I-Team: Still no arrests two years after Pike County massacre

Posted at 6:00 AM, Apr 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-19 19:47:03-04

WAVERLY, Ohio -- Sunday marks the two-year anniversary of the Pike County massacre, in which eight members of the Rhoden family were killed. The case remains unsolved, and officials aren't releasing any new information about what they know.

"I think about this every morning," Sheriff Charles Reader said at a news conference last year. "And it's the last thing I think about every night."

Seven adults and a 16-year-old were fatally shotat four homes near Piketon on April 22, 2016. Dana Rhoden and her children, 19-year-old Hanna Rhoden and 16-year-old Christopher Rhoden Jr., were found dead in Dana's Union Hill Road home that morning. 

Dana Rhoden's sister discovered Dana's husband, Christopher Rhoden Sr., and his cousin, Gary Rhoden, dead in another mobile home.

"There's blood all over the house," she told a 911 dispatcher. "My brother-in-law is in the bedroom. Someone beat the hell out of him."

In the trailer next door, Chris and Dana's oldest son, Frankie, and his fiancee, Hannah Gilley, were also dead. A few miles away in a trailer on Left Fork Road, Christopher Sr.'s brother Kenneth was also dead.

Three young children were found unharmed. 

"It's like a nightmare," Reader said. "It's something out of a horror movie, it really is."

Investigators have not named any suspects. Last year, Reader and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who is now running for governor, revealed that they believe more than one killer was involved. Reader also previously told the I-Team that he believes the killers are locals.

Clockwise from top left: Billy Wagner, Angela Wagner, Jake Wagner and George Wagner IV.

Although the public has received few answers, some twists and turns of the investigation snuck into the public eye. Last June, the BCI asked the public for information about the Wagner family.

The Wagners are former Peebles residents who now live in Alaska, according to authorities. Investigators searched properties linked to the family after they moved, including some trailers they left on a former employer's property on State Route 41.

Jake Wagner was involved in a custody dispute with one of the victims, 19-year-old Hanna Rhoden, according to her grandfather, Leonard Manley. Their daughter was not present when Hanna was killed.

Manley's son, James, was arrested in May 2017. Police charged him with evidence tampering after they say he destroyed a GPS tracking device he found on his truck. Authorities consider Manley a witness in the murders, so they wanted to keep track of him. The charge was eventually dropped.

"They ain't going to find no one that would say a bad word about my son or my daughter, 'cause they were real close," Leonard Manley said after his son's court hearing last May.

From the beginning, rumors have swirled around Pike County about means and motive -- who would want to eliminate an entire family, only sparing three babies too young to remember the trauma? Speculation has shifted from a marijuana grow operation and drug cartels to a demolition derby rivalry to the custody dispute.

If authorities have found anything new in the case, they're keeping quiet about it. Ohio's Bureau of Criminal Investigation told the 9 On Your Side I-Team that it's keeping everything new under wraps to avoid compromising the investigation.

Similarly, Reader posted on Facebook this week that he will not give any interviews or take any questions about the case "out of respect for the victims, the family, friends, and for the integrity of the ongoing and active criminal investigation.

"I remain very confident in the investigative staff," he wrote.

Two retired FBI agents, Robert Friedman and Keith Tolhurst, also declined to talk about the strategy or technique for investigating the case, saying they didn't want to jeopardize it. They did say that solving a case like this is like completing a puzzle; figuring out who did it and developing a solid case takes precision and patience. They said they believe state and local investigators are close to making the pieces fit.

A BCI spokesperson said there is no timetable for solving the case. Currently, the BCI superintendent receives daily briefings from agents assigned to it, and he's in regular communication with the attorney general about any developments. They still have a dedicated team that works on the Pike County case every day. 

Since the Rhodens were found dead, BCI's Special Investigations Unit has opened 445 cases. They've closed 272 since then. 

"It remains correct that in terms of complexity and staff involvement, no case in BCI's history compares to this investigation," attorney general's office spokesperson Dan Tierney wrote.

In the meantime, the trailers where the victims were found remain locked up at the sheriff's impound lot, being preserved for justice.

The autopsy reports that officials have released are so heavily redacted that it's hard to glean any clues.

Investigators believe someone knows something that could lead to arrests in the case. They're asking anyone with information to call the BCI at 855-224-6446 or the Pike County Sheriff's Office at 740-947-2111.

For now, all the public knows is a family in Pike County is waiting for answers about what happened to their loved ones.