Crime

How could 8 die without a trace of the killers? Father agrees in Fayette court to extradition

Suspect in ‘executions’ of eight in Ohio agrees in Fayette County court to extradition

George "Billy" Wagner III appeared in Fayette District Court Wednesday after he was arrested Tuesday in Lexington. He agreed to return to Ohio where he faces eight murder charges in the deaths of a family. His wife and sons are also charged.
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George "Billy" Wagner III appeared in Fayette District Court Wednesday after he was arrested Tuesday in Lexington. He agreed to return to Ohio where he faces eight murder charges in the deaths of a family. His wife and sons are also charged.

It sounds like a well-organized kill team out of an action movie. The parents and their sons allegedly hacked their targets’ social media accounts, learned their movements and tracked counter-surveillance devices — “including pets” — on the victims’ properties, court documents say.

The crew allegedly accumulated special supplies like shoes and a bug detector and built equipment like spent cartridge catchers and a silencer, the indictments said. After eight were dead — most from multiple gunshots to their heads — the parents and sons allegedly eliminated evidence at four residences, moved two bodies and collected the victims’ video and trail cameras and phones, according to court records.

The group’s patriarch, George “Billy” Wagner III, agreed Wednesday in a Lexington court to extradition to Ohio after his arrest in Fayette County Tuesday. His wife, Angela Wagner, 48, and sons George Wagner IV, 27; and Edward “Jake” Wagner, 26, were apprehended at various locations in Ohio, not far from the site of the 2016 homicides near Cincinnati. The family’s attorney said they welcome the chance to clear their names.

In addition to eight counts of aggravated murder, for which they could face the death penalty if proven guilty, each of the Wagners was charged with conspiracy; engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity; aggravated burglary; evidence tampering; unlawful possession of dangerous ordnance; unauthorized use of property; interception of wire, oral, or electronic communications; and obstructing justice.

When Fayette County District Court Judge Julie Goodman asked the elder Wagner Wednesday what he wanted to do regarding extradition, he responded, “I guess head back to Ohio.”

Ohio Deputy Attorney General Stephen Schumaker was in the courtroom Friday in case the court had any questions, he said. Schumaker said the office is trying to make arrangements “as quickly as possible” to get Wagner back to Ohio.

Court dates have not been scheduled for Wagner’s wife and two sons, Schumaker said.

In a briefing Tuesday, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said the Wagners studied the victims habits and routines, knew the layouts of their homes and knew where they slept. The perpetrators’ planning and lack of evidence helped thwart arrests for more than two years, but the Wagners were the focus of questions not long after the killings.

“We believe the Wagners conspired together to develop an elaborate plan to kill the eight victims under the cover of darkness and carefully cover up their tracks,” said DeWine, who was elected governor of Ohio just a few days before the arrests. He called the case the most bizarre he has ever seen.

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.

The descriptions of the preparation, the homicides and the cleanup were mostly the same in each indictment for the four charged. The indictment alleges the Wagners allegedly purchased “specific shoes from Walmart, ... items with which to build ‘brass catchers,’ ammunition, a magazine clip, a ‘bug’ detector, and or items with which to build a ‘silencer(s),’ and/or various other items in preparation for these crimes.”

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The Rhoden family of eight was killed April 22,2016 by gunfire at point-blank range, according to media reports. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine

Most of the victims were asleep during the killings, according to the Cincinnati-Enquirer. Three children were left unharmed. In addition to taking victims’ phones and cameras, the Wagners are accused of moving the bodies of Christopher Rhoden Sr. and Gary Rhoden, according to the indictments.

One last piece of evidence surfaced Oct. 30, DeWine said, leading to the indictments. It was not widely disclosed what the new evidence was. ABC News reported authorities “confirmed the existence of a homemade firearm suppressor believed to have been built by the suspects,” DeWine said.

Why did a family of four allegedly massacre the Rhoden family of eight? DeWine said a custody dispute played a role in the case. 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.

DeWine said Tuesday the Wagners had an “obsession” with control and custody of children. The group was accused of forging custody documents.

When the Wagner patriarch was arrested Tuesday, he was with a horse trailer at an address for Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington. Messages to the hospital have not been answered.

The trailer had a logo for Flying W Farms, a horse-breeding operation owned by Wagner’s parents: George “Bob” Wagner and Fredericka Wagner.

Fredericka Wagner and Angela Wagner’s mother, Rita Newcomb, were also arrested Tuesday and are accused of helping cover up the crimes, DeWine said.

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