Cold. Strategic. Violent. And horrifying.
The calculated murders of 8 members of the same family in rural Pike County, Ohio in 2016 terrified residents and sent police into a frenzied investigation. It would prove to be the largest investigation in Ohio history, and would take police down several different rabbit holes; including rumors of cartel involvement, professional marijuana cultivation, and even cockfighting. Ultimately police would find the culprits much closer to home; however, even 6 years later, not all involved have paid for their crimes.
The Rhoden family was an average family; maybe even closer than most. Christopher Rhoden Sr. and Dana Rhoden had been separated for several years in 2016, however, they still were very close and very much a part of each other's day to day lives. The couple owned a plot of land on Union Hill Rd in Pike County, and even after splitting up they stayed close. There were 3 homes on the land owned by the Rhoden's, Christopher Sr. lived in one of the houses with his cousin, 38 year old Gary Rhoden. Dana Rhoden lived in another residence, less than a mile away with 2 of her children; her youngest, 16 year old Christopher Rhoden Jr., and 19 year old Hanna May Rhoden. Hanna May had two young children, 2 year old Sophia and newborn Kylie, who also lived in the residence on Union Hill Rd.
Christopher Sr and Dana's oldest child, Clarence "Frankie" Rhoden, 20, lived in the third residence on the property with his fiancée, Hannah Hazel Gilley who was also 20 years old. Frankie and Hannah shared 2 children, a toddler named Brentley and a 6 month old, Ruger.
12 members of the same family. 3 separate residences on the same property. They spent years and years building a life for themselves, and it was all ripped away in one night.
April 22, 2016. Bobbi Jo Manley, sister of Dana Rhoden, came by the property on Union Hill Rd to feed the animals and help with chores. Instead, she would stumble into a nightmare.
The first 911 call came into Pike County police at 7:51 am. A terrified and shaken Bobbi relayed finding the first two bodies in the first residence. She knew one of the bodies belonged to her brother in law, Christopher Rhoden Sr., and told police "someone beat the hell out of him," upon seeing the bloody crime scene. The second body would later be identified as a cousin of Christopher Sr., Gary Rhoden.
Before police arrived at the property that morning Bobbi Jo ran to second residence, the home belonging to Frankie Rhoden and Hannah Hazel Gilley. Bobbi Jo found the bodies of her nephew, Frankie, and his fiancée Hannah Hazel. Their two children were found alive inside the house, the toddler covered in his parents' blood.
As police were pulling up to the scene, Bobbi Jo was frantically calling out to her brother, James Manley who had traveled to the residence with Bobbi Jo. She was desperate to check on her sister, and the last of the family members inside Dana's residence. James would find their sister Dana, and her daughter Hanna May Rhoden, deceased inside the house. Hanna May's daughter Kylie was found alive in her mother's arms, and Hanna's 2 year old Sophia was unharmed as she was not at the residence the night of the murders.
Initially police could not locate the youngest Rhoden child, Christopher Jr., inside the residence. Many additions had been added to the original house, creating a kind of maze the police had to comb through. Later that afternoon police were able to locate Christopher Rhoden Jr. inside the home, also murdered.
The last 911 call would come in the early afternoon on the same day, from a home a few miles away from the massacre on Union Hill Rd. Family members of the Rhoden's became concerned when they couldn’t reach Kenneth Rhoden, brother of Christopher Rhoden Sr. Worried family eventually traveled to Kenneth's residence, and found him deceased as well.
Each of the 8 members of the Rhoden family were executed in a gruesome fashion, with many suffering multiple gunshots wounds to the head. In all, 32 shots were fired the night of the murders, and bruising on the body of several of the victims indicate some were also beaten. Christopher Rhoden Sr. was initially thought to be the target of the killings, as he was shot 9 times in the head, torso, and extremities, and he was severely beaten.
Police were left confused, the community was left in a state of shock and terror, and surviving members of the family were scared they may be next.
In the early part of the investigation police told the public they uncovered a "sophisticated marijuana cultivation operation," and they believed this may have contributed to the motive of the murders. Rumors also circulated about cartel involvement and an underground cockfighting ring. Based on shell casings found at the scene, police speculated right away there was more than one shooter the night of the murders. At first, weighing the cold calculation of the crime, and the finding of the sophisticated marijuana grow operation, authorities put serious investigative effort into checking into the cartel theory.
However, the Rhoden's had two guard dogs that would have never let a stranger get close to the residences, or the occupants, without alerting someone; the fact that the dogs did not alert, or attack, was significant. There was also no sign of forced entry at any of the residences, and the isolation of the property, combined with the layout of the residences themselves, convinced police that the murderers were known to the family. In October 2016, 6 full months after the murder, Pike County Sheriff's Office announced that they believed the killers were in fact locals, and not part of a cartel like previously believed.
