The early hours of the investigation into ‘execution-style killings’ of eight family members
(This story was corrected to provide accurate information about Edward “Jake” Wagner’s now nearly 5-year-old daughter with Hanna Rhoden. The child was with the Wagners the night in 2016 her mother was shot while in bed with her infant.)
A man wanted in the execution-style shooting deaths of an Ohio family was arrested Tuesday in Lexington, according to police.
George “Billy” Wagner, 47, was arrested without incident at 2150 Georgetown Road, the address for Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, Tuesday afternoon, Lexington police said. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation assisted Lexington police in the arrest.
He was found in a horse trailer that was pulled over, the Associated Press reported.
It is unclear what brought Wagner to Lexington.
“I don’t know what he was doing in Kentucky other than being arrested,” Pike County Ohio Sheriff Charles S. Reader said during a press conference Tuesday.
Wagner’s wife and two sons also were also arrested Tuesday and each family member was charged in the 2016 deaths of eight members of the Rhoden family in Pike County, Ohio, just east of Cincinnati, according to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. It is not clear where Angela Wagner, 48, George Wagner IV, 27, Edward Jake Wagner, 26, were arrested, but it was not in Lexington.
DeWine said Tuesday afternoon in a news conference that it is believed the Wagner family orchestrated and executed a complex plan to kill the members of the Rhoden family. Investigators believe the Wagners studied the victims’ habits, routines and the layout of their homes, DeWine said.
Each of the four members of the Wagner family has been charged with eight counts of aggravated murder with “death penalty specifications,” DeWine said. They are facing several other charges, including tampering with evidence, forging child custody documents and conspiracy.
The charges come after a key piece of evidence was obtained in late October, DeWine said. The analysis of that evidence concluded on Nov. 7, he said.
“We promised that the day would come that arrests would be made in the Pike County massacre,” DeWine said. “Today was that day.”
Attorney John Clark said the Wagners “look forward to their day in court so they can clear their names,” the Associated Press reported.
Clark’s statement said the Wagner family waits “for the day when the true culprits will be discovered and brought to justice for this terrible tragedy,” the AP reported. Previously, the family attorney told the press the Wagners were on friendly terms with the Rhodens.
The Rhoden family massacre is considered the state’s biggest and most complex homicide investigation to date, DeWine said. Investigators received more than 1,000 tips in the case, tested more than 700 pieces of evidence and conducted more than 500 interviews, he said.
“What solved this case was just hard, tough police work day after day,” DeWine said Tuesday. “These men and women never gave up.”
Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40, his ex-wife Dana Manley Rhoden, 37, and their three children, Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, Hanna May Rhoden, 19, and Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, were killed. Frankie Rhoden’s fiancée, Hannah “Hazel” Gilley, 20, was also killed, along with the elder Christopher Rhoden’s brother Kenneth Rhoden, 44, and cousin Gary Rhoden, 38.
Edward Jake Wagner fathered a daughter with Hanna Rhoden. The child, Sophia Wagner, was not with her mother on the night of the killings because the child was with the Wagners, according to the Cincinnati-Enquirer. An infant of Hanna Rhoden’s, not fathered by Wagner, was found unharmed in bed with her mother’s body.
Two other children were left unharmed in the slayings, which occurred in three homes and a trailer, DeWine said.
Autopsy results show Rhoden Sr. was shot through the door, according to the Dayton Daily News. He was shot nine times in the head, chest and stomach, according to WBNS 10. His ex-wife was shot five times in the head, WBNS 10 reported. All of the victims were shot in the head at point-blank range, WCPO reported.
While the exact suspected motive of the shooting was not released, DeWine said Tuesday that a child custody dispute was believed to have been part of what led up to the shooting.
After the shooting, 911 calls from the massacre were released.
In 2017, the Wagner family left Ohio for Alaska, according to FOX 28. The family had since returned to Ohio, DeWine said Tuesday.
Two of the Wagner family members previously denied involvement in the slayings in conversation or correspondence with a Cincinnati newspaper.
The mothers of George Wagner and Angela Wagner were also arrested. Rita Newcomb and Fredericka Wagner were charged in connection with the suspected cover-up of the shootings, DeWine said. Each faces a count of forging custody documents.
DeWine’s office told WOWK-TV Rhoden Sr. had a “large-scale marijuana growing operation,” which led to speculation that the killings were drug-related. Marijuana operations were found at the homes of three of the sites where the murders took place.
“Regardless of what we found, regardless of what aerial views that were showed reported, no one, no one deserved in the dark of the night for cowards to come in while (they were) sleeping and execute them in a way that would be unbelievable to anyone, including law enforcement,” Reader said.
Throughout the investigation of the deaths of the Rhoden family, more than four dozen agencies assisted in the case, DeWine said.