Why were properties searched in mass-killing probe? Owners say they don't know

The family whose properties were searched last month in Pike and Adams counties said they have no idea why they were targeted, nor were they told what authorities may have been looking for.

In a series of email and Facebook messages with The Enquirer, Edward "Jake" Wagner and his mother, Angela Wagner, said they were not involved in the April 22, 2016 slayings of members of the Rhoden family.

"Please let's concentrate on finding the real monsters who did this," Jake Wagner, 24, said in a combined email he and his mother sent last week. He was the former longtime boyfriend of victim Hanna Rhoden. The the two shared a daughter, Sophie, now 3.

The swirl of suspicion brought on by the searches at the three farms on May 5 and 6 –which was the most public activity in the case in nearly a year – put the family in the spotlight. The search fueled speculation and rumors in the case, which remains without an arrest or known motive.

"What has happened to us in the last few weeks has been devastating and will follow us for the rest of our lives,'' Angela Wagner wrote in an email. "Hanna was loved by all of us. She was like a daughter to me then and now. Her loss still hurts to this day especially when we see her every day in Sophia."

In addition to Hanna Rhoden, 19, killed in their homes were: Her parents, Christopher, Sr.. 40, and Dana Rhoden, 37; her brothers, Clarence "Frankie" Rhoden, 20, and his fiancee, Hannah Gilley, 20; an uncle, Kenneth Rhoden, 44; and a cousin, Gary Rhoden, 38. Each was shot to death, many as they slept in four different trailers on family land.

Angela Wagner called her husband, George "Billy" Wagner and Christopher Rhoden, Sr., "best friends."

"He would have been there for Chris through thick and thin," she wrote. "They were that close."

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has said investigators believe there is more than one killer and they were familiar with the area and the family. And while the case is the most complex in state history, he and Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader continue to vow it will be solved.

Family doesn't know why police targeted them

Authorities have said little about the searches, including verifying the locations. The search warrants to legally raid the properties were sealed in the case, as has been all 40-plus warrants in the 13-month long investigation.

Angela Wagner said the family was provided copies of the search warrants, along with a list of items seