Ohio has developed a reputation for producing grisly serial killers and psychopaths. Jeffrey Dahmer is perhaps the poster child for but there are so many competitors for that dubious honor. I don’t usually comment on such things but two years ago in April 2016, there was a particularly bizarre case. That was the systematic execution style murder of eight members of a family in four different homes. Seven of them had been shot in their beds. The case remained unsolved but just yesterday authorities finally announced arrests and the information that was released was startling.
The victims were Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40, his ex-wife Dana Manley Rhoden, 37, and the couple’s three children: Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16; Hanna May Rhoden, 19; and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20.
Frankie Rhoden’s fiancee, Hannah Gilley, 20, Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44, and a cousin Gary Rhoden, 38, were also murdered.
Cops said the killers spared the lives of three children, including the 5-day-old daughter of Hanna Rhoden. The baby, Kylie, was in bed next to Hanna when she was executed, police said. (The other children were 6 months and 3 years old.)
Now arrests have been made of four members of another family named Wagner.
Police cuffed four members of the Wagner family: George “Billy Wagner III, 47; his wife, Angela Wagner, 48; and their sons George Wagner IV, 27, and Edward “Jake” Wagner, 26.
Jake Wagner was an ex-boyfriend of Hanna Rhoden, and the two shared a daughter, then 3 years old.
Why was this brutal killing carried out? As the investigation expanded it exposed the dark underbelly of rural life. It turned out that the entire Rhoden family was involved in marijuana cultivation and three of their homes had marijuana farms. Since that part of southern Ohio is awash in drugs, initial speculation was that these killings were part of a drug war or at least triggered by a drug deal gone awry. But the drug motive seems to have moved to the background and now suspicions point to a custody fight, with confusion added by the fact that two key individuals in the Rhoden clan were called Hannah and Hanna.
Still, one Cincinatti.com story published weeks after the slayings seemed to foretell strife between Jake Wagner and Charlie Gilley, the father of victim Hanna Rhoden’s newborn baby, Kylie. Both men were apparently awaiting paternity testing.
In June 2016, Jake Wagner told Cincinnati.com that there was a 50/50 chance he was Kylie’s father, and that he dated Hanna Rhoden for about three years before they welcomed their daughter, Sophia.
Jake said that even if he wasn’t Kylie’s dad, he’d “want mandatory visitation in order to see her regularly” so that Sophia could spend time with her little sister.
His mother, alleged murder accomplice Angela Wagner, also spoke to the Ohio news outlet back then.
“They need each other,” Angela Wagner said of little Sophia and Kylie. “When they get old enough to understand, they will really need each other.”
For his part, Charlie Gilley—who is also the brother of murder victim Hannah Gilley—told the publication that he hired a lawyer and believed Kylie was his daughter.
That is not all. Even two grandmothers were allegedly involved in trying to cover up the murders.
Fredericka Wagner, the mother of Billy Wagner, and Rita Newcomb, the mother of Angela Wagner, were indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice. Newcomb also was indicted on forgery charges, according to court documents.
It strains credulity that such a rampage could be unleashed over a custody issue. It is not unusual for people denied custody of their children to go berserk and start killing the people denying them. But it seems bizarre that such a person could enlist the assistance of his entire family, including his two grandmothers, in carrying it out, and plan it out so carefully and do it so clinically. The whole episode feels like a throwback to the Mafia gang wars with families killing each other execution style.
On Tuesday, DeWine said the Wagners had planned their “heartless ruthless coldblooded” executions for months. The alleged killers studied their victims’ habits and routines and made note of the layout of their homes and where they slept. The Wagners had been friends with the Rhodens for years, DeWine said.
The Wagners made several purchases, including “brass catchers” to catch spent shell casings, a bug detector, ammunition, and a magazine clip, in the months leading up to the killings. They also shared information on the victims’ properties and counter surveillance devices at the locations, including pets, the indictment states.
So Ohio can add another case to its long list of macabre murders.