Pike County murders: 8 deaths, 2 years, no answers

Published: Friday, April 20, 2018 @ 2:18 PM
Updated: Friday, April 20, 2018 @ 2:18 PM

New family monument at gravesite the only real change in unsolved murder of eight family members

Two years after the eight-person massacre in Pike County, investigators are providing fewer details than ever before in the case, marking the second anniversary without the lengthy, emotional press conference and plea for tips that highlighted the first.

The unsolved murders took place April 22, 2016.

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

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» Pike County murder victims: A closer look at the 8 who died

This week the three sites where members of the Rhoden and Gilley families were killed appeared unchanged from the early days of the investigation. As if frozen in time, toys, trash, appliances and abandoned vehicles remain spread about the properties and front porches of trailers that are no longer there - having been hauled away and stored as part of the investigation.

A billboard seeking information remains posted 300 feet from the Pike County Sheriff's Office two years after the murder of 8 Rhoden family members in rural Pike County. The crime remains unsolved. TY GREENLEES / STAFF(Ty Greenlees)

Those trailers are now housed in a large pole barn built last year by the county for just shy of $100,000.

PHOTOS: Pike County crime scenes unchanged after two years

About 20 miles south — past the former uranium enrichment plant in Piketon and across the Scioto River from the state prison in Lucasville — rest five members of the Rhoden family. The grass on their plots has grown past the straw first placed over the newly dug earth. New grave stones share their names and poem on the back of the family’s headstone captures a community’s grief.

“You never said, ‘I’m leaving,’ you never said goodbye, you were gone before we knew it, and only God knows why.”

Dana Rhoden, her daughter Hanna and son Chris Rhoden, Jr. were killed in their mobile home at this location on Union Hill Rd. in 2016. Two years after the murder of 8 Rhoden family members in rural Pike County, the crime remains unsolved. TY GREENLEES / STAFF(Ty Greenlees)

Busy summer, quiet winter

Finding the killers remains the top priority of Attorney General Mike DeWine, a candidate for Ohio governor. This week, DeWine said he remains hopeful the case will be solved. If unsolved by the general Election Day, the case will become a daunting challenge for one of the two men seeking to become his successor.

One year ago, the investigation appeared active. DeWine and Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader called reporters to DeWine’s high rise Columbus office in April 2017 for a long interview about the investigation. For a time, it seemed investigators were inching closer to solving the case. 

In May, authorities arrested James Manley, the brother of victim Dana Manley Rhoden, on charges of evidence tampering and vandalism after allegedly destroying a GPS tracker placed on his car during the investigation. 

Then, in June, “DeWine annouced he was “laser focused” on members of the Wagner family, a family in Kenai, Alaska who formerly lived near the Rhodens in Ohio. The Bureau of Criminal Investigation and other agencies executed search warrants at their former residence. 

And then, quiet.  

A Pike County judge dismissed the charges against Manley so that evidence could be presented to a grand jury. There have been no announcements since of any grand jury action. Manley’s attorney, James Boulger, and Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk did not respond to requests for comment.

“I have nothing I can say about that,” DeWine said when asked about Manley’s case.

Dana Rhoden, her daughter Hanna and son Chris Rhoden, Jr. were killed in their mobile home at this location on Union Hill Rd. in 2016. Two years after the murder of 8 Rhoden family members in rural Pike County, the crime remains unsolved. TY GREENLEES / STAFF(Ty Greenlees)

Meanwhile, the Wagners, appeared to still be in Alaska as of December, when, according to Alaska court records, Edward Jacob “Jake” Wagner, 25, pleaded no contest to a speeding ticket issued in Soldotna, about a three hour drive south of Anchorage. Wagner fathered a daughter with Hannah Rhoden, one of the victims, but DeWine has not named him or three other family members — George “Billy” Wagner, his wife, Angela, and their other son, George — as suspects.

» Who are the Wagners? Pike County murders investigators want to know

The Wagners “continue to be saddened by the loss of the Rhodens,” John Kearson Clark Jr., the family’s attorney, told this newspaper this month. “Especially with each passing year, and yet the case is not resolved.” 

