Angela Wagner and her husband, George Wagner III – known as “Billy” – are accused in the cold-blooded slayings of eight people, most of them members of the Rhoden family of Pike County, Ohio.
Authorities say the couple meticulously plotted the mass murder with their two adult sons. All four are now facing aggravated murder charges with death penalty specifications and are in custody. In a press conference, the sheriff and the new governor of Ohio painted a picture of brutal execution-style murders that occurred in the dead of night as members of the Rhoden family slept in their beds. When he appeared in court, George Wagner III had white supremacist tattoos that were visible.
“No one deserved in the middle of the night for cowards to come in” and execute them in a way that was unbelievable, the sheriff said. “We believe we have the killers,” authorities proclaimed at a press conference on November 13, 2018.
The members of the Wagner family are originally from South Webster. They were “taken into custody this afternoon (November 13, 2018) and are charged with planning and carrying out the murders,” a press release says, naming the accused as:
- George “Billy” Wagner III, 47
- Angela Wagner, 48
- George Wagner IV, 27
- Edward “Jake” Wagner, 26
The bodies of the Rhoden family and the other victim were discovered spread throughout four homes associated with the Rhoden family. The sheriff called the crime “heinous.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. A Custody Dispute Was a Motive in the Massacre, Authorities Say
In the more than two years that the case remained unsolved, many rumors swirled in the community.
“There was an undercurrent of drugs,” said Mike DeWine, the attorney general of Ohio and the state’s new governor. But he said there was no evidence “this was drug-related” as far as the motive.
Rather, authorities say the motive appears grounded in a custody dispute. “There was an obsession with custody. Obsession with control of children. This is the most bizarre story I have seen,” said DeWine.
One of the suspects, Edward Wagner (known as Jake), had a child with one of the victims, Hanna Rhoden. The Anchorage Daily News described Jake Wagner as “a long-time former boyfriend of Hanna Rhoden.” They were allegedly in a custody dispute.
“Custody of that young child plays a role in this case,” DeWine said in a news conference.
2. Angela Wagner, George Wagner & Their Sons Are Accused of Planning the Slayings for Months
Authorities say that the Wagner family plotted to kill the Rhoden family for months. The murders were “clearly planned” and were “executed very carefully,” said DeWine.
DeWine alleged that the Wagners “conspired” together to create an “elaborate plan” to murder the Rhodens, planning the slayings for “months” and studying the victims’ habits and routines. They knew the layouts of the victims’ homes and knew where they slept, DeWine alleged. The Rhoden family was “brutally murdered in the middle of the night,” the prosecutor in the case said.
Authorities accuse the Wagner family members of tampering with the victims’ phones and surveillance cameras on their property, added DeWine. However, he said, mistakes were still made by the suspects, calling the investigation a “giant puzzle.” The four suspects forged child custody documents, according to DeWine, adding that two other individuals, the mothers of George III and Angela Wagner, were also accused of helping cover up the crimes.
According to WLWT-TV, the indictments allege the Wagners used “ammunition, a magazine clip, brass catcher(s) and a bug detector in preparation for the crimes” and “obtained and shared information about the physical layouts of the victims’ properties, their habits and routines, sleeping locations and countersurveillance devices present on their properties — including pets.”
The news of arrests in the more than 2-year-old case came on November 13, 2018. DeWine wrote on Twitter, “The suspects – a husband, wife, and their two adult sons – are now charged with killing eight people: seven members of the #RhodenFamily and the fiancée of one of the victims.”
“We promised that the day would come when arrests would be made in the Pike County massacres. Today is that day,” said DeWine, calling the investigation the longest and most labor-intensive case his office has ever undertaken.
3. Many of the Victims Were Found Shot in Their Beds But Children Were Left Unharmed
The mass murder shocked people throughout Ohio; in one instance, a mother was slain as she lay next to an infant, who was not harmed.
The Rhoden family and the Wagner family had business and family ties with each other, according to Cincinnati.com. One friend wrote on Facebook as news of the arrests broke, “Prayers for my best friend’s family; they were killed a few years back and all they need is peace and justice.”
Some of the victims were found in their beds, shot in the head execution-style. The slayings were spread out among four homes belonging to members of the Rhoden family in Pike County, Ohio, according to The New York Daily News.
“These four individuals are now in custody for allegedly committing this heartless, ruthless, cold-blooded murder,” said DeWine.
“These are the faces of the victims, an entire family and members of their extended family, massacred. Many of them were killed as they slept,” said DeWine, listing each victim’s name as large photos of the victims were displayed on a television screen. “All eight victims …were brutally and viciously executed. The killers knew the territory and meticulously planned” the murders, he said.
Children ages 3, 6 months, and 5 days old were spared at the scene, he added. “At the center of this case are members of one family who we believe the evidence shows conspired together to kill” the Rhoden family, described as their friends. They each face multiple counts of aggravated murder with death penalty specifications for all four suspects, said DeWine. Aggravated burglary and tampering with evidence were among the other charges levied at the suspects.
