When eight members of the Rhoden household had been murdered in rural Ohio, in 2016, Edward “Jake” Wagner and different members of the close by Wagner household denied any involvement.
For the following 5 years, the Wagners continued to dismiss the concept that that they had any data of why an individual – or individuals – had invaded the Rhodens’ compound one spring evening and killed them with silenced weapons as they slept.
Then on 22 April 2021, precisely 5 years after the murders, Jake Wagner stood in a courtroom in Pike county, a hilly nook of Appalachia the place everybody is aware of everybody and households stick tightly collectively, and advised a choose, “I’m responsible, your honor.”
As a part of a deal to keep away from the loss of life penalty, he pleaded responsible to 23 prices in reference to the homicides of the Rhodens. One of many victims, 19-year-old Hanna Rhoden, was the mom of his youngster.
Shockingly, he additionally agreed to testify towards his household. His mom, Angela Wagner, has pleaded responsible to conspiracy, proof tampering and different prices, however his father George “Billy” Wagner III and brother George Wagner IV, who’re accused of taking part within the homicides, keep their innocence. Attributable to a gag order, nobody concerned within the instances can communicate to the press.
The Wagners are an insular, close-knit household who homeschooled collectively and shared their cash, in accordance to the Washington Publish. Prosecutors say that they deliberate the bloodbath for 4 months and held a vote on going by with it.
“That is very a lot a household affair,” a particular prosecutor, Angela Canepa, stated throughout a listening to in Could. “All for one and one for all.”
The investigation even sucked within the household’s matriarchs. Jake Wagner’s grandmother, Rita Newcomb, has pleaded responsible to a misdemeanor obstruction cost. Prices towards his different grandmother, Fredericka Wagner, have been dropped. Reached by cellphone at her horse farm and requested if she wished to remark, she stated, “No, no,” and hung up.
“I’ve been a choose, a prosecutor and a felony protection lawyer,” Mike Allen, a Cincinnati protection legal professional who has been following the case, advised the Guardian, “and it’s with out query essentially the most complicated felony case that I’ve seen in my near 40-year profession.”
Ohioans have been gripped by the saga, which the state governor, Mike DeWine, who was the Ohio legal professional normal on the time of the killings, has known as “by far” the largest investigation within the historical past of the state’s bureau of felony investigation.
The killers acted in “chilly, chilly, chilly blood”, DeWine stated final yr. “This was calculated, deliberate out. It simply chills you to consider.”
The murders had been found on the morning of twenty-two April 2016, when Bobby Jo Manley stopped by the Rhodens’ cluster of trailer houses to see her ex-brother-in-law, Chris Rhoden Sr. Getting into his trailer, she discovered the bloody our bodies of Chris and his cousin, Gary. Chris’s ex-wife, Dana, was lifeless close by, as had been their kids – Hanna, Chris Jr and Clarence, often known as “Frankie” – and Frankie’s fiancee, Hannah Gilley.
The identical day, Chris Sr’s brother Kenneth Rhoden, who lived about quarter-hour away, was additionally discovered murdered.
The killer or killers had spared Frankie’s three-year-old son; Frankie and Hannah Gilley’s child, who was discovered coated in blood, attempting to nurse at his mom; and Hanna Rhoden’s new child. (Hanna and Jake’s two-year-old daughter, the topic of the custody dispute, was staying elsewhere.)
Chris Rhoden’s pit bulls had been additionally alive and unhurt, a incontrovertible fact that struck many locally as vital. Dana Rhoden’s father, Leonard Manley, advised reporters, “Whoever performed it know’d the household as a result of there have been two canine there that may eat you up, however I ain’t gonna say no extra.”
As shock and paranoia rippled by Pike county, investigators from a mess of regulation enforcement businesses descended on the Rhodens’ properties to attempt to deconstruct the grisly crime scenes. When police introduced that that they had discovered proof of cockfighting and business marijuana rising, it induced wild hypothesis that the Rhodens had crossed a Mexican drug cartel.
Police and prosecutors ultimately recognized a much less unique, however equally disturbing, alleged motive. They describe Jake Wagner as a daunting man who fathered a toddler with an underage lady and stalked her when she tried to flee his management, and his household as a cultish clan who reacted to a perceived slight with excessive violence.
Jake Wagner allegedly started a relationship with Hanna Rhoden when she was 13, impregnating her when she was 15 and he was 20. Along with murder, he has been charged with illegal sexual conduct with a minor.
After she ended the connection, prosecutors say, he started threatening her. When she had a second youngster with a special man, Wagner allegedly pressured her to falsely checklist him as father on the beginning certificates. He and his brother George had been additionally allegedly stalking two different girls – their respective ex-wives, each of whom are anticipated to testify that the Wagners made them concern for his or her lives.
When Hanna Rhoden refused to relinquish custody of the infant she had had with Jake Wagner, the Wagners had been enraged. Jake Wagner allegedly threatened to kill her, however she was decided not to surrender her youngster. In a message on Fb, she wrote that she would “by no means signal papers ever. They should kill me first.”
That was when the Wagners allegedly determined to get rid of Hanna and her kin in order that custody of the kid would fall to them. They allegedly purchased ammunition, components for silencers, “brass catchers” to keep away from leaving bullet casings behind, and a truck and footwear particularly to make use of on the evening of the killings.
They surveilled the Rhodens to check their habits and sleeping places, based on an indictment, then killed them underneath cowl of darkness and tried to make the murders seem drug-related.
The crime scene, or scenes, had been so difficult that investigators carted away the Rhodens’ trailers complete to protect their proof. Even with the help of quite a few regulation enforcement businesses, the investigation was daunting in scope.
The Wagners had been arrested in 2018, after police allegedly found do-it-yourself silencer components and different incriminating proof on the household’s former property.
In hearings, prosecutors have described the Wagner household as a “felony enterprise”. The Wagners’ attorneys have tried to battle that narrative.
“A big a part of the state’s argument we anticipate is: ‘He’s a Wagner, and that is how the Wagners function,’” an legal professional for George Wagner IV stated in a listening to. “The jury wants to know the essential premise of our felony justice system is as follows: our regulation punishes folks for what they do, not [for] who they’re.”
Jury choice for George Wagner IV’s trial started this week in Pike county. His attorneys have argued that it is going to be tough to get a good trial there, given the media consideration the case has attracted, the small jury pool, and the truth that many residents have private connections to the victims or alleged perpetrators. A choose declined an preliminary request to relocate the trial, pending the end result of jury choice.
As a part of the deal that Jake Wagner struck with prosecutors, his relations may even keep away from the loss of life penalty. Given the burden of proof, it appears unlikely that any of the principle defendants will ever see the skin of a jail once more.
Allen, the Cincinnati protection legal professional, predicts “a responsible discovering on each considered one of them”.