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The Pike County Massacre: Ohio’s Family Murders – A Comprehensive Overview


The Pike County Massacre, a chilling event that unfolded in April 2016, shook the quiet community of Pike County, Ohio, and left the nation grappling with the horrifying reality of family violence. Eight members of the Rhoden family were brutally murdered in their homes, raising questions about motive, justice, and the lasting impact of such senseless violence. This blog post delves into the tragedy of the Pike County Massacre, examining the victims, the investigation, the trial, and the ongoing aftermath.

Table of Contents

The Victims

The Pike County Massacre claimed the lives of eight individuals, all members of the Rhoden family, leaving behind a trail of grief and unanswered questions.

  • Rodney Rhoden Sr.: The patriarch of the family, Rodney was a 40-year-old father of four who was known for his kindness and love for his family. He was found dead in his bed, shot multiple times.
  • Dana Rhoden: Rodney’s wife, Dana, was a 37-year-old mother who was described as a loving and devoted wife and mother. She was discovered dead next to her husband, also with multiple gunshot wounds.
  • Hanna Rhoden: Dana and Rodney’s 19-year-old daughter, Hanna, was a young woman with a bright future ahead of her. She was found dead in her bed, shot in the head.
  • Christopher Rhoden Sr.: Rodney’s brother, Christopher, was a 44-year-old father of three who worked as a mechanic. He was found dead in his living room, shot execution-style.
  • Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden: Christopher’s son, Frankie, was a 20-year-old who was known for his mischievous sense of humor. He was discovered dead in his bedroom, shot in the head.
  • Gary Rhoden: Christopher’s other son, Gary, was a 38-year-old father of two who was described as a kind and hardworking man. He was found dead in a camper trailer located on the property, also shot multiple times.
  • Hannah Gilley: Gary’s girlfriend, Hannah, was a 20-year-old mother of one who was expecting another child. She was found dead in the camper trailer, shot in the head.
  • Kenneth Rhoden: Christopher’s other son, Kenneth, was a 16-year-old who was described as a quiet and shy boy. He was discovered dead in his bedroom, shot in the head.

The loss of these individuals sent shockwaves through the community and their families, leaving behind a void that continues to be felt today. The victims were all loved and respected members of the community, and their untimely deaths were a tragic loss for everyone who knew them.

The Crime Scene

The massacre took place in four different residences located within close proximity to each other in Pike County. The victims were found in their beds, on their living room floors, and even in a camper trailer, indicating that the perpetrators targeted specific individuals.

The crime scene was characterized by its brutal nature and the meticulously planned execution of the victims. The victims were shot at close range, often in the head, suggesting a high level of premeditation and a desire to ensure their deaths. The lack of signs of struggle and the methodical manner in which the murders were carried out indicated that the perpetrators had a clear objective and were prepared for the act.

The Investigation

The Pike County Massacre immediately sparked a massive investigation involving local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. The investigation was complex, hampered by the lack of witnesses and concrete leads, and the tight-knit nature of the community, where fear and suspicion often overshadowed cooperation.

The investigation involved several key steps:

  • Initial Discovery: The bodies were discovered on April 22, 2016, by a family member who went to check on the victims after they did not show up for work.
  • Public Appeal: Law enforcement officials launched a public appeal for information, urging anyone with knowledge of the murders to come forward.
  • Extensive Search: Investigators conducted extensive searches of the crime scenes and surrounding areas, collecting evidence and interviewing potential witnesses.
  • Multiple Leads: The investigation pursued numerous leads, including rumors and suspicions about potential motives and suspects.
  • Frustration and Delays: The investigation faced numerous challenges, including a lack of credible leads, the tight-knit community’s reluctance to cooperate, and the complexity of the crime itself.

The frustration of the victims’ families grew as the investigation dragged on without significant breakthroughs. They sought answers, demanding justice for their loved ones and seeking to understand the reasons behind this senseless tragedy.

The challenges faced by investigators included:

  • Lack of Witnesses: The perpetrators left no witnesses to the murders, leaving investigators to rely heavily on forensic evidence.
  • Tight-Knit Community: The tight-knit nature of the community created an atmosphere of fear and suspicion, making it difficult for investigators to gather information.
  • Complex Crime: The crime itself was intricate, involving multiple victims, multiple locations, and potentially multiple individuals involved in the planning and execution.

Despite the challenges, investigators were determined to solve the case and bring those responsible to justice.

The Suspects and Arrests

The investigation into the Pike County Massacre eventually focused on the Wagner family – George “Billy” Wagner III, his wife Angela Wagner, and their sons, George Wagner IV and Edward “Jake” Wagner. Their connection to the victims stemmed from a custody dispute involving a child shared between Jake Wagner and Hanna Rhoden.