Aside from Hannah Rhoden, 19, the dead included her father Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; his ex-wife, Dana Rhoden, 37; their sons, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; Frankie’s fiancee, Hannah Gilley, 20; and relatives Kenneth Rhoden, 44, and Gary Rhoden, 38.

“Despite what has been said and alleged, the Wagners were on friendly terms with the Rhodens,” Clark said by email. “Therefore, the Wagners had no reason to wish them harm. The Wagners wish the investigative authorities would expend their efforts in finding and holding the true killer(s) accountable. Only then will the Rhodens’ deaths be vindicated.”

Two years after the murder of 8 Rhoden family members in rural Pike County, the crime remains unsolved. TY GREENLEES / STAFF(Ty Greenlees)

In other media interviews Clark implied that DeWine was targeting the Wagner’s in order to make it appear progress was being made in the case.  Asked this month if DeWine is still “laser focused” on the family, his spokesman said “the AG’s comments from last year stand.”

But DeWine himself, in an interview, declined to say. 

“I’m really not going to talk about who we’re focused on,” DeWine said. “I can just saw we’re moving on the case and we’ve made progress, but I don’t think it would be beneficial to resolving the case to say who we’re focused on and who we’re not focused on.”

DeWine, sheriff still hopeful

Investigators across several agencies have spent an untold number of hours on the case since relatives discovered their slain family members. DeWine, the state’s top law enforcement official, emerged quickly alongside Sheriff Reader as the public faces of the investigation. The pair offered press conferences and interviews in hopes of encouraging someone to come forward with the information that would lead to solving the crimes.

Reader did not agree to a request for an interview this month.

“I have decided that out of respect for the victims, the family, friends, and for the integrity of the ongoing and active criminal investigation, I will not be doing any interviews or taking any questions concerning the multiple homicide that occurred in Pike County, Ohio on April 22, 2016,” Reader emailed the newspaper. “I remain very confident in the investigative staff.”

DeWine last year told this newspaper he hoped to solve the case before leaving the attorney general’s office.

“It’s a hypothetical, I certainly would hope we would have the case solved by then, but we have professionals that are working on this case,” DeWine said. “We have professionals that will remain with the attorney general’s office and that will remain with BCI. We hope we don’t get to that point. We hope we solve it before then.”

Pike County Sheriff's Office in Waverly. Two years after the murder of 8 Rhoden family members in rural Pike County, the crime remains unsolved. TY GREENLEES / STAFF(Ty Greenlees)

AG candidates face major task

Because officials have characterized the case as the largest criminal inquiry in Ohio history, the two candidates to become Ohio’s next attorney general - DeWine leaves office in January - face the decision of whether they would continue to consider solving the Pike County murders as the office’s number one priority.

“Anyone who would predict this nine months before taking office, without seeing the evidence and understanding the posture of the investigation at that time, is a fool, or a poltroon, or both — and not fit for the office of attorney general,” said Dave Yost, the Ohio auditor and Republican candidate for attorney general, in an email.

“Of the publicly available information, the only thing I can say I would have done differently is that I would have released the coroner’s report without litigation,” Yost said, referencing lawsuits that were filed by the news media to obtain the unredacted reports.

Yost’s Democratic opponent, Steve Dettelbach, held his cards even closer.

“I’ve spent two decades as a prosecutor,” Dettelbach, the former U.S. attorney for the northern district of Ohio, said by text message. “I don’t and won’t politicize an important murder investigation.”

Pike County murders: 8 deaths, 2 years, no answers

Taylor: ‘Unconscionable’ case unsolved

Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, DeWine’s Republican primary opponent in Ohio’s governor race, criticized the former Greene County prosecutor’s handling of the case, which she called “a terrible tragedy for an entire family and community.”

Taylor said BCI “is failing on many fronts,” citing a Dayton Daily News investigation last month examining the drug testing backlog at the agency’s lab, an issue unrelated to the Pike County deaths. A spokesman for BCI defended DeWine’s leadership at the agency, calling Taylor’s criticisms “another mistruth.”

