Ohio officials announced on Tuesday that a husband, wife, and their two adult sons have been arrested in connection to the murders

By Joelle Goldstein
November 14, 2018 12:10 AM
Credit: Pike County Sheriff's Office

Years after eight family members were slaughtered in their southern Ohio homes, four people — a husband, wife and their two adult sons — have been arrested in connection with the 2016 crime, which authorities said was related to custody of a young child.

On Tuesday, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader and Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk announced the arrests on eight counts of aggravated murder with death penalty specifications of George “Billy” Wagner III, 47, Angela Wagner, 48, George Wagner IV, 27, and Edward “Jake” Wagner, 26, of South Webster, according to a news release obtained by PEOPLE.

On April 22, 2016, seven adults and one teenage boy — all members of the Rhoden family — were fatally shot in four separate properties in rural Piketon, Ohio. Three of those properties contained marijuana-growing operations, and at the time, DeWine described the killings as a “preplanned execution” and a “sophisticated operation.”

On Tuesday, DeWine said a dispute over custody of a young child was a factor in the crime, according to multiple reports.

“There was an obsession with custody, obsession with control of the children,” DeWine said, according to The Washington Post. “This is the most bizarre story I have ever seen, being involved with law enforcement.”

The slain people were Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; Dana Rhoden, 37; Hanna Rhoden, 19; Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16; Gary Rhoden, 38; Kenneth Rhoden, 44; Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; and Hannah Gilley, 20.

The victims were shot execution-style and all but one had been shot multiple times and showed signs of bruising, the Hamilton County Coroner said in a report previously obtained by PEOPLE.

“We promised the victims’ families that the day would come when this case would be solved, and today is that day,” DeWine said in a statement. “The indictments allege that these suspects developed a calculated plan to execute the victims in the middle of the night and then carefully cover their tracks. Their alleged plan was sophisticated, but not sophisticated enough for our team of investigators and prosecutors.”

The Rhoden Family
| Credit: Pike County Sheriff's Office

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The murders became the largest and most complex homicide investigation in the state’s history, authorities said.

In addition to the aggravated murder charges they face, the Wagners also face a total of nine other charges including conspiracy, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, unlawful possession of a dangerous ordinance, and aggravated burglary, the news release states.

In addition, Edward “Jake” Wagner was charged with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. According to the news release, Jake allegedly had sex with Hanna May Rhoden when she was 15 and he was 20. The two conceived a child together, a daughter, who was staying with the Wagners on the night of the murders.

Angela Wagner’s mother, Rita Newcomb, and Billy Wagner’s mother, Fredericka Wagner, were also arrested on Tuesday. Both face felony charges for obstructing justice and perjury for allegedly misleading investigators over the course of the investigation.

Rita Newcomb and Fredericka Wagner
| Credit: Pike County Sheriff's Office

Officials explained that the Wagners were indicted this week by a Pike County grand jury, less than a week after Ohio authorities found a homemade firearm suppressor that the suspects allegedly built and used in the murders.

“This, along with a great deal of other investigative findings, led us to these indictments and arrests today,” DeWine explained. “The Wagners were friends with the Rhodens and had been for years. They knew the layouts of the Rhodens’ homes, and they knew the victims’ routines. It is our belief that the suspects used this knowledge to meticulously plan these horrendous, cold-blooded murders.”

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Despite the long road it took to get here, both Sheriff Reader and Prosecutor Junk echoed DeWine’s earlier comments and said they were determined to stick to their word, solve the case and serve justice for the victims and their loved ones.

“I made a promise to the victims’ families and to the people of Pike County that we would solve this, no matter how long it took,” Reader said. “It’s been tough to be patient at times, but we kept our eye on the goal – justice for the victims.”

Junk added, “We have never stopped working to find the people responsible for these savage crimes, and our sympathies continue to be with the victims’ families. There is still a lot of hard work ahead of us, but we will continue to fight to hold these alleged killers accountable.”