Rhoden family killings: 3rd day of trial includes witnesses who describe day bodies were found

WAVERLY, Ohio — The murder trial for a man accused of killing eight people in Pike County in 2016 continued into its third day on Wednesday, with law enforcement, including the current Pike County sheriff, expected to take the witness stand.

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.

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.

The trial is the first time a person has faced a jury for the deaths of the Rhoden family six years ago.

The first witness called to the stand, sheriff’s deputy Adam Ball, opted out of being recorded.

During his testimony, Ball, who has worked with the Pike County Sheriff’s Office since 2015, described the events of April 22, 2016, as he was called to the scenes where the Rhodens were found.

When Ball walked into dispatch that morning, he said the dispatcher was in the process of consoling someone; the dispatcher turned to Ball and told him to just go west on 32 and that she’d fill him in as he drove.

“I really wasn’t sure what I was responding to at that time,” he said.

When he arrived at the home of Chris Sr., he said “a distraught female on scene” told him there were two more people dead in a second location next door, at Frankie and Hannah Hazel’s home.

Ball said he and another officer, Deputy Morgan Music, went into Chris Sr.’s trailer, where he saw evidence a disturbance had happened and bloody drag marks on the floor. He described crawling, with fellow officers, over furniture and through a treadmill to avoid disturbing the crime scene.

In the bedroom, he said he found two people on the floor and checked their necks for pulses.

It was obvious the two were dead, said Ball.

From there, officers backtracked outside and locked down the trailer. Outside, the woman he’d spoken with told him she was worried there was a third crime scene down the road.

He testified that, while checking Chris Sr.’s property, he discovered an “extensive” marijuana grow operation in a garage, an out building and a semi trailer. Ball said marijuana grow operations aren’t unusual to come across in Pike County and that he’d seen bigger than the operation at Chris Sr.’s home.

Ball, along with now-Pike County Sheriff Tracy Evans, drove down the road to where James Manley had discovered Dana Rhoden’s body. Ball then entered the home and became the first person to discover the bodies of Chris Jr., who was just 16, and Hanna May, who was nursing her baby when she was shot dead.

Music, the third witness of the day, also opted out of being recorded during testimony. Music no longer works for the Pike County Sheriff’s Office, but was employed there in 2016 and responded to the crime scenes.

He recounted the day, reiterating much of what Ball said before him. He said he remained at Chris Sr.’s property while Ball traveled to Dana’s home; after Ball returned, the pair searched a garage on Chris Sr.’s property where they found blood on the door to a loft above the garage.

In the loft, they found the marijuana grow operation.

Music said the pair also discovered a camera recording system, but the recording device was missing.

Pike County Sheriff Tracy Evans was called to the witness stand next, but opted out of being recorded.

Evans was not the sheriff when the Rhoden family members were found murdered — the sheriff then was Charles Reader, who is currently serving a jail sentence after he pleaded guilty to theft in office and tampering with evidence charges. Reader was sentenced in March 2021 to three years in prison.

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