The Anchorage Daily News reported that several victims were shot multiple times, including one person who was shot nine times, and two victims were bruised in a manner consistent with beating.
“It’s heartbreaking,” State Attorney General Mike DeWine said at the time. “The one mom was killed in her bed with the 4-day-old right there.”
In a press release, Ohio AG DeWine, Pike County Sheriff Charles S. Reader, and Pike County Prosecutor Robert Junk announced the arrests of the four people “for the murders of eight people in Pike County on April 22, 2016.”
“The images of the houses, the bodies, the scenes, I can never erase them,” said the sheriff in the November 13 news conference. “Today we have the answer. Members of one family planned, conspired, and carried out…to wipe out members of another family. They did this quickly, coldly, calmly, and very carefully – but not carefully enough. They left traces. They left a trail. The parts to build a silencer. The forged documents. The cameras, cell phones. All that they tampered with. And the lies – all the lies they told us.”
Authorities previously said that the victims were shot.
According to My Dayton Daily News, the strongest link between the two families comes through Jake Wagner, who “fathered a daughter” with Hanna Rhoden, one of the victims. In 2017, investigators searched the property of Flying W Farm, which is owned by another Wagner family member, the newspaper reported. Jake Wagner sometimes found employment fixing cars, the site reports.
According to The Anchorage Daily News, George “Billy” Wagner was arrested in Lexington, Kentucky, after authorities pulled over a horse trailer. It was not clear why he was in Kentucky. Authorities had informed the public in 2017 that they were seeking information on the Wagners.
The victims were named as: Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; his ex-wife Dana Manley Rhoden, 37; and their three children, Hanna May Rhoden, 19; Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16; and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20. Frankie Rhoden’s fiancée, Hannah “Hazel” Gilley, 20, was also murdered, as was Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s brother Kenneth Rhoden, 44, and cousin Gary Rhoden, 38. You can see a photo gallery with pictures of some of the victims here.
Hanna Rhoden was a nursing assistant who enjoyed photography. Dana Rhoden was a nurse’s aide. The victims included a teenager and “a grandmother, grandfather, their two adult children, the girlfriend of one of their children and the brother and nephew of the grandfather,” The Daily News previously reported.
Dana Rhoden’s Facebook page, now a tribute page, is still active. Some of her posts were religious in nature. “For my Savior, Jesus Christ, A new Facebook challenge…I am out to prove that my friends will repost this, I hope I am right!!! Let’s lift up His name and make a statement!! When Jesus died on the cross he died for YOU and ME. If you are not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, copy and repost!” she wrote.
4. The Wagner Family Moved to Alaska After the Homicides
For a time, the Wagner family left Ohio for Alaska and then retured.
On Facebook, George Wagner, the son, wrote that he lived in Kenai, Alaska, was from Peebles, Ohio, and was single. My Dayton Daily News reports that the entire family resettled in Alaska for a time. George Wagner’s cover photo is the engine of a car. His profile picture shows him with a young boy; Angela Wagner wrote on that post, “Happy birthday to my oldest son. I love you and am so proud of you. We can’t wait to see you in the morning. Love you always.” His other visible posts show a pickup truck.
“We always felt from the beginning that the perpetrators were very familiar with the victims and their homes,” said DeWine, “and the Wagners certainly were.”
The killers left several young children unharmed during the carnage.
The Wagners – and their attorney – have consistently denied that the Wagner family was involved in the Rhoden family murders. In 2017, Jake Wagner told Cincinnati.com that the family moved to Alaska to get away from the finger pointing. “Really the point to moving up here was to basically get into a better environment so they wouldn’t talk about us. Sophia is getting older, so she wouldn’t hear it,” Jake Wagner told the newspaper from Alaska. “And then it followed us here.” Sophia is Wagner’s daughter with Hanna Rhoden.
DeWine said the family had lived in Alaska but moved back to Pike County. “Hard, tough police work” solved the case, he said, adding that it sent investigators to multiple states.
5. Angela & George Wagner III Have a Criminal History in Pike County
Some of the family members have multiple entries in Pike County court online records. Some of them involve evictions and land contracts for which they are plaintiffs. George Wagner III was accused of a third-degree felony for allegedly tampering with evidence in 2009.
Angela Wagner, the family matriarch, also has entries in the Pike County court records for the same offense as her husband. In 2017, a friend wrote on Angela’s Facebook page, “Merry Christmas ? Angela !!! I hope your enjoying that winter ❄️ up there !!!” She responded, “Thanks. It is awesome but we do miss friends and family. Hope you guys have a wonderful christmas.” According to The Anchorage Daily News, Angela Wagner once described Hanna Rhoden as similar to a daughter to her.