As George Wagner IV's trial wraps up, a look back at key moments in the case




  • In US
  • 2022-11-28 04:03:09Z
  • By Cincinnati.com | The Enquirer

Eight people were killed on April 21-22, 2016 - seven Rhoden family members and one future member - in what would become known as the Pike County massacre. After thousands of hours and millions of dollars spent on the case, a jury will soon decide the fate of George Wagner IV, one of four family members charged in the crimes.

Here's a look at some of the key moments in the case as the trial wraps up.

George Wagner IV, 31.
George Wagner IV, 31.  

April 21-22, 2016

George Wagner IV was 24, divorced with a young son and living with his parents and brother in Adams County. He worked as a diesel mechanic and truck driver.

Arial view of Chris Rhoden Sr.
Arial view of Chris Rhoden Sr.  

7:49 a.m. Friday, April 22, 2016

A 911 call came in from Bobby Jo Manley, who sometimes worked at the home of Chris Rhoden Sr. on Union Hill Road in Pike County. Breathing heavily, she told the dispatcher: "I think my brother-in-law is dead. There's blood all over the house." She told the dispatcher she thought Chris Rhoden Sr. and Gary Rhoden had been beaten to death.

Roadblocks are set up on Union Hill Road.
Roadblocks are set up on Union Hill Road.  

Friday afternoon, April 22

As the day progressed, the crime scene grew to four locations with eight victims. Union Hill Road in Pike County was closed for days with multiple agencies working the scenes.

The homicide victims.
The homicide victims.  

Authorities identified the deceased as Chris Rhoden Sr., Gary Rhoden, Clarence "Frankie" Rhoden, Hannah "Hazel" Gilley, Dana Manley Rhoden, Hanna May Rhoden, Chris Rhoden Jr. and Kenneth Rhoden.

Chris and Dana Rhoden, divorced at the time, were the parents of Frankie, Hanna May and Chris Rhoden Jr.

Kenneth Rhoden was Chris Rhoden Sr.'s brother and Gary Rhoden was his cousin. Hannah Gilley was engaged to Frankie Rhoden.

April 27

Press conference on Rhoden homicides.
Press conference on Rhoden homicides.  

Then-Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and then-Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader updated the media about the Rhoden homicides. "I would describe these people as cold-blooded murderers," DeWine said of the killers, yet to be identified. "I would describe them as people who thought about what they were going to do. This is an old-fashioned, cold-blooded, calculated massacre of eight human beings."

Gary Rhoden
Gary Rhoden's funeral on April 27, 2016.  

Also that day, Wagner IV, along with his father, George "Billy" Wagner III, in front, and his brother, Edward "Jake" Wagner, right, attended Gary Rhoden's funeral. The three Wagner men also attended joint services for Chris Rhoden Sr., Dana Rhoden and their children.

May 3

Over the course of several days, the eight victims were laid to rest. Chris, Dana, Frankie, Hanna May and Chris Rhoden Jr. were buried together Scioto Burial Park in McDermott, Ohio. Gary Rhoden was buried at Miller Grubb Cemetery in South Shore, Kentucky; Kenneth Rhoden at Mound Cemetery in Piketon, Ohio; and Hannah Hazel Gilley at Hackworth Hill Cemetery in Otway, Ohio.

May 12

For security purposes, authorities began hauling mobile homes from the crime scenes to the investigation's command center in Waverly, Ohio.

May 2017

Wagner home in Adams County.
Wagner home in Adams County.  

The Wagners sold their Peterson Road home, which included two barns in Adams County, and moved to Alaska. Days later, on May 10 and May 12, agents of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation conducted extensive searches of the 58-acre property before the new owners moved in. Agents also searched trucks and trailers at a Peebles property where the family had stored belongings.

June 2017

Kenai, Alaska.
Kenai, Alaska.  

While the Wagners were living in Kenai, Alaska, DeWine and Reader issued a press release that included photos of the four Wagners. They asked anyone with information about the Rhoden massacre to contact them. At the same time, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation received approval for wiretaps on the Wagners.

Spring 2018

Text message from BCI Special Agent Ryan Scheiderer to George Wagner IV.
Text message from BCI Special Agent Ryan Scheiderer to George Wagner IV.  

While the Wagners were still living in Alaska, the lead investigator in the case sent this test to George Wagner IV. Ryan Scheiderer believed the photo showed Jake Wagner holding a .22 Colt 911 used in the homicides. Investigators retrieved the photo from a family laptop.

Nov. 18, 2018

Billy Wagner, wife Angela Wagner and sons George and Jake were arrested and charged with the killings. They all pleaded not guilty.

