Crime & Justice News

Wagner Family Arraigned & Gag Order issued in Pike County Massacre

Top row from left to right, Billy, George and Jake Wagner. Bottom row left to right, Angela Wagner, Rita Jo Newcomb and Fredericka Wagner 

Police have released few details since arresting members of Wagner Family for murdering seven members of the Rhoden family and Hannah Gilley. We did learn a few more details since last week’s arraignment hearings for three of the Wagners. Judge Randy Deering who presided over the hearings also issued a gag order for the Pike County Massacre. 

As reported earlier last week, sixty-seven year-old Rita Jo Newcomb, Angela Wagner’s mother, posted bail this past Monday for obstruction of justice and perjury, after special prosecutor Assistant Attorney General Angela Canepa alleges she had lied to the grand jury to help cover up for the four Wagners accused of carrying out the massacre. She also had been charged with forgery after altering a previous custody order for two year-old Sophia Wagner, daughter of accused murderer Edward “Jake” Wagner and victim Hanna Rhoden. 

George “Billy” Wagner’s mother, Fredericka Wagner, 76, had also posted bail Monday morning for perjury and obstructing justice. Also, her attorney filed a motion to change the terms of her bail (house arrest) this past Thursday. Fredericka is asking the court to allow her to go to and from work at Crystal Springs Home for disabled adults, where she has served as executive director for the last 32 years. The current condition of her bail requires her to be on house arrest and is only able to leave house for emergencies, approved doctors appointments and when she visits her attorney.

Fredericka is also known as a local breeder of dogs and horses under Flying W Farms.

“Wagner does not have a prior criminal record or any traffic citations and should be given some type of bail”.

-Richard Nash, George Wagner’s Attorney

Without Bail, Eight Counts of Capital Murder Each

The severity of the situation is now setting in for the remaining members of the Wagner family. Judge Randy Deering ordered Angela and George “Billy” Wagner’s sons, twenty-seven year-old George Wagner IV, and twenty-six year-old Jake Wagner to be held without bail at their arraignments this past Tuesday and Wednesday respectively. It was during Tuesday’s hearing for George Wagner when Judge Deering issued the gag order for the murders of the Rhodens and Hannah Gilley. 

All four face 22 counts of criminal charges, including eight counts of capital murder. Jake Wagner faces an additional count of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor.

Jake Wagner waived his right to a speedy trial at his arraignment. Two “death penalty certified” attorneys from the State of Ohio Public Defender’s Office are representing him. Jake Wagner faces a total of 23 charges, including a fourth-degree felony count for “unlawful sexual conduct with a minor”, stemming from him starting a sexual relationship with Hanna Rhoden we she was younger than sixteen years-old—Ohio’s age of consent. Jake Wagner was seven years Hanna’s senior. 

Both men pleaded “not guilty”.

According to multiple media outlets, George Wagner’s attorneys fought to get their client some type of bail, despite facing eight counts of capital murder, tampering with evidence and carrying dangerous ordnance during the murders. Richard Nash, one of George’s attorneys, claimed “Wagner does not have a prior criminal record or any traffic citations and should be given some type of bail”.

According to Local 12, Nash also stated to Judge Deering, “I think it needs to be said, your Honor, this was not a quick investigation. This investigation lasted over a year, it’s my understanding, even two, where Mr. Wagner was the focus of that investigation”. It also appears that Nash attempted to argue that George Wagner was somewhat cooperative, perhaps in some way? He said his client, “answered questions from investigators. He claimed they knew his whereabouts so he wouldn’t be a flight risk”.

Ohio Asst. Attorney General Angela Canepa made the state’s position clear to Judge Deering that George Wagner, “[is]a dangerous man who plotted revenge against Attorney General Mike DeWine, the lead BCI agent on the case and Sheriff Charles Reader if he and his family were charged in the murders”. Canepa went of to say that the Wagners also “planned their escape” should one or more of them get caught and others remained free.

“There have been multiple conversations where those sorts of threats have been made,” Canepa said. “And I would say that specifically George Wagner was the most vocal in making those threats.”

It appears his attorney mistook eight counts of capital murder for “possession of an eight-ball” or he had one before the hearing.

Except for Fredericka Wagner and Rita Jo Newcomb. shortly after the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations searched the Wagner farm in 2017, the Wagners took off to Alaska because of “police harassment” and “were unjustly targeted by police because local rumors”.

Angela Wagner’s arraignment then came on Thursday. According to the indictment, she plotted with her husband and sons to murders eight people, including the mother of her granddaughter, Hanna Rhoden, 19.