The Wagner family became prime suspects based on a combination of evidence:

  • Connection to the Victims: The custody dispute provided a clear motive for the murders. The Wagners believed that the Rhoden family was interfering with their custody rights.
  • Forensic Evidence: Investigators discovered firearms belonging to the Wagner family that were linked to the crime scene. Additionally, they found items belonging to the victims in the Wagner family’s possession, suggesting their involvement.
  • Tracking Movements: Through cell phone records, investigators were able to track the movements of the Wagner family on the night of the massacre, placing them near the crime scenes.
  • Communication Records: Investigators also discovered communication records between the Wagner family members that suggested their involvement in the murders.

The Arrest: The Wagner family members were arrested in November 2018, bringing a sense of relief to the grieving families and the community. They were charged with multiple counts of aggravated murder, conspiracy, tampering with evidence, and other related offenses.

The Trial and Sentencing

The trial of the Wagner family members began in October 2022, attracting national attention. The prosecution presented compelling evidence, including eyewitness testimony, DNA evidence, and cell phone records. The defense, however, argued that the case was based on circumstantial evidence and that the Wagners were innocent.

The key stages of the trial included:

  • Jury Selection: The jury was selected from a pool of potential jurors in a process that took several weeks.
  • Opening Statements: The prosecution and defense lawyers presented their opening statements, outlining their respective arguments.
  • Evidence Presentation: Witnesses testified about the murders, forensic experts presented their findings, and the prosecution presented the evidence that linked the Wagners to the crime.
  • Defense Strategies: The defense argued that the case was based on circumstantial evidence, that the prosecution’s witnesses were unreliable, and that the evidence had been mishandled.
  • Closing Arguments: The prosecution and defense presented their closing arguments, summarizing their key points.
  • Jury Deliberations: The jury deliberated for several days before reaching their verdict.

The Verdicts and Sentencing:

  • George Wagner IV: Found guilty on all charges, including eight counts of aggravated murder. Sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
  • Edward “Jake” Wagner: Found guilty on all charges, including eight counts of aggravated murder. Sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
  • Angela Wagner: Found guilty on all charges, including eight counts of aggravated murder. Sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
  • George “Billy” Wagner III: Found guilty on all charges, including eight counts of aggravated murder. Sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Motives: While the Wagners maintained their innocence throughout the trial, the evidence strongly suggested that the custody dispute was the driving force behind the murders. The Wagners felt that the Rhoden family was interfering with their rights and sought to eliminate them to gain sole custody of their child.

The Impact and Aftermath

The Pike County Massacre left a lasting impact on the community, the families of the victims, and the state of Ohio as a whole. The small town of Pike County was forever changed by the tragedy, with a sense of fear and mistrust that lingered long after the arrests.

The aftermath of the massacre included:

  • Community Healing: The community came together to support the grieving families and to honor the memory of the victims.
  • Memorialization: Memorials were established to commemorate the victims, ensuring that their lives and deaths would not be forgotten.
  • Gun Violence Awareness: The massacre brought renewed attention to the issue of gun violence in the United States, prompting discussions about stricter gun control measures.
  • Family Dispute Resolution: The case highlighted the importance of finding peaceful solutions to family disputes, encouraging families to seek help from mediators or counselors.

The families of the victims continue to grieve the loss of their loved ones and to seek justice for their deaths. The case serves as a stark reminder of the devastating consequences of family feuds and the importance of seeking help when conflicts arise.

FAQ Section

  • What were the motives behind the Pike County Massacre?
    The primary motive appears to be the custody dispute between Jake Wagner and Hanna Rhoden. The Wagner family believed that the Rhoden family was interfering with their custody rights and sought to eliminate them to gain sole custody of their child. However, other theories have emerged, including financial disputes and potential revenge.

  • Why did it take so long to arrest the suspects?
    The investigation was complex and challenging, hampered by the lack of witnesses, the reluctance of some community members to cooperate with investigators, and the intricate nature of the crime itself. It took investigators years to gather enough evidence to make arrests.

  • What is the current status of the case?
    The trial of the Wagner family members has concluded, with all four defendants being found guilty of aggravated murder and other charges. They have all been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

  • How can I learn more about the Pike County Massacre?
    You can find further information about the Pike County Massacre through news articles, documentaries, books, and online resources.


The Pike County Massacre stands as a tragic reminder of the devastating consequences of family violence. The senseless murders of eight individuals shook the community of Pike County and left a lasting impact on the families of the victims. The case highlights the importance of peaceful conflict resolution, the need for empathy and understanding in family relationships, and the potential dangers of escalating disputes. The legacy of the Pike County Massacre serves as a call to action, urging individuals and communities to prioritize peace, communication, and compassion in their interactions with one another.