Pike County Massacre suspect arrives at court for first day of trial flanked by security


Six years after eight members were slaughtered in the Pike County Massacre following a bitter custody battle with another family, prosecutors revealed in opening statements that months prior to the slayings, the mother refused to sign custody papers, writing ‘they will have to kill me first.’ 

The first trial in the 2016 killings began Monday with George Wagner IV, 30, who is one of multiple suspects facing charges for his alleged role in the murders of eight members of the Rhoden family in Pike County, Ohio on April 22, 2016.

The fatal shootings terrified residents in a stretch of rural Ohio and launched one of the state’s most extensive criminal investigations, which led to the Wagners’ arrest more than two years later.

In opening statements on Monday, special prosecutor Angela Canepa relayed the bloody saga and argued that the Wagners spent months planning the killings and targeted some of the victims, but ‘some sadly were killed because they happened to be there.’

Prosecutors have alleged the murders were committed by four members of the Wagner family, and while George Wagner IV is not believed to have killed anyone, he allegedly participated by voting in favor of the murders.

His brother, Edward ‘Jake’ Wagner and their mother, have both pleaded guilty to the murders, a plot that was allegedly planned so they could have full custody of Jake’s daughter, who is shared with Hanna Rhoden. 

Hanna, 19, was shot multiple times as she slept next to her newborn baby, after Jake Wagner tried to convince her to agree to share custody of their child. 

‘I won’t sign papers ever,’ Rhoden wrote in a private Facebook message in 2015, months before the killings. ‘They will have to kill me first.’ 

The trial of Jake’s brother, George Wagner IV, began Monday and is expected to last six to eight weeks.

The first trial in the 2016 killings began Monday with George Wagner IV, who is one of suspects accused of killing eight members of the Rhoden family in Pike County on April 22, 2016

George Wagner IV arrived at the courthouse on Monday for opening statements

George Wagner IV arrived at the courthouse on Monday for opening statements

Hanna Rhoden, 19, was killed as she slept after Jake Wagner tried to convince her to agree to share custody. Jake's brother George Wagner IV is the first person on trial Monday

Hanna Rhoden, 19, was killed as she slept after Jake Wagner tried to convince her to agree to share custody. Jake’s brother George Wagner IV is the first person on trial Monday

Four people in the Wagner family have been accused of taking part in the brutal murders.

Defense attorneys for George IV insist that he had nothing to do with the murders, saying he did not shoot or kill anyone on that night in 2016. 

His mother, Angela Jo Wagner, and his younger brother, Edward ‘Jake’ Wagner, pleaded guilty last year to their roles in the killings.

Jake Wagner was convicted of eight counts of murder and 15 other charges including gun specifications, conspiracy, burglary, possession of dangerous ordnance and tampering with evidence. 

The father, George ‘Billy’ Wagner III, is expected to stand trial at a later date. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

Wagner IV has also pleaded not guilty, and his lawyers argued the confessions of his brother and mother last year prove he didn’t shoot and kill anyone.

Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa agreed with the defense in a December 2021 hearing that Wagner IV did not kill anyone.

But in the state of Ohio, a person can be sentenced to death for an aggravated murder conviction if they help plan it or cover it up.

Jake himself was handed eight full life sentenced without the option of parole in 2021 after agreeing to a plea deal with no possibility of the death penalty for himself and his family members.

He pleaded guilty to 23 felony charges, including eight of murder, while his mother pleaded guilty to several counts of aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence and other charges.

Both Jake and his mother agreed to testify against the other defendants and are expected to be involved in the upcoming trial. 

All of the victims were shot in the head multiple times while they slept with Jake saying he was ‘personally responsible’ for five of the deaths.

Hanna’s father Christopher Rhoden Sr, 40, mother Dana Rhoden, 37, and brothers Clarence, 20, and Christopher Jr, 16, were also killed in the massacre.

Clarence Rhoden’s fiancée, Hannah Gilley, 20, Christopher Sr.’s brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44, and cousin Gary Rhoden, 38, were also shot dead across four different homes across rural Ohio.

George Wagner IV

Edward 'Jake' Wagner

Edward ‘Jake’ Wagner, (right) previously pleaded guilty to the murder of Hanna Rhoden, with whom he had a daughter with, and seven of her family members. He has been sentenced to eight life terms. His brother, George Wagner IV, is on trial Monday. He has pleaded not guilty 

Three children that were at the scene of the slaying were spared, Clarence’s sons Brentley, 4, and Ruger Lee, six months, and Hanna’s daughter Kyle who was five days old at the time.

It took investigators six years to get to the bottom of the cold-blooded plot, which was organized to execute anyone who might stand in the way of Jake getting custody of his daughter.

He dated Hanna when she was 13, and got her pregnant at 15, but the relationship ended, and she had a second child with another man.

Jake then began to pressure her about the custody of their daughter, and he had been taking care of Sophia at the time of the murders.

Investigators claim the family bought ammunition, a magazine clip, brass catchers and a bug detector to prepare for the crimes.

It is claimed that they constructed a homemade silencer that was used in the shootings and used ‘counter-surveillance devices’ on the properties as well as tampering with phones, cameras and parts of a home security system.

Forged documents were found on the computer purporting that Hanna Rhoden had agreed to share custody.

The Wagners took phones from six of the victims, as well as a recording device and trail cameras.

The Wagner family fled to Alaska after the murders. From left to right: Edward 'Jake' Wagner, Angela Wagner and George Wagner IV are pictured outside a supermarket in 2017

The Wagner family fled to Alaska after the murders. From left to right: Edward ‘Jake’ Wagner, Angela Wagner and George Wagner IV are pictured outside a supermarket in 2017

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

Clarence ‘Frankie’ Rhoden, 20, and his fiancée, Hannah Gilley, 20, were shot dead while sleeping with their child

Christopher Sr is the only victim who was believed to have been awake when they were shot, suffering nine gunshot wounds in his forearm, torso and cheek.

His brother Gary was shot twice in the head and a third time in the face, with an autopsy report saying 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.

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

The Wagner family lived near the scenes of the killings at the time, but moved 4,000 miles away in June 2021 to a home (pictured above) in Kenai, Alaska

The Wagner family lived near the scenes of the killings at the time, but moved 4,000 miles away in June 2021 to a home (pictured above) in Kenai, Alaska

In a 911 call following the shootings, a woman sounded out of breath as she frantically told a dispatcher: ‘I think my brother-in-law’s dead … There’s blood all over the house.’

‘There’s blood all over the house. My brother-in-law is in the bedroom and it looks like someone has beat the hell out of him.’

Crime scene investigators were first called to Union Hill Road at 8.21am, when seven of the victims were found shot to death in the head ‘execution style’.

The first three homes where bodies were found are located within a couple miles of one another on a sparsely populated stretch of road, while the eighth body – a man – was found in a house within 30 miles just before 2pm.

The Wagner family moved to Kenai, Alaska, after the killings, with Jake Wagner taking his daughter with them, but returned to Ohio in 2018 when they ran out of money. They were arrested in November of that year.

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

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