eight deaths, a number of arrests tied to at least one key issue – youngster custody

April 22 – The battle for child custody was at the center of a battle that, according to a Dayton Daily News investigation, resulted in one of the most notable mass murders in Ohio that killed eight members of a Pike County family in December 2018.

Today, on the fifth anniversary of the murders, Jake Wagner agreed to plead guilty to a number of charges and to testify against some of his family members.

Here is the Dayton Daily News 2018 investigative report into the bitter custody battle in its entirety:

Investigators have revealed little about the relationship between the Wagner family and the Rhodens, the Pike County family who were murdered in the middle of the night on April 22, 2016. However, using custody papers and other records, an investigation by the Dayton Daily News found a row over Sophia was at the heart of a heated argument that prosecutors believe has escalated into murder.

Six days after the eight murders, Jake Wagner, who is in Franklin County Jail and charged with grave murder charges, sought custody of Sophia. Documents obtained from the Dayton Daily News reveal new details about the relationship between the families.


– What first appearances in court revealed about the Pike County homicide investigation

– Homemade muffler as the final piece of evidence in the Pike County murder

Sophia, Jake and Hanna lived together – from the birth of their daughter in November 2013 to the end of the relationship in March 2015.

When Sophia was born, Jake was working on his family farm and driving a truck that he owned with his brother George Wagner IV.

Jake and George, along with their father George “Billy” Wagner III and mother Angela Wagner, are charged with eight homicides. Billy’s mother Fredericka Wagner and Angela’s mother Rita Newcomb are accused of trying to cover up the crime. Both grandmothers pleaded not guilty. The others are waiting for an indictment.

The story goes on

Besides Hanna, the victims were her father Chris Rhoden Sr .; Mother Dana Manley Rhoden; Brothers Chris Rhoden Jr. and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden; her uncle Kenneth Rhoden; Cousin Gary Rhoden; and Frankie’s girlfriend Hannah “Hazel” Gilley.

Prosecutors and court files paint a picture of the Wagnerians as a cold-blooded, calculated clan who can commit the sophisticated murder of eight people in four houses in one night and leaves so little evidence that years have passed without arrest.

But they projected a different image in the church. Fredericka said in an interview with the Daily News last year that the Wagners are “a good Christian family”.

They were known in the community for their huge real estate holdings. This includes the 2,000-acre Flying W Farm on a hill outside Lucasville, the seat of an important family business: exotic animals. Fredericka spent his life on the farm with breeding price miniature horses, some of which were among the most famous in the country. In 1986, a fire killed 20 of the horses, valued at nearly $ 1 million.

A few years later, the family entered another business: raising Vietnamese pork belly pigs, valued at $ 1,000 to $ 20,000 each. In 1991, Fredericka was charged with extortion on three federal charges. According to the lawsuits, the pigs were advertised as “the best Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs” when “the pigs actually did not meet the stated fitness standard,” the plaintiffs alleged. The cases have not been brought to justice.

According to the farm’s website, the farm is currently selling a breed of dog developed by Fredericka Wagner. Prices range from $ 1,800 to $ 2,100, the website says.


– This week 5 questions about the Pike County investigation were answered

—DeWine is charged with the murder of the Rhoden family in 2016

‘I was happy’

A search of court records in Pike County and the surrounding counties shows that none of the defendants has been charged with murder. Angela and Billy Wagner were convicted of obtaining stolen property in Ross County in 2012. Billy Wagner was convicted of mishandling a firearm in a motor vehicle in Portsmouth in 2001 and Pike County in 2002 for obtaining stolen property.

There were no drug convictions – what Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine called “undercurrent” – or violence. A marijuana cultivation operation was found on the Rhoden property, but drugs are not mentioned in the Wagners’ charges.

Phil Fulton, family pastor for the victims’ families, said the Wagners and Rhodens were friends until there was an argument over child custody.

“Jake was very good friends and very close to this family until the custody battle started,” said Fulton. “Why that triggered it is a mystery to me.”

Jake wrote in the custody file why he and Hanna broke up.

“In late March 2015, Hanna decided that I was working too much and not having enough time for her,” Jake wrote. The document states that they separated, but Sophia lived with both families in turn for a month.

