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Pike County murders: ‘There will always be a scar on this town’

Published: Wednesday, April 19, 2017 @ 3:00 PM
By: Will Garbe - Staff Writer

Gone are the hazmat suits, police cars, helicopters and mobile home crime scenes. Now, silence surrounds the sites of the Pike County murders — until the crows call overhead.

It’s noon and nearly a year after the eight-person massacre. Occasionally, a pickup truck catches gravel and spits it to the side of Union Hill Road, where seven of the deceased were found in three homes. A metal mailbox in the shade of blooming redbud trees bears the name of a lost family: Rhoden.

Their voices cannot be heard, but their faces are everywhere.

Nailed into the tree outside the home of a still-grieving father, posted on the church bulletin board opposite the Ten Commandments, and spread high on a billboard above the Pike County Sheriff’s Office, reward posters with eight faces each beg an unanswered question.

“Do you know who murdered us on April 22, 2016?”

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The posters bear a tip line number checked each morning by Sheriff Charles Reader, and they boast a modest reward of $10,000 — just less than $1,500 per person killed. By way of comparison, the reward for the so-called Facebook Live killer this week in Cleveland exceeded $50,000.

Had the Pike County executions been a few hundred yards west, they’d be the concern of the Adams or Scioto County sheriffs. But now, the deaths on Union Hill Road and nearby Left Fork Road haunt Reader daily.

“I see the look of disappointment when I speak with the family, and I look into their eyes and the grieving they still have,” Reader said at a recent media availability with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.

He wishes there will one day be a press conference to announce the arrest, but for now he begs for would-be tipsters to come forward.

Reader’s deputies and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation tracked down more than 800 tips in the 12 months since the execution-style shootings.

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The continuing hunt for answers is referred to by the local newspaper, the News Watchman, as the “Rhoden/Gilley” investigation. It’s a reference to Hannah Gilley, the 20-year-old fiancee of Frankie Rhoden, who also died at that age.

Stephanie Stanley, the paper’s assistant editor, said the small newsroom does its best to keep residents updated.

“I know that people are anxious to hear who did it,” Stanley said, “to have that come through on the front page headline and have it over with and out of their lives.”

Because of the marijuana found at the scenes, many here still believe the cartel is behind the deaths, while others are confident locals among them fired the shots. No one — including investigators, apparently — knows for sure.

Spared from the slaughter were three children and the Rhoden family dogs. Christopher Sr., 40, Christopher Jr., 16, Dana, 37, Gary, 38, Hanna, 19, and Kenneth, 44, also died in what became Ohio’s largest criminal investigation.

One of the new reward posters appeared this week on the door of the Riverside Restaurant. It’s Sloppy Joe’s day at the Piketon eatery, where opinions are mixed on if the case will ever be solved.

“People don’t talk about it anymore because it was so sad,” said a woman tending a dish of cottage cheese. Added another patron, fighting to be heard over a loud television, “If you knew somebody killed somebody, why wouldn’t you say something?”

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Though the killer or killers remain at large, people in Piketon are walking down the sidewalk and sitting on their porches again, said Morty Throckmorton, who manages the Smart Mart store.

She sells the “unique and unusual” — overstock furniture, some hardware and infomercial-type products from the likes of J.C. Penney, Sears and QVC. It’s one of a handful of stores in Piketon, and about sixty percent of her business is layaway.

“I wouldn’t want to meet my maker that way,” she said of the killings, pausing to tell a father and son she just sold the last tap and die set. Another shipment might come soon, she said, resuming her thoughts:

“There will always be a scar on this town.”

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NewsCenter 7’s Jim Otte contributed reporting.