WAVERLY, Ohio — Attorneys for George Wagner IV want a judge to suppress audio recordings from days of surveillance on the family now charged with the 2016 murder of eight people in Pike County.
On Monday, a West Chester police captain took the stand to explain how the recordings were made - and why they were critical to the investigation and ultimate arrests and charges. Capt. Seth Hagaman was working as a homicide investigator with Ohio's Bureau of Criminal Investigations at the time of the killings and wrote the majority of the warrants for listening devices and cellphone monitoring against the Wagner family.
Capt. Hagaman told the court about the difficulty of the investigation, and the requirements to get an intercept warrant approved to monitor calls and conversations between the family members.
"We were out of home run balls," Hagaman said. "We were out of things that we thought that this investigative act alone could produce. We were at a point where we thought we were building a circumstantial case where every piece mattered."
Hagaman said BCI placed four listening devices in an R&L Carriers tractor trailer that George and his brother Edward "Jake" Wagner drove for work in 2018. At the same time, Hagaman said, BCI was doing monitoring on five cell phones, even though family members sometimes changed numbers. And the Wagners were suspicious something was up.
"There were times when they said ‘let’s not talk bout this on the phone, let’s talk when we get home,'" Hagaman said.
Back in Pike County today for another motions hearing in George Wagner IV’s case - believe there will be a focus on his brother Jake and mom Angela’s testimony/confessions. There is a motion to suppress it. Stay tuned. @wcpo pic.twitter.com/499cr694TD— Evan Millward (@EvanMillward) May 16, 2022
All four Wagner family members were interviewed at the Montana border with Canada when they were moving back to Ohio in 2018, he said. Each interview lasted "a couple of hours." We learned through George Wagner's defense attorney John Patrick Parker's cross-examination that was the first and last time George was interviewed in relation to the murders.
Hagaman also told the court there was probable cause through the investigation, including inconsistent stories from that interview. He said George and Jake dyed their hair int he week leading up to the murders, and watched a clip from the movie "The Boondock Saints" - about two brothers who killed for vigilante justice - the evening of the massacre.
Hagaman said George got a tattoo after the killings. It features a skull, eight ball, and the so-called "dead man's hand" of cards showing aces and eights. Wagner's defense team called that "speculative" in relation to the murders.
"Do you have a direct confession from George?" Parker asked. Hagaman answered that he did not.
The victims — eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families — were executed overnight in April 2016, many of them while they slept, at four different crime scenes across the county. A custody dispute over Jake Wagner's daughter with Hanna Rhoden prompted the planning of execution of the massacre, investigators said.
Jake Wagner pleaded guilty to murder — reportedly confessing to killing at least five of the family members — on the fifth anniversary of the massacre. As part of the plea deal, none of the Wagner family members will face the death penalty if Jake testifies against them at trial.
George Wagner and his dad Billy have not taken a plea deal.
George Wagner will be back in court June 21, ahead of a trial date set this summer.