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Family of four charged in Ohio massacre fled to Alaska after killings

"Shella Cornwall" (2020-04-22)

A family of four charged over the murders of eight people in rural Ohio had been living a quiet life in Alaska and were lying low in the months following the gruesome massacre.

The Wagner family have been charged with the April 2016 execution-style shooting deaths of seven members of the Rhoden family and a fiancée of one of the victims in Pike County.

In announcing the first break in the more than two-year-old case, authorities said the Wagner family had allegedly organized an extensive plot to kill in four different crimes scenes and a cover-up that included the suspects temporarily moving to Alaska.

George 'Billy' Wagner III, 47, his wife Angela Wagner, 48, and their two sons, George Wagner IV, 27, and Edward 'Jake' Wagner, 26 are each charged with eight counts of aggravated murder. 

Authorities have not publicly revealed a motive but suggested the primary intent of the killers was custody of a small child, whose father was a Wagner and mother a Rhoden. 

George 'Billy' Wagner III, 47; his wife Angela Wagner, 48; and their two sons, George Wagner, 27, and Edward 'Jake' Wagner, 26, were all arrested on Tuesday for sabung ayam online the murders of the Rhoden family in Ohio in 2016

The victims included Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; his ex-wife, Dana Rhoden, 37; and their three children, Hanna, 19, Christopher Jr., 16, and Clarence, 20. 

Three other victims were Christopher Sr.'s brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44; a cousin, Gary Rhoden, 38; and Clarence Rhoden's girlfriend, Hannah Gilley, 20. 

Jake Wagner was the long-time former boyfriend of Hanna Rhoden and shared custody of their daughter at the time of the massacre.

The Wagner family lived near the scenes of the killings at the time but moved 4000 miles away to a mobile home in Kenai, Alaska, in June last year.

At the time, the family said they were moving to escape what they claimed was unfair speculation that were responsible for the murders. 

They had first vacationed in Alaska because their family friend - a pastor of a Resurrection Bay Baptist Church - lived there. They went there while investigators were searching their home in relation to the massacre. 

That pastor, Kelly Cinereski, told the Dayton Daily News he was shocked to hear news of the family's arrests. 

'These people wept over dogs, I can't imagine them taking people's lives,' he said.

Locals said the Wagner family kept a low profile while in Alaska and it is not clear what they did for work.  

The Wagner family returned to Ohio this past spring.  

The Wagner family (pictured is Edward 'Jake' Wagner, Angela Wagner and George Wagner) are seen here in July 2017 in Kenai, Alaska after moving 4000 miles from Ohio

The Wagner family lived near the scenes of the killings at the time but moved 4000 miles away to a home (pictured above) in Kenai, Alaska, in June last year

The Wagners, from the rural southern Ohio village of Peebles, were all charged with planning and murdering the Rhoden family who lived in the neighboring village of Piketon, 11 miles away

The mothers of Angela Wagner and George Wagner also were arrested in Ohio and charged with misleading investigators. 

Both Jake Wagner and Angela Wagner previously told the Cincinnati Enquirer that they were not involved in the killings.

Angela Wagner said in an email to the newspaper that what happened was devastating and Hanna Rhoden was like a daughter to her. Wagner also said that her husband, George, and Christopher Rhoden Sr. were more like brothers than friends.

A message was left on Tuesday with John Clark, an attorney who has been representing the Wagners. Clark said a year ago that four of the Wagner family members had provided laptops, phones and DNA samples to investigators, and agreed to be interviewed about the slayings. 

Hanna May Rhoden, 19, was the ex-girlfriend of one of those arrested, Edward 'Jake' Wagner. They shared custody of their daughter at the time of the massacre

Clark said at the time that the family was being 'harassed while the real killer or killers are out there'. 

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said on Tuesday that the Wagners had been suspects for a long time. 

'There certainly was obsession with custody, obsession with control of children,' DeWine said. 'This is just the most bizarre story I've ever seen in being involved in law enforcement.'

Investigators scrambling to determine who targeted the Rhoden family had conducted over 550 interviews and processed over 700 pieces of evidence and 1,100 tips.

Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader said they ran down every single lead. 

'We have been patient when it was painful to be, running down every lead, no matter how small,' he said.

'Members of one family conspired, planned, carried out and then allegedly covered up their violent act to wipe out members of another family.

'They did this quickly, coldly, calmly and very carefully. But not carefully enough. They left traces, they left a trail. The parts to build a silencer, the forged documents, the cameras, cellphones, all that they tampered with. And the lies, all the lies they told us.' 

DeWine said the Wagners studied the layouts of the victims' properties, as well as their habits, routines, sleeping locations and pets. 

The indictments accuse the Wagners of tampering with phones, cameras, a gun silencer, shell casings and parts of a home security system. 

 Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40, and his ex-wife Dana Rhoden, 37, were among those killed in April 2016 in Piketon in southern Ohio

Clarence 'Frankie' Rhoden, 20, and his fiancee, Hannah Gilley, 20, were shot dead while sleeping with their child

Christopher Rhoden Sr.'s brother Kenneth Rhoden, 44, (left) and a cousin, Gary Rhoden, 38, were also shot dead.

During the investigation, authorities had refused to discuss many details about the slayings, saying they didn't want to tip their hand to whoever was responsible for the shootings. 

Investigators found evidence of illegal drug activity, cockfighting and the possible involvement of a Mexican drug cartel. 

Christopher Rhoden Sr. had 'a large-scale marijuana growing operation', which initially lead many to speculate that the killings were drug-related

First mention of the suspects came in June of 2017, when authorities announced they were seeking information about the Wagners, including details on their personal and business interactions, and conversations people may have had with them. 

None was named a suspect at the time. Investigators also said they had searched property in southern Ohio sold by the Wagners.

Jake Wagner was a long-time former boyfriend of Hanna Rhoden, one of the eight victims, and shared custody of their daughter at the time of the massacre.

The daughter, now aged 5, was not with her mother on the night she was killed. The girl had moved to Alaska with her father while police were investigating the murders. 

Jake Wagner has now also been charged with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor for having sexual contact with Rhoden when she was 15 years old and he was 20 years old.

Investigators scrambling to determine who targeted the Rhoden family had conducted over 130 interviews and processed over 100 pieces of evidence. Pictured above is one of four murder scenes 

The hearses carrying five members of the Rohden family are pictured above ahead of their funerals in April 2016 

Autopsy reports suggested the murders were calculated and brutal with the coroner saying all but one of the victims was shot more than once.

Christopher Rhoden Sr. is the only victim who was believed to have been awake when they were shot. 

The father-of-three sustained nine gunshot wounds in his forearm, torso and cheek.

Sharing a trailer with Christopher Sr. was his brother Gary, who was shot twice in the head and a third time in the face. His autopsy report says a 'muzzle stain' was left on his head, suggesting at one point a shot was fired while the gun was pressed against him.

Dana Rhoden was carefully shot four times around her head and a fifth time from under her chin. 

She was sharing a trailer with Christopher Jr. and Hanna who were both shot in the head multiple times. Hanna was in bed with her five-day-old child at the time.

Frankie Rhoden and Hannah Gilley were also shot in the head, but their six-month-old child, who was sleeping between the couple, was spared. Hannah was shot five times in total, with one shot hitting her left eye. 

Kenneth Rhoden was shot only once, with the bullet entering his right eye. 

Three funerals were held for the victims.