Forty-seven year-old George “Billy” Wagner III has yet to be arraigned. His hearing is set for Tuesday, December 4th.

Details Begin to Emerge

One thing I didn’t previously know (I may have previously missed it), but in all the articles it simply mentioned that Sophia Wagner was, “with relatives the night of the murders”. Sophia was at the Wagner’s home for Jake’s regularly scheduled weekend on the evening of the murders.

Christopher Rhoden Sr. allowed his estranged wife (they were attempting reconciliation) Dana Rhoden and their kids Hanna and Chris Jr. to live on property with a trailer he owned about a mile from his trailer. Although it was speculated on from day one, this property was Chris Sr.’s “pot farm”, which the indictment called “a grow & distribute operation”.

According to the indictment papers, just a few weeks before the murders— the Wagners attempted to force Hanna to sign custody over to Jake Wagner. On April 3, 2016, the Wagners, specifically Rita Jo Newcomb (Angela’s mother) forged custody documents to get the courts and Pike County Sheriff to remove Sophia, then 2, from Dana Rhoden’s home— where she lived with her mother Hanna and newborn sibling, who was just five days-old. The murders were committed less than three weeks later in the early morning hours of April 22, 2016.

In what should have been the safety of their own home, Hanna was asleep in her bed with her newborn, just five days, old next to her. The newborn was not Jake Wagner’s. Hanna was shot in the bed as her baby lie there in a pool of it’s mothers blood. Also murdered in the trailer was Hanna’s mother Dana Manley Rhoden and her sixteen year-old brother Chris Jr.

As stated in my last article, just six days after the Rhoden Family Massacre, Jake applied for custody of his daughter six days after the murders. A Pike County judge subsequently awarded him sole custody a short time later in June, 2016. The Wagners moved to Alaska in May 2017 after their property in Adams County was searched by BCI agents for evidence pertaining to the massacre.

The Wagners moved back to Pike County after a family member died leaving them considerable property and material wealth. (Greed gets ya)

Jake Wagner waived his right to a speedy trial at his arraignment. Two lawyers from the Ohio Public Defender’s Office who are certified to try death penalty cases are representing him. So much for Grandpa’s property and material wealth.

The indictment further alleges that the Wagners purchased “special shoes” from Walmart, but did not elaborate what that means exactly. They also purchased a “bug detector” in order to locate hidden cameras and recording devices, which is what they thought might be on the property of the “grow operation”.  They also ordered “brass catchers” which are typically put on rifles to “catch” spent shell casings which are immediately ejected after the bullets are fired. They had also purchased components to make a “silencer”. The indictment also alleges that leading up to the murders, the Wagners had hacked into social media accounts to monitor the Rhodens and spent countless hours staking out the property, learning their routines and following them around.

Previous Run-ins with the Law

Billy and Angela Wagner had a long history of run-ins with the law, mostly involving stolen property and/or goods.

In 2001, there are conflicting reports on George “Billy” Wagner using a Glock G22, which is a .40 caliber handgun.

According to Brad Uhl in an interview with Dayton Daily News, while travelling on U.S. 23 in Lucasville, a small town between Piketon and Portsmouth; Billy Wagner was driving a white Jeep and “in a bit of road rage”, began waving a pistol at Uhl and his daughter and niece, who were both teenagers at the time.

According to an Ohio State Highway Patrol investigation report, Brad Uhl’s call reported “a male driver was holding a handgun to the head of a woman passenger.”

According to Uhl in the interview, that was incorrect.

“He wouldn’t let me pass him,” recalled Uhl, as both his car and the Jeep met at a stoplight. “There was never a gun held to anyone’s head, he just held up the gun to say, ‘I mean business.’”

“The light turned green, he stood there for a second, I let him go and then made a call to the state patrol,” Uhl said.

About 15 minutes later,  troopers pulled the driver over. It was Billy and Angela Wagner. Uhl, however, claims he doesn’t remember a woman in the white Jeep.

According to the Dayton Daily News, Ohio State Highway Patrol records show otherwise. A trooper located a black handgun in Angela Wagner’s purse.

Regardless of the precise version of events, Billy Wagner was sentenced to 30 days in jail, which was suspended in lieu of one-year probation and fined $100 fine plus court costs — which totaled $223. The Glock was confiscated and subsequently destroyed. Since it was not a felony conviction or charges related to domestic violence, his right to own firearms was not hindered.

