LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Lexington police and Ohio agents arrested a man here Tuesday afternoon as authorities announced a major break in the brutal 2016 massacre of a family of eight in Pike County, Ohio.
LEX 18 was on the scene Tuesday afternoon as local police and agents with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation arrested 47-year-old George “Billy” Wagner III outside of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital on Lexington’s far north side.
Wagner’s arrest came as authorities in Ohio announced the arrest of five other members of his family in the brutal massacre of eight members of another family on April 22, 2016.
“All eight victims were killed in cold-blood,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. “The indictments allege that these suspects developed a calculated plan to execute the victims in the middle of the night and then carefully cover their tracks.”
Investigators said the families involved had been longtime friends and that the crime was precipitated by a child custody dispute along with “an undercurrent of drugs.”
Authorities said Wagner III, Angela Wagner, 48, George Wagner IV, 27, and Edward “Jake” Wagner, 26, each are facing eight counts of aggravated murder. DeWine said the charges “include death penalty specifications for all four suspects.” All four also face a slew of other charges, including conspiracy, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, tampering with evidence, unlawful possession of a dangerous ordinance, forgery, unauthorized use of property, interception of wire, oral, or electronic communications, obstructing justice, and aggravated burglary.
The Wagners are accused of planning and carrying out the 2016 shooting murders of eight people well-known to the family. The victims were identified as Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40, his ex-wife Dana Manley Rhoden, 37, and their three children, Hanna May Rhoden, 19, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20. Frankie Rhoden’s fiancée, Hannah “Hazel” Gilley, 20, also were killed, along with the elder Christopher Rhoden’s brother Kenneth Rhoden, 44, and cousin Gary Rhoden, 38. Three young children were left unharmed.
Authorities said Hanna Rhoden had been in a custody dispute with Jake Wagner over a child they had together.
“Custody of that young child plays a role in this case,” DeWine said Tuesday.
All of the Pike County massacre victims were shot in the head at point-blank range, and seven of the eight were shot multiple times, according to preliminary autopsy reports viewed by the WCPO I-Team in September.
Authorities also arrested and charged the elder Wagners’ mothers on lesser charges of aiding the alleged cover-up of the crime. George “Billy” Wagner III’s mother, Fredericka Wagner, and Angela Wagner’s mother, Rita Newcomb, are facing charges for what DeWine termed their efforts to mislead authorities.
Authorities said the suspects were indicted this week by a grand jury in Pike County, Ohio. DeWine’s office said the indictments were delivered a week after law enforcement “confirmed the existence of a homemade firearm suppressor believed to have been built by the suspects.”
On Tuesday in Lexington, law enforcement officers converged on a horse trailer at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, 2150 Georgetown Road.
Sources tell LEX 18 that Wagner III had a horse being treated at the facility. Wagner III was found inside the trailer. He and a woman in the vehicle were detained without incident. The woman was later released.