The Rhoden Family Massacre: Everything We Know About Case of 8 Relatives Murdered Allegedly by Another Family

Family Massacred
More than two years passed before anyone was charged in the massacre of eight family members in Ohio.CBS News

The 2016 killings of eight members of the Rhoden family in rural Ohio shook the state and stymied authorities. Here's what we know about the case so far.

In an Ohio courtroom, a diabolical tale of murder and mayhem has unfolded as a mother described how her family allegedly plotted and carried out the massacre of another.

Angela Walker has taken the witness stand for three days now, describing in detail how she, her sons and her husband schemed to kill eight members of the Rhoden family six years ago in a tiny rural enclave in the state's Appalachian region.

The alleged reason? A custody battle over a shared granddaughter and accusations the toddler was being sexually abused, according to prosecutors.

The case is the most expensive and complicated murder investigation in Ohio's history, authorities said. State lawmakers set aside at least $1 million for the trial, a cost they said would bankrupt tiny Pike County, where nearly 20% of residents live in poverty, according to U.S. Census figures.

In exchange for Walker's testimony, prosecutors dropped eight counts of aggravated murder against her and agreed not to seek the death penalty. Wagner pleaded guilty in September 2021 to 14 other counts and said she would testify against her older son, George Wagner IV, and later against her husband, George “Billy” Wagner III. She will serve 30 years as part of the plea deal, prosecutors said.

George Wagner IV, 31, is currently on trial for eight counts of murder and a slew of other charges alleging he was part of his family’s criminal enterprise in the plotting, execution and covering up the shooting deaths of Christopher “Chris” Rhoden Sr., 40; Chris Rhoden’s former wife, Dana Manley Rhoden, 37; their children, Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, Hanna May Rhoden, 19, and Christopher “Chris” Rhoden Jr., 16; Frankie’s fiancée, Hannah Hazel Gilley, 20; Christopher Sr.’s brother Kenneth Rhoden, 44; and their cousin Gary Rhoden, 38.

The Wagners had initially denied having anything to do with the killings. The four relatives were arrested in 2018 and a gag ordered was issued in the case. Few details were made public until last year, when the youngest of the defendants started talking.

Edward “Jake” Wagner, 29  — who is the father of the child at the center of the custody dispute  — accepted a plea deal in April 2021. In exchange for not facing a possible death sentence, he agreed to testify against his family members. He told a judge he had killed five of the eight victims, including the mother of his child. He will be sentenced to eight consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole, prosecutors said.

Last month, Jake Wagner testified against his brother, telling jurors the plot to kill the Rhodens was his father's idea and that he went along with it to regain custody of his daughter.

George Wagner III and George Wagner IV, father and son, have pleaded not guilty and their trials are not expected to begin until next year, authorities said. Both are charged with eight counts of aggravated murder, aggravated burglary and conspiracy to commit aggravated murder. They have denied shooting anyone, according to defense attorneys.

The "execution-style murders" occurred overnight in April 2016 at four separate homes in Pike County, authorities said. Some victims were shot in the head as they slept, others were killed in "sniper" attacks from a truck, investigators said. 

The child at the center of the custody dispute belonged to Jake Wagner and Hanna May Rhoden. The two had met when she was 13 and Jake was 18. Hanna became pregnant with his child when she was 15. That child, a girl, is now 8 and is said to be in custody of maternal relatives.

The couple split in 2015, after Hanna alleged she had been physically abused by Jake, her relatives told investigators. The two were locked in a battle over custody of the child when the murders occurred, authorities said, with Jake claiming their daughter was being sexually abused while in her mother's care.

During the massacre, there were two children in one of the homes. In another was days-old Kylie, who was nursing at the breast of her mother, Hanna May Rhoden. The children were spared. Jake Wagner calmly testified last month that he shot his ex-girlfriend twice in the head that night.

Prosecutors said Jake had told investigators he had rearranged Hannah's bloody body so the newborn could continue to nurse. 

This week on the witness stand, Jake's mother described how she helped plot the killings with her family claiming it was to protect her then-2-year-old granddaughter from being molested.

“Nobody’s heart was in it,” she said on the stand. “Nobody wanted to do it.”

Angela Wagner did not participate in the shootings, but acknowledged on the stand that she had helped plan them and purchased items including shoes that would be used in the killings.

She told jurors she regretted involving her sons in the murder plan. 

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