“While I’m certain that law enforcement officers on the ground are working hard to solve this case, I’m concerned about the leadership coming out of the Attorney General’s office,” Taylor said in an email. “When this horrific crime was committed in Pike County, there was Mike DeWine in front of the cameras acting like real police, but two years in it is unconscionable that justice has yet to be served.”

DeWine campaign spokesman Ryan Stubenrauch said Taylor “should be ashamed.”

“Attempting to use one of the worst mass murders in Ohio’s history as a political attack while the case remains under investigation is horribly disrespectful to the victims, their families and to the law enforcement officers who are working hard to bring those responsible for this heinous crime to justice,” he said.

CONTINUING COVERAGE

In more than a dozen trips to Pike County during the past two years, Dayton Daily News reporters and photographers have followed the murders from the crime scenes, courthouse and Statehouse. The newspaper’s coverage of Ohio’s largest criminal investigation in history is made possible by your subscription.

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Over 2 million views and a shout-out from Lady Antebellum. Middletown Police lip sync challenge video is dominating the Internet

Published: Thursday, July 19, 2018 @ 12:29 PM

A screen shot from the video the Middletown Police Department created as part of a national lip sync challenge among law enforcement.
MIDDLETOWN DIVISION OF POLICE/FACEBOOK
A screen shot from the video the Middletown Police Department created as part of a national lip sync challenge among law enforcement.(MIDDLETOWN DIVISION OF POLICE/FACEBOOK)

Middletown Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw said he was “overwhelmed” by the response to a video his department created as part of a national lip sync challenge among police departments.

MORE: Police lip sync battle: Which Butler County officers did it better?

Since its posting at noon Wednesday, the video has been viewed more than 2 million times, shared more than 56,000 times and has generated more than 6,000 comments.

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“Incredible,” Muterspaw told the Journal-News this morning.

Since its posting at noon Wednesday, Middletown Police Department’s lip sync challenge video has been viewed more than 2 million times, shared more than 56,000 times and has generated more than 6,000 comments.(MIDDLETOWN DIVISION OF POLICE/FACEBOOK)

The video also attracted the attention of country music group Lady Antebellum, whose song “Need You Now” is lip synced by Middletown Police.

The group tweeted the video was “amazing.”

The Middletown Police Department's lip sync challenge video features the song "Need You Now" by country music group Lady Antebellum.

Muterspaw said it took about one hour to shoot the video, and while some officers were reluctant at first, he said everyone seemed to enjoy the experience.

He said it’s important to show police officers are human.

“If we brought out some smiles, then we did our job,” Muterspaw said.

MORE: Police officers across the country compete in viral lip sync battle

In the video, officers are seen craving doughnuts, and once the empty boxes in the office are replenished, stuffing their faces with doughnuts.

Muterspaw said police officers truly “love” their doughnuts.

“We always have them in the break room,” he said.

Police departments across the country are issuing and answering a lip sync challenge.(MIDDLETOWN DIVISION OF POLICE/FACEBOOK)
 

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Ribbon-cutting held for Perfections Beauty College opening

Published: Saturday, July 21, 2018 @ 7:43 PM



https://www.facebook.com/PerfectionsBeautyColleges/photos/a.258663114485924.1073741826.258659274486308/632766233742275/?type=1&theater
(https://www.facebook.com/PerfectionsBeautyColleges/photos/a.258663114485924.1073741826.258659274486308/632766233742275/?type=1&theater)

Perfections Beauty College held a ribbon-cutting with the city Saturday afternoon at 1:00 p.m.

This Beauty College is located at 7806 Waynetown Blvd., where the old Carousel Beauty College was located.

When Carousel Beauty College abruptly closed about two years ago, over 300 students in the Dayton region were unable to finalize their education, said City Council Member of Huber Heights Richard Shaw.

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OTHER LOCAL NEWS: Carousel Beauty College shuts its five locations

Perfections Beauty College has revamped and renovated this location and is coming in to help students continue their education that they had with Carousel.