Fredericka Wagner, Billy Wagner's mother, and Rita Newcomb, Angela Wagner's mother, were arrested the same day. Charges against Fredericka Wagner were later dropped. Newcomb was found guilty of a misdemeanor charge of obstructing official business.

Nov. 28

George Wagner IV arraignment.
George Wagner IV arraignment.  

Wagner IV was arraigned in the Pike County Courthouse in front of Judge Randy Deering. It took 50 minutes for Deering to read the 22 counts - eight for aggravated murder and 14 others. Billy and Angela Wagner faced the same 22 charges.

Jake Wagner was charged with 23 counts, which included sex with a minor, Hanna Rhoden. In testimony in his brother's trial, Jake Wagner said he shot and killed Hanna Rhoden, the mother of his daughter.

April 22, 2021

Jake Wagner pleads guilty.
Jake Wagner pleads guilty.  

Exactly five years after the Rhoden massacre, Jake Wagner formally entered a plea of guilty to all 23 counts.

The Pike County courtroom was packed with Rhoden, Manley and Gilley family members.

Looking at the families, Wagner said, "I am deeply and very sorry."

As part of his plea agreement, he agreed to testify against other family members to avoid the death penalty. He also agreed to serve eight consecutive life sentences, with an official sentencing hearing to come. His attorney, Greg Meyers, left, said, "(Jake) has gone eyes wide open into this agreement. He knows he's going to die in prison without any judicial release."

May

Investigators recover weapons.
Investigators recover weapons.  

Jake Wagner told investigators where they could find the weapons and other items used in the homicides. In testimony in his brother's trial, Jake Wagner said he attempted to destroy the weapons. When that failed, he and his father sunk them into four buckets of cement. They used the buckets to anchor a goose box they made for their grandfather as a gift and placed it in a pond at Flying W Farms, owned by his grandparents.

Sept. 10

Angela Wagner pleads guilty.
Angela Wagner pleads guilty.  

Angela Wagner changed her plea to guilty. She agreed to a 30-year sentence, with no chance of parole, if she testified against her older son and husband. Her official sentencing is also pending.

Aug. 31, 2022

The jury tours the area.
The jury tours the area.  

A jury of nine women and three men, with six alternates, was selected Aug. 29-30. On Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, jurors traveled by school bus to crime scenes and other key sites in the case in Pike, Adams and Peebles counties.

Sept. 12

Angela Canepa, Ohio special prosecutor.
Angela Canepa, Ohio special prosecutor.  

Early in the investigation, investigators begin zeroing in on the theory the homicides happened over a custody battle between Jake Wagner and his ex-girlfriend, Hanna Rhoden, over their daughter, then 2 1/2-year-old Sophia. During opening arguments, Ohio Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa drove this point home by showing a private message on Facebook from Hanna Rhoden that she said Angela Wagner intercepted.

Sept. 13

George Wagner IV is escorted into the courtroom.
George Wagner IV is escorted into the courtroom.  

During the trial, Wagner IV has been picked up from the Scioto County Jail and driven a half hour to the Pike County Common Pleas Courthouse. He arrives in jail-issued clothing and then changes into jeans, a dress shirt and a vest for court.

Under his shirt, he wears a "stun vest" controlled by a guard from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. Four guards are with him at all times.

George Wagner IV with his attorneys.
George Wagner IV with his attorneys.  

Wagner IV is represented by John P. Parker, 60, left, a criminal defense attorney from Cleveland who has been in practice for more than 30 years, and Richard M. Nash Jr., 46, a defense attorney based in Portsmouth who has been practicing since 2004.

Sept. 19

Prosecutors and defense discuss a point offline with Pike County Common Pleas Court Judge Randy Derring, Tuesday Sept.
Prosecutors and defense discuss a point offline with Pike County Common Pleas Court Judge Randy Derring, Tuesday Sept.  

Randy Deering, 73, is the presiding judge for the case. He has presided over the arraignments for all of the Wagners. The state is represented by Ohio Special Prosecutors Angela Canepa, 59, and D. Andrew Wilson, 48. Rob Junk, 56, left, is the Pike County prosecutor. Both Canepa and Junk have been involved with the case from the beginning of court proceedings in 2018.

Sept. 20

Dr.
Dr.  

Holding the sweatshirt worn by Christopher Rhoden Sr. when he was killed, Dr. Karen Looman, chief deputy coroner for Hamilton County, talked about the gunshot wounds Christopher and his cousin Gary Rhoden suffered at the first crime scene. Looman conducted all eight autopsies of the victims and testified four separate times. The jury was shown graphic photos of each victim as Looman talked in detail about the trajectory and impact of the bullets.

Sept. 27

Shoe print expert testifies.
Shoe print expert testifies.  