Later in 2001, Billy Wagner pleaded no contest to two counts of receiving stolen property. A third charge was dismissed. According to the 2001 court records, Pike County Sheriff’s Office obtained a search warrant after learning they had evidence Billy Wagner had possession of property that had been recently reported stolen. , an assortment of tools, portable generator reportedly stolen from the local high school, a couple of dirt bike and compound & crossbow were confiscated, which was property that had been reported stolen.

He was convicted for one of the stolen dirt bikes and then various stolen tools that he allegedly received from a business named Carter Lumber and then Eastern High School. This time he was sentenced to 180 days in jail, which was suspended in lieu of three years probation and ordered to pay a $500 fine. 

According to court records, in 2009, both Bill and Angela Wagner were accused and charged with “tampering with evidence”, but the case was dropped due to their “right to a speedy trial” being infringed upon. I couldn’t find specifics and even looked through old newspapers around there that year. Dayton Daily News could only uncover that Angela and Billy Wagner were given a “no contact order” on behalf of Rocky Mountain Boot Company. The details of that cases were unclear.

Then in 2012, yet again, Billy and Angela were charged and subsequently convicted of “receiving stolen property” in Ross County, Ohio.

According to court records, various items belonging to Sears, Lowe’s, Walmart, K-Mart, Kohl’s, Sam’s Club and Hobby Lobby were uncovered from their home. Both were sentenced to a year of “community control” and ordered to pay restitution to Sam’s Club and Walmart.

Evidence Analysis, the Death Penalty & Just Cause

It appears that the Ohio Attorney General’s Office is pursuing the death penalty for the four, and this is a good thing. I’ve already found several reporters and crime blogs/podcasts chime in and blast that decision on what some described as “archaic” and “unnecessary”. One such blogger went on to perpetuate that the Wagner’s showed compassion by not killing the children, “this[not killing the babies] shows there is some compassion and [they]are not complete and total sociopaths”. Speaking on emotion about such a heinous crime and politicizing it is not needed here. Sorry. This is the worst of the worst, if the allegations and evidence is as alleged, that the Wagners conspired and then executed an entire family— the death penalty is more than warranted.

It’s necessary.

Others have went on to allege that the Rhoden’s were genuinely unfit to have custody of the two-year old, as she resided on a pot farm with her mother and grandmother. Well, if you ever purchased or smoked pot, then either you’ve supported drug cartels or local grow operation, pick whatever makes you feel vindicated. Regardless, nobody deserved to be executed, especially an entire family. I do foresee the defense, should this go to trial, attempt to use this as justification. The Rhoden’s were gangsters and thugs, so the Wagners saved lives.

These are the cases … rather, these are the types of killers that terrify me the most. While many worry about serial killers and perhaps a spree shooter, your chances of actually encountering either one is almost non-existent. A neighbor, family member or friend killing you? Place your bets. It’s hard to imagine how four to six people(maybe more) sat, discussed and ultimately took the ride over to multiple houses (unless they spread out), without one person finally saying, “Hold on guys, wait. We cannot be serious”.

A five-day old baby cooing, then crying and perhaps wiggling around in it’s mother’s blood for hours on end, the image haunts me. I’m not really sure of anything worse than that. Growing up I’ve seen and been around violence, I’ve been on the receiving end. Nothing compares.

If you don’t like the visuals, neither do I, but this is what this massacre comes down to. So cold & brutal, they left children lying in the blood of their dead parents. They left a toddler running around for hours wondering why Momma and Dadda has red stuff all over them and isn’t answering.

If you’re an opponent of the death penalty, like it or not, charging each one with aggravated murder increases the special prosecutor’s chance of securing someone’s cooperation. This to me, will demonstrate if someone truly has just a morsel of character and some remorse to walk a jury through the events leading up to the night of the murders and what transpired afterwards. The evidence, what’s been reported so far is rather strong, however, the prosecution has to play their cards right here. It would be nice to secure a confession from someone who could tell us the inner workings of this plot. The death penalty is a wonderful tool that could ultimately get a witness to flip. Sure, it could be argued that someone will just be “saving their own ass” and would tell the prosecutor and jury anything, well not quite.

This is why it’s important that an experienced special prosecutor handles this. They can test the integrity of a potential witness based on whether or not their statements corroborates the evidence, the known facts.

A few new details have come out and while it certainly doesn’t answer all the questions and/or tell the whole story, a few pieces of the puzzle are coming together.

One thing I do wonder, was this a coordinated simultaneous hit? Something makes me think that it may have been. According to the indictment, the prosecution goes far enough to establish that the home Dana, Christopher Jr. and Hanna Rhoden were in was property used by Chris Sr. to grow and distribute marijuana. Some may think, this could potentially bolster the defense for the accused, as they could use the prosecutions own words to spin the “Mexican Cartel hit” theory.