“We are hoping to bring back as many students from the Carousel institutions as we can in hopes that they can keep the hours they worked for with that institution,” said one of the owners Kailey Yolanda. “Our goal is to help the students in reaching their diploma as they should have with Carousel.”

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Car flips on its top, catches fire in Dayton

Published: Sunday, July 22, 2018 @ 12:44 PM
Updated: Sunday, July 22, 2018 @ 1:00 PM

N. Broadway accident

UPDATE @ 1:00 p.m.:

Police on scene told us one man was taken to a hospital but is in good condition after he struck an RTA pole and flipped his car on its top.

Man arrested in Riverside SWAT standoff ID’d, report says

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The driver was the only person involved in the accident, police said.

He lost control of his car before striking the pole.

A tow truck just left the scene and the road should open back up soon.

FIRST REPORT:

A road is closed after a vehicle flipped on its top and caught fire in Dayton Sunday.

Crews responded to the scene at North Broadway Street and Superior Avenue around 11:38 a.m., regional dispatchers confirmed.

North Broadway Street between Grand Avenue and Superior Avenue is closed, according to our crew on scene.

Dispatch advised people take an alternate route.

Everyone was able to get out of the vehicle, dispatch said.

We are working to learn the cause of this accident and if there were any injuries.

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Greene County voters may decide on new tax for career center

Published: Sunday, July 22, 2018 @ 12:18 PM
Updated: Sunday, July 22, 2018 @ 12:18 PM


            The Greene County Career Center, 2960 W. Enon Road, may be on the move to a new facility at U.S. 68 and U.S. 35 if voters approve a bond issue in November. CONTRIBUTED
The Greene County Career Center, 2960 W. Enon Road, may be on the move to a new facility at U.S. 68 and U.S. 35 if voters approve a bond issue in November. CONTRIBUTED

Voters in Greene County will decide whether to approve a new tax to pay for a new career center that would be built at U.S. 68 and U.S. 35.

The proposal is for a 20-year, 1.03-mill bond issue that would generate approximately $4.1 million a year while costing homeowners about $36 for every $100,000 worth of property.

Building the new facility is estimated to be a $62 million project, part of which would be paid for through savings achieved by the district, according to Greene County Career Center Superintendent Dave Deskins.

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RELATED: Greene County voters will be asked for 4 levy renewals in November

About $18 million has been saved from two sources: A settlement on a faulty workmanship claim from work in 2010 and the permanent improvement levy that voters approved in 1996, which was the last time voters approved new revenue for the career center, Deskins said.

“Between savings and contributions from business and industry, we will be able to equip the facility for generations to come,” Deskins said. “The career center has been working to save diligently to pay toward this. We’re currently in a position to contribute a substantial portion to support the project.”

Deskins said they tried to avoid this tax request by lobbying to change state law and allow the Ohio School Facilities Commission to help fund a new career center. The OSFC can fund renovations and remodeling projects but not new construction for career centers, Deskins said.

Language was included in the state’s last budget bill that would have changed the law, but when it reached Gov. John Kasich’s desk, it was one of 47 line-item vetoes.

“We were really close to finding a way to have the state help with this project,” Deskins said.

Most voters are supportive of building a new career center, if programming is expanded, according to a survey of voters that the Career Center conducted.

According to the survey, 59 percent of voters would support a new construction project, while 41 percent said “no.”

The potential new location at U.S. 68 and U.S. 35 is about eight miles away from the Career Center’s current campus on West Enon Road. Deskins said the proposed site is more centrally located for the county’s seven districts and would be closer for five of the seven districts served by the career center.

The Career Center has big plans for the new initiative “Take Flight,” which aims to train students to enter the aerospace and aviation industry. Deskins cites a job market study that indicates significant demand for skilled workers in engineering, manufacturing and information technology related to the aviation industry.

Deskins said the current facility at 2960 W. Enon Road was built in 1967, and the electric system is inadequate to accommodate new technology and equipment.

“This is an incredible opportunity not only for Greene County but for the region,” Deskins said. “We know it’s going to have an impact on Ohio’s economy.”

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