Lawyer: Mike DeWine is harassing family in Rhoden case that moved to Alaska

KENAI, Alaska — The lawyer representing the former Peebles family authorities are focused on in the Rhoden family massacre investigation said his clients have cooperated fully in the probe.

And in return, John Kearson Clark said, the Wagner family are being "harassed while the real killer or killers are still out there."

"Why? Well, it's either because the authorities are clueless, incompetent or they themselves are involved in a cover-up," said Clark, who has offices in Jackson and Chillicothe. "Take your pick."

Clark's scathing comments came a week after Attorney General Mike DeWine and Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader issued a press release asking for information about George "Billy" Wagner, his wife, Angela Wagner, and their sons, George Wagner, 25, and Edward "Jake" Wagner, 24. The release included photos of each of them that appear to have been taken from their Ohio driver's licenses.

Clark said the family has "cooperated 110 percent" and have specifically:

  • Provided laptops, phones and DNA willingly to authorities.
  • Agreed to repeated interviews with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents in the last year.
  • Told authorities they were traveling - and then moving - to Alaska, a place they have contemplated relocating for a decade.
  • Offered information to the BCI on business associates of one of the victims.
  • "The authorities (using the media) want the public to believe that the Wagners are responsible and have absconded," Clark said. "If that were true, why would the Wagners have come forward on their own and agreed to give whatever limited information they had?"

DeWine said in a separate interview last week that he would not characterize the family as suspects nor as persons of interest. Rather, he said they are a "special focus" of the investigation, now entering its 15th month without an arrest or a stated motive.

The release asked for information from anyone who had conversations or interaction with the family. Specifically, authorities are looking for information that "could include, but is not limited to, information regarding vehicles, firearms and ammunition." 

DeWine declined to offer any further information or indicate why investigators are laser focused on the family and when asked again Tuesday refused to elaborate.

"We're not where we were two months ago. We're further along than we were two months ago," DeWine told The Enquirer before a gubernatorial campaign event in Cincinnati. "We had a significant leap in where we were."

Clark said he thinks politics has entered the investigation.

“I think he wants this solved somehow, some way, or at least make it look like he’s making progress, so that doesn’t come and haunt him when he’s running for election,” Clark said.

A national expert in homicide investigation called the release "an innovative tactic," adding that while DeWine won't call the Wagners suspects they appear to be suspect to him.

"It sounds like a fishing expedition for evidence to me," said Vernon Geberth, a retired New York City police detective and author of "Practical Homicide Investigation."

"They are working to get evidence to get the probable cause they need to get an indictment," said Geberth, who is often hired as a consultant on homicide cases. 

Rumors follow family to Alaska

In interviews with The Enquirer, Angela and Jake Wagner have vehemently and repeatedly denied involvement in the shooting deaths of Christopher Rhoden, Sr., 40; his wife, Dana Manley Rhoden, 37; his children, Clarence "Frankie" Rhoden, 20; Hanna Rhoden, 19; Christopher Rhoden, Jr., 16; his brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44; and a cousin, Gary Rhoden, 38. Frankie Rhoden's fiancee, Hannah Gilley, 20, was also shot to death.

Angela Wagner has said her husband, Billy, and Christopher Rhoden, Sr., were more like brothers than friends. Jake Wagner was the former longtime boyfriend of Hanna Rhoden. The couple shared a daughter, Sophia, now 3.

The family sold its Peebles farm in March and packed its belongings earlier this month in a horse trailer and on a 40-foot flatbed trailer and moved more than 4,000 miles to Kenai (pronounced keen-eye), Alaska. Police searched the Peebles farm, the Wagners' packed belongings as well as a 2,000-acre farm owned by Billy Wagner's parents in mid-June.

During those searches, the Wagners were in Alaska on a "family vacation," Angela Wagner has said. They returned to Alaska last week and moved into a rental home in a wooded area just north of the city of 7,000 residents.

Wagner, whom he gained full custody of after Hanna was killed. (Photo: The Enquirer/Carrie Cochran)
The Wagner family started coming to Alaska to vacation about 10 years ago, they said. They were and remain friends with the Rev. Kelly Cinereski who runs Resurrection Bay Baptist Church in Seward.

Angela Wagner declined the Enquirer's request for an interview outside of her Alaskan home Monday, referring all questions to Clark.

'Aren't those the people on the run?'

Clearly, the family had hoped to leave the swirls of speculation and finger-pointing back in Ohio. And, Clark said, the Wagners have grown weary of the constant questioning by authorities.

"It's the questions you would expect over and over and over: 'Where were you? What do you know?'" the lawyer said based on his conversations with the family. "Having (Jake) look at these pictures, some of them are horrific..."

Some family members and acquaintances of the Rhoden and Wagner families have alleged that Billy Wagner and Chris Rhoden, Sr., had a confrontation several weeks before the killings and that Jake Wagner and Hanna Rhoden were involved in a bitter custody dispute over Sophia.

Clark and Angela Wagner said neither is true.

Clark specifically said Tuesday a loose custody arrangement the couple had for Sophia was being formalized by another attorney in Ohio at the time of the killings.

"Jake and Hanna had worked their differences out with the use of a local attorney," he said. But that agreement was not formalized and is not entered in court.

But the news of DeWine's press release has filled the airwaves on the Kenai Peninsula and been the topic of some cafe and workplace conversations in the last week.

"Aren't those the people on the run?" asked Andy Billings, 46, of Seward, nonchalantly while he and two friends had lunch at Veronica's Cafe in Old Town Kenai. "We get a lot of that here."

He was surprised to learn that the family is not wanted for questioning. But he wasn't surprised the Wagners chose to pick up stakes in Ohio and join the other 60 percent of transplants to Alaska.

"You are basically at the end of the road," he added. "Slow internet. No traffic. And no one knows them. Their kids can go to school and no one knows them.

"Until now."

Anyone with information about the killings is asked to call the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation at 1-855-224-6446 or the Pike County Sheriff's Office at 740-947-2111. A $11,365 reward is offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killers.

Cameron Knight contributed.

Cincinnati Enquirer


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