When the real motive was uncovered it was surprisingly common.
The actual target of the attack was 19 year old Hanna May Rhoden. She was in a bitter custody dispute with her 2 year old's father, Jake Wagner. Jake believed he was also the father of Hanna May's newborn, however, many family members contested this fact, and it was eventually proved he was not the father of Kylie. Nonetheless, he was Sophia's father, and Jake Wagner's family was not happy with the custody arrangement between Jake and Hanna May. Jake's mother Angela wanted her granddaughter full time, and was prepared to fight for her. Angela and her husband, George Wagner IV, approached their sons, Jake and George Wagner III, with the idea of killing Hanna May Rhoden to gain custody of the child. At first Jake says he resisted his mother's plan, but eventually gave in after continued pressure by his parents. The Wagner family planned for months how they would carry out the murder, and eventually decided Hanna May's family could identify them, and therefore would also have to be killed. The Rhoden family was simply written off as collateral damage.
It would be another 6 months before SWAT teams and other law enforcement officials conducted a search warrant on a property approximately 10 miles away from the crime scene. Per that warrant authorities searched two large trailers and took one smaller utility trailer into custody, all belonging to the Wagner family.
Soon after the murders the Wagner family sold their farm in Adams County and moved to Alaska, so police kept news of the search low key so the Wagner's would not be alerted to their suspicions. Although the Wagner family had sold their farm, the new owners of the property had not moved in yet. Agents with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation obtained permission from the new owners of the farm on Peterson Rd to search the property.
During that search police uncovered shell casings from a .22-caliber long rifle; this matched evidence found at the murder scene, prompting OBCI to return to the Peterson Rd farm 2 days later. May 12, 2017, the Agents unearthed hundreds of shell casings on the ground outside the farm, including more .22-caliber casings and casings from a 9mm Luger pistol. Authorities were able to match several of the casings from the farm to casings at two of the crime scenes.
All of the casings at the crime scene matched the same three guns;
.40-caliber Glock pistol
.22-caliber Walther Colt 1911 pistol
.30-caliber SKS Rifle
Police believe Jake and his parents, Angela and George Wagner IV, were the three people behind those guns in April of 2016.
Police believe after months of planning and preparation the Wagner's headed towards the property of the family they had once been good friends with. In the middle of the night the Wagner's split up and methodically went through each residence, killing each resident with multiple bullets to the head, sparing only the children. Jake Wagner later recalled to authorities it was him that fired the first shot that night, but it was his father, George Wagner IV, who killed the first person. Jake recounted how his father savagely shot and beat Christopher Rhoden Sr over and over again. Once Christopher Sr was dead, Jake says his father let out a cry and yelled out, "I just shot my best friend."
This apparent dose of reality did not seem to phase his father, as he continued on his murderous rampage. It is believed his mother, Angela Wagner, shot the original target of the killings, Hanna May Rhoden, in the head as she breastfed her newborn daughter Kylie.
Jake and his mother Angela Wagner took a plea deal almost instantly, both pleading guilty to their part in the crimes. Despite overwhelming evidence, Angela's husband George Wagner IV has pleaded not guilty and maintains his innocence; it is expected Jake and Angela will both testify against him during his trial, which is scheduled to go forth sometime in 2023.
George Wagner III, although not accused of directly murdering anyone that night in April 2016, was still charged in the murders of all 8 people, and his trial began in September of 2022. Jake and Angela are both expected to testify against him also as part of their plea deals.
George Wagner III's trial has just begun, and we've heard testimony from emotional family and friends, including Bobbi Jo Manley and her son, and also George Wagner III's ex-wife. His ex-wife
testified Angela Wagner, George's mother, was so controlling during their marriage she wasn't allowed to have sex with her husband unless they were actively trying to get pregnant. She also felt like she wasn't in control of her or her children's decisions, as Angela would tell her they lived in her house, therefore they were expected to follow her rules.
It's seems incredulous that a grown woman would let her husband's mother control her to the point of determining when she could sleep with her own husband; however, I believe that this just shows how controlling and how manipulative Angela Wagner really is. I personally believe the same controlling and abusive behavior is exactly what led her sons to going along with the murder plot. Angela, and possibly her husband, included their children in their sick plan, and murdered an entire family to get custody of one child. They went to extreme lengths to cover their crimes, and although they were ultimately caught, the Rhoden family being forced to relive the crimes in two separate trials seems like another tragedy in itself.
Wagner Family, Accused Murderers
Rhoden Family Tree - Victims
Related Links / Sources