 40-year-old Christopher Rhoden Sr., 37-year-old Dana Rhoden, 20-year-old Hannah “Hazel” Gilley, 16-year-old Christopher Rhoden Jr., 20-year-old Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 37-year-old Gary Rhoden, 19-year-old Hanna May Rhoden, and 44-year-old Kenneth Rhoden.
Witness discovered some of the murder victims
The first witness called to testify, Bobby Jo Manley, opted not to be recorded by media. She is the sister of one of the murder victims, and discovered four of the eight Rhoden family members dead in their homes on the morning of April 22, 2016.
Bobby Jo recounted her experience on the morning of April 22, 2016, when she first found Chris Sr. and Gary Rhoden dead inside their home. When she and her friend Billy Morgan arrived at the property to feed animals — something they did regularly and were paid to do — they noticed dogs that belonged inside were left outside and Chris Sr.’s truck still in the driveway, which was unusual, she said.
When they entered, Morgan and Bobby Jo found a recliner moved, vice grips on the floor and a smear of blood among bunched up rugs leading from the front room, through the kitchen to Chris Sr.’s bedroom. At the end of the trail, they found the bodies of Chris Sr. and Gary on the floor of the bedroom, covered with a comforter.
From there, Bobby Jo called 911 from the properties on Union Hill Road, telling dispatch she’d “found them all dead.”
“There’s blood all over the house,” she told a 911 dispatcher. “My brother-in-law is in the bedroom. Someone beat the hell out of him.”
After discovering her ex-brother-in-law and his cousin dead, she said she raced next door to the home of Frankie and Hannah Hazel to notify them. When she arrived, Frankie’s 3-year-old son opened the door for her. Prosecutors said during opening statements the boy told Bobby Jo “daddy has a lot of blood.”
In their bedroom, Bobby Jo said she discovered Frankie and Hannah Hazel dead; Hannah Hazel was lying on her front and had apparently been nursing the couple’s 6-month-old son, Ruger, when she was killed.
Ruger was left unharmed in the bed, lying between his parents and covered in blood, Bobby Jo said.
The second witness called was Morgan. He also opted out of being recorded during his testimony.
While on the stand, Morgan pointed out to the court where security cameras had been located on Chris Sr.’s property, including a motion detector mounted on the garage. The prosecution claims the Wagners disabled or took the property’s cameras with them after they killed Chris Sr. and Gary.
Following a lunch break, court resumed and James Manley, Dana and Bobby Jo’s brother, was called to the stand.
After Bobby Jo and Morgan discovered the bodies in the first two homes, Morgan drove to retrieve Bobby Jo and Dana’s parents. James noticed when he arrived and said he immediately knew something was wrong.
“The way dad took off, I knew something was wrong,” he said.
He told the court he then jumped in his truck and followed his parents to Frankie and Hannah Hazel’s home to see what happened.
“I walked up and saw Frankie’s baby covered in blood,” he said.
He went inside the home and there was “blood everywhere, on the bodies, on the bed, on the walls.” After hearing what Bobby Jo discovered inside the homes that morning, James said he jumped in his truck and drove to Dana’s home to tell her what had happened.
When he got to his sister’s home, the front door swung open when he knocked. He walked into the home, calling Dana’s name, but there was no response. He said he went straight back to her bedroom — past Hanna May and Chris Jr.’s rooms — to find Dana. It was dark in her room, he recounted, and he couldn’t see whether his sister was in bed sleeping or not.
He felt along the bed until her felt her body, underneath covers on the bed, and patted her to try to wake her up, he said. Feeling along, James said he found a pillow over her head and tried to remove it, but it was stuck to Dana’s head.
“I just turned around and walked back out,” he said.
When asked by the prosecution why he did that, he responded, “because I was pretty sure she was dead too, because of where the pillow was stuck.”
As he was leaving, James said he could hear the cries of Hanna May’s baby, Kylie. He said he left the baby inside and drove to his home, less than one mile up the road, to get his wife and they returned together to retrieve Kylie.
When he stepped onto his sister’s porch, however, he said he couldn’t bring himself to go back inside the home.
After that, he said he flagged down police as they were driving by on their way to the other two crime scenes.
James said he didn’t learn until hours later that Hanna May and Chris Jr. were also dead inside the home.
The fourth witness called on Tuesday, a sheriff’s deputy, opted not to be recorded during testimony.
Next, Justin Waring, an EMT who responded to the crime scenes on April 22, 2016, took the witness stand. He testified that EMS were called for a report of an assault at a home on Union Hill Road.
“Our initial dispatch message, or what was told to me by my coworkers there at the station, was that some sort of assault had happened and there was a lot of blood, but he didn’t really know what was going on,” said Waring.
His crew arrived at the home of Hannah Hazel and Frankie while a second crew continued on to Chris Sr.’s home, he said.
When asked about whether there were any children at the scene when he arrived, he described a young boy who was running around the front yard and said he saw an infant, around 6-months-old, covered in blood.
“We checked on the child to make sure that he was not injured,” said Waring. “During our assessment, we determined that blood was not from any injury that he had.”
The baby’s diaper was “saturated” with blood, he said.
Police and family gathered on the front lawn then told him the people inside were dead. Waring said he asked to go inside to check for certain and was escorted into Hannah Hazel and Frankie’s bedroom.
“I walked into the room enough where I had a clear view of them both on the bed,” he said. “It was pretty obvious due to the amount of blood on the bed and the fact that I observed them for a minute or two and couldn’t see them breathing that they were deceased.”
Defense Attorney John Parker asked how he could see, in the dark room, to make that determination. Waring said he could see by the light of the officer’s flashlight.