Pike County murders: Tight-knit community expresses relief over arrests

PIKE COUNTY — A husband, wife and their two sons are behind bars Tuesday night, indicted in a mass murder, along with two grandmothers accused of helping them cover up the crimes.

LISTEN LIVE to Mike DeWine at 6:50 a.m. Wednesday on Miami Valley’s Morning News AM 1290 AND NEWS 95.7 

At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Ohio Attorney General and Gov.-elect Mike DeWine announced the arrests and indictments of parents Billy and Angela Wagner and their sons George and Jake. An entire family, suspected of killing their friends — eight members of the Rhoden family — on April 22, 2016. Many were shot execution-style.

“It has been our job to find the truth. We have done that,” DeWine said. “We believe the evidence will show the suspects spent months planning the crimes. … They studied the victims’ habits and their routines. They knew the layouts of their homes. They knew where they slept.”

RELATED: 6 arrested, 4 could face death penalty in Rhoden family killings

RELATED: DeWine lays out charges Wagners face in 2016 Rhoden family killings

Investigators said the Wagners then worked carefully to cover up their crimes and tamper with evidence.

“All the lies … the lies they told us,” Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader said.

Investigators said Billy and Angela Wagner’s mothers, Fredericka Wagner and Rita Newcomb, helped to mislead police.

The Wagners lived in rural Alaska for some time before returning to Ohio earlier this year. Then came their arrests Tuesday, all in a short span of time without incident.

“Everybody’s been talking about it,” said Pike County resident Terry Hall.

Relief spread quickly across Pike County with news of the arrests for the Easter weekend crime two and a half years ago that rocked the community.

“The family can come to justice and have their peace that they need,” said Tiffany Kohn, another Pike County resident who said she knows surviving members of the Rhoden family.

“I was really surprised, because, honestly, I thought it was just going to be one of those things, hey it’s going to happen and not find no murderer and it just go on,” she said.

The big question is why did this happen.

Investigators said they could not talk specifics about a motive. But in a live interview with DeWine, he said a young child, Sophia, who shared by one of the suspects and one of the victims played into this.

"It's clear that child custody … kind of an obsession with that … [was a] controlling factor," DeWine said.

Jake Wagner is the father of Sophia, who was 2 when her mother, Hanna Rhoden was killed. The young girl was not there at the time of the killings, but there were three children spared: a 3-year-old, 6-month-old and 4-day-old.

Investigators say they traveled to 10 different states working the case the last two and a half years, including spending substantial time in Alaska.

The six suspects are behind bars, and the sheriff said he hopes to keep them all in separate facilities as they await trial.


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