In my opinion, it disarms them. Special prosecutor Angela Canepa isn’t hiding the fact that “yes, the Rhoden’s sold marijuana. They were not perfect people, they might not have all been good people”. That’s not for the Wagners to decide nor is that a justifiable reason to exterminate a family. Make no mistake, should this case go to trial, the defense will have no problem tearing the Rhodens apart.

It also appears that the Wagners were worried about the grow operation. How so? While there is no way to be certain at this point, I can’t help but wonder if they believed that Christoper Sr. might have a cameras at the grow property and live feeds at his trailer a mile away. I suspect he was targeted first, then perhaps Dana and the kids. With Frankie Rhoden and Hannah Gilley next-door, which was pretty close and on the same lot, I imagine that both trailers were entered at the same time. The fact that they went to far as to purchase a “bug detector” indicates that they believed there were cameras and if there were cameras, they were most likely at Dana Rhoden’s, where the grow operation was based. In believing so, entering there and killing them first would only tip Chris Sr. off. 

Speaking of the murders, there is one thing that puzzles me. We do know that Chris Sr. appeared to have been startled by something while in bed, because he was shot to death and was on the floor with his bed sheet partially on him.

Now based on Gary Rhoden and Chris Rhoden Sr.’s autopsies and the indictment, Chris Sr. was shot through his bedroom door and there were drag marks going from the living room to his bedroom. Perhaps he heard the gunshots of someone killing Frankie and Hannah, ran for the front door with a sheet covering him to see what’s going on, only to encounter another intruder or Frankie and Hannah’s killer coming to his house and ran back to the bedroom? Was Gary Rhoden on the couch at Chris Sr. to their surprise and they had to shoot him, startling Chris Sr. in his bedroom? Perhaps the killers entered and startled both men in the living room and gunned down Gary as Chris Sr. made a break for his bedroom and then was shot through the door?

It’s hard for me to imagine that they were taking blind shots through the bedroom door. If they were missing him and he had a firearm it could spell disaster for the shooter as Chris Sr. would have shot back through the door and hit them. It’s obvious a body had been taken from the living room to the back. Either way, shooting someone at one or the other trailer first was a major risk— silencer or not.

Now, contrary to popular belief, a silencer is sort of a misnomer. They are loud. It certainly doesn’t sound like a laser gun or a hollow chirp like in movies. They are only 10 to 20 decibels lower than a regular gunshot. What a silencer does do is disguise the sound slightly and is best used with subsonic ammunition for best results. It eliminates the “crack” a bullet will make as it breaks the sound barrier. In reality, it’s most effective with people who are use to gunfire, who will pay attention for the “crack” when it’s fired. Ordinary folks, almost always dismiss gunshots as “fireworks” and never call the police, so a silencer would be overkill.

While it’s hard to draw anything conclusive from what little details are available, it does give you an idea that this was meticulously thought out, and if that’s the case, it doesn’t bode well for the Wagner clan. This would mean they have had ample time to think this through and stop it long before it was carried out. It appears no one tried hard enough, if at all.

I can’t help but get this visual of family arguing over the dinner table about who gets to shoot who first. 

Sources and Further Reading

https://www.daytondailynews.com/news/father-charged-pike-county-murders-had-past-brushes-with-law/l8YVopc27NMp8c0VYoIYtI/

https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2018/11/29/pike-county-massacre-wagner-matriarch-wants-leave-house-arrest-work/2148961002/

https://local12.com/news/local/wagner-brother-to-answer-to-murder-charges-for-rhoden-family-massacre

https://www.timesgazette.com/news/33189/bail-denied-for-angela-wagner

Categories: Crime & Justice News

2 replies »

  1. There is a lot of mistakes in this article. Dana’s last name was not Wagner. No pot farm was at Dana’s new place. She had only lived in the place a month before the murders

  2. I did make a typo regarding Dana’s last name towards the end of the article and it will be fixed. Thank you!

    While you’re correct that Dana moved onto the property about a month prior to the murders, however, Chris Rhoden Sr. owned the property.

    It’s really hard to fault anyone at this point for spreading misinformation or assuming another is incorrect. Unfortunately, DeWine’s office and the Pike County Sheriff often seem confused themselves. Besides, numerous media sources have mixed up the addresses and who was killed where,& when, names, why, dates— and I’m not surprised. Sadly, a lot of this mix up and confusion is being reported as “fact”, as we go along, even by sources most would deem credible.

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