From the beginning, the state focused on partial bloody shoeprints found at the crime scene where Chris Rhoden Sr. and Gary Rhoden were killed. Suzanne Elliott, an Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation analyst, who in 2016 was a trace evidence examiner, was tasked with the job of finding the shoe to match the print. After she couldn't find a match in the BCI national database, she went shopping. She ultimately found a match in an Athletic Works shoe sold at Walmart.

Matthew White, firearms expert
Matthew White, firearms expert  

Matthew White, forensic scientist and firearm expert for Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, demonstrates how a Walther Colt 1911-style .22-caliber pistol is used. When Jake Wagner admitted guilt in the murders in 2021, he said the Colt 1911 is the gun he used to kill five people. White testified six times for the state.

Oct. 4 and 21

Tabitha Claytor and Elizabeth Armer.
Tabitha Claytor and Elizabeth Armer.  

Tabitha Claytor, 29, left, is the ex-wife of George Wagner IV and the mother of their son, Bulvine, born in 2013. Elizabeth Armer, 29, married Jake Wagner in Alaska in May 2018, when the family lived there, and moved back to Ohio with the family that June. The marriage lasted just months. In testimony, both women said Angela Wagner was controlling and abusive. Both women testified they fled in fear of the family.

Oct. 24

Geneva Rhoden.
Geneva Rhoden.  

Geneva Rhoden, mother of Chris Rhoden Sr. and Kenneth Rhoden, entered the courtroom to hear testimony during the trial. Several benches were reserved each day for Rhoden, Manley and Gilley family members. Often, they bowed their heads to avoid looking at graphic photos. There were tears and scowls, but never a public outburst. A private room was reserved for the families to view proceedings outside the courtroom.

Oct. 24-28

Jake Wagner enters the courthouse.
Jake Wagner enters the courthouse.  

As part of his plea agreement, Jake Wagner testified against his brother. In four days on the stand, he put Wagner IV at the scene of each homicide, but said he didn't pull the trigger and never wanted to be there. During testimony, Jake Wagner looked frequently at his brother and told Angela Canapa, Ohio special prosecutor, that he still loved him. During cross examination, John P. Parker had this exchange with Wagner.

"You're a stone-cold killer, aren't you?" Parker asked toward the end of the day's proceedings.

"I was," Jake Wagner replied.

"You killed eight people!" Parker said.

"I did," Jake Wagner replied.

Oct. 26

The defense and prosecution teams.
The defense and prosecution teams.  

Over the three months of the trial, there were multiple objections made each day, along with numerous sidebars with the judge. From left are Special Prosecutor D. Andrew Wilson, lead investigator Ryan Scheiderer, defense attorney Richard M. Nash Jr., Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa, defense attorney John P. Parker and Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk.

Nov. 1-3

Angela Wagner.
Angela Wagner.  

Angela Wagner also took the stand in her son's trial. Her soft voice was in direct contrast to recordings the state played of her screaming matches with her sons. In testimony, she said her husband planned the homicides and she followed his orders on what to buy and how to assist.

On the stand, she said, "I have regret. I have remorse. I'm more than sorry. But that's not enough." She said one of the reasons she took a plea was in hope of eventually seeing her grandchildren.

Nov. 1

Security video from Walmart.
Security video from Walmart.  

Prosecutors entered this piece of evidence on Nov. 1, 2022. When BCI agents searched the Wagner's stored possessions in May of 2017, they discovered a Walmart receipt showing Angela Wagner had purchased two pairs of the Athletic Works shoes at a cost of $13.97 each. Agents also obtained surveillance footage from the Waverly Walmart, dated April 7, 2016, showing Angela Wagner leaving the store and exiting the parking lot with Jake and George Wagner and their children in the car.

Nov. 16-17

George Wagner IV takes the stand.
George Wagner IV takes the stand.  

In the 11th week of the trial, Wagner IV took the stand in his own defense. Over the course of two days, he said repeatedly he was not at the crime scenes and didn't know about the plan prior or after. On the stand, he had this exchange with his attorney, John P. Parker:

"I never would have believed my family would be capable of doing something of this magnitude," he said. "Theft is one thing. Murder is an entirely different thing."

And if you'd known, what would you have done? Parker asked him.

"I would have never let it happen," he replied. "One way or another, I would not have let it happen."

Evidence in the George Wagner IV trial.
Evidence in the George Wagner IV trial.  

Over 12 weeks, the prosecution called 50 witnesses and the defense called 10. The state introduced close to 5,000 pieces of evidence. The bill, from 2016 through last Tuesday: $3.7 million.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Pike County massacre: Key moments in George Wagner IV's murder trial

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