Hanna became pregnant again in August 2015, although at the time it was not clear whether the father was Jake or another man (paternity tests would later show that Jake was not).

“I was happy, even though Hanna told me she couldn’t be sure the baby was mine,” Jake wrote. Their relationship ended in September, he wrote, although Sophia’s common parenting lasted until Hanna’s death.

The judge at the juvenile court, Robert Rosenberger, temporarily transferred custody of Sophia to Jake in May 2016.

Moved to Alaska

Last week’s arrest of the Wagners wasn’t the first time DeWine had put the spotlight on the southern Ohio family.

In June 2017, the DeWine office requested the public to report any personal or business interactions with the Wagner family, including information “relating to vehicles, firearms and ammunition”.

“I would say that at this point we are focusing on them like a laser,” DeWine said then.

At that time, the Wagners had left Ohio for the remote Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. At the time, locals felt that their suspicions – that a family who were once friends with the Rhodens might be suspects of their cold-blooded murders – might be true.

“We’re not shocked,” said Saundra Ford, a nurse who worked with Dana Rhoden, one of the eight victims. “The moment they left town, everyone started speculating.”


– The victim’s pastor hopes arrests can bring closure and justice

– After 19 months and more than 4,000 miles, the focus on the Wagner family turns to arrests

But the four Wagners didn’t stay in Alaska. For reasons not yet clear, they returned to South Ohio.

“We talked about it at work last night. Did you think it would pass?” Ford said. Four Wagners have been charged on multiple counts, including eight cases of serious homicide. Each increased number of murders – one for each of the victims – bears the death penalty.

The Wagners settled in South Webster, which has a population of 860, about six months ago, said Pirul Patel, the owner of the local Sunoco station. For all appearances, their life was normal. Patel said they used to come to her shop for gasoline, subway sandwiches, and cigarettes.

When she heard about the arrests in the local newspaper on Wednesday morning, Patel said she was shocked.

“That scared me because I see her all the time,” she said. “I can’t believe that would happen.”

Court records

According to court records, a large jury had been in Pike County for at least July to hear evidence and testimony on the case.

The charges allege a subtle conspiracy.

The four began conspiring in January 2016, court records claim. In the months that followed, they bought “special Walmart shoes” as well as the materials to build one or more “brass catchers” and silencers, ammunition, a magazine clip, and an “insect” detector.

“They obviously went to great lengths in this case,” said Dan Baker, a retired Dayton Police Department homicide detective, after reviewing the charges.

He said a brass catcher is typically a mesh bag that hooks onto the side of a rifle such as an AR-15 and catches spent cartridges.

“These killers didn’t want to leave spent cartridges behind when they were used,” Baker said. “Although the bullets were recovered, prints and DNA are more likely to be found on the cartridges due to the hand loading process. So they didn’t want to leave the cartridges.”

He said a commercially available flaw detector helps someone find eavesdropping devices and sometimes creates white noise to attenuate noise or discussion.

The shoes are more of a mystery, he said. It could have been a pair of cheap shoes that were used once and thrown away after the crime.

The charges also state that the killers closely monitored the victims, their habits and sleep routines, sleeping locations, social media accounts, the layout of their homes and surveillance devices, and pets on the property.

“I and other investigators have always been suspicious of the fact that the killers can enter without intrusive detection by the inmates, thereby eliminating a confrontation,” Baker said. “It was very familiar with the places, habits, and coordination required to get on and off.”

If the Wagners were frequent visitors to the Rhoden homes, it would also reduce the importance of fingerprint traces or DNA evidence at the crime scene, Baker said.

In addition to the capital murder, the four members of the Wagner family are accused of forging a number of custody documents 19 days before the murders. The documents are unregistered in Pike County Juvenile Court and the prosecution has revealed little else about them.

Charles Reader, Pike County’s sheriff, said the defendants were meticulous in their planning but made mistakes.

“You did it quickly, coldly, calmly, and very carefully. But not carefully enough,” he said. “They left a mark, they left a mark. The parts to build a silencer, the forged documents, the cameras, cell phones, everything that they tampered with.

“And the lies, all the lies they told us.”

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