In 2010, state officials announced the seizure of 22,000 marijuana plants in the village of Latham — 15 miles west of Piketon — and said they suspected a connection to Mexican drug cartels.
Then in August 2012, Ohio law enforcement officers found “a major marijuana grow site in Pike County with suspected ties to a Mexican drug cartel,” according to a press release DeWine’s office issued at that time. Investigators discovered about 1,200 marijuana plants — which were destroyed — and they also found evidence of two abandoned campsites they believe belonged to Mexican nationals.
Additionally, the marijuana grow operations that authorities discovered appeared to be for commercial use and not personal use.
“We’re running these leads out,” DeWine told CBS News. “But there’s many different theories.”
The marijuana grow operations found were not simply a few random plants in a field somewhere, the Columbus Dispatch reported from an interview with Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk. He told Dispatch reporters at least one was indoors and there appeared to be several hundreds of plants.
“It wasn’t just somebody sitting pots in the window,” Junk told the Dispatch.
CBS This Morning reported the street value of the marijuana found is nearly $500,000.
“There’s a drug problem in most areas around here,” Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader said.
The identities of the eight people killed are: Hannah Gilley, 20; Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16; Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; Dana Rhoden, 37; Gary Rhoden, 38; Hanna Rhoden, 19; and Kenneth Rhoden, 44.
While nothing has been ruled out, it is unlikely this was a random act of violence or a crime committed by another member of the Rhoden family.
“This is a pre-planned execution of eight individuals. It was a sophisticated operation and those who carried it out were trying to do everything they could do to hinder the investigation and their prosecution,” DeWine said. “We don’t know if it was one or two (shooters).”
Reader said the victims did not have prior criminal contact with his office.
Seven of the deceased were found in three Union Hill Road homes in Piketon, while the eighth was found within a 10-minute drive from the other victims — most of whom were executed while in bed. All the killings occurred during the nighttime hours.
Three children — a 4-day-old, a 6-month-old and a 3-year-old — were found unharmed at the scenes.
At Sunday’s press conference, Reader said he warned other Rhoden family members to be on guard.
Leonard Manley, father of victim Dana Rhoden, said whoever committed the murders are “a bunch of scumbags” who knows the family.
“Whoever done it, know the family,” Manley said. “(Because) there were two dogs there that would eat you up. But I ain’t gonna say no more.”
Manley, who is still shaken up about the the loss of this relatives, said his daughter was a kind person who’d “give you the shirt off her back,” and people in the area were aware of her kindness.
He learned about the deaths Friday morning from another one of his daughters who found them and called him, Manley said, noting that he’s taken the sheriff’s advice and has armed himself.
DeWine said his office has “received over 100 tips, we have conducted over 50 to 60 interviews … over 100 personnel were involved in this investigation.”
Two of those individuals interviewed were Isaiah Jones and Rusty Mongold.
Jones told CBS News he was detained at gunpoint during a traffic stop. He was questioned for six hours, then released.
“I really want people to know I had nothing to do with it,” Jones said, crying. “These were also friends of mine and that I went to school with.”
Mongold, Jones’ friend, said in an April 23 Facebook post that he had nothing to do with the shooting — even going to the sheriff’s office to clear his name and submit a DNA sample.
That Facebook post three days ago stemmed from an April 12 Facebook post that alluded to a “kid that hit me with his car” and wanting to “beat his skull in” — a perceived threat on the youngest murder victim.
A commenter asks if it’s Chris Rhoden, and Mongold responds, “Yes.”
DeWine said that he can’t definitively say the Rhoden family was involved in cockfighting.
But when he visited one of the crime scenes Friday, he noticed roosters in cages that are normally associated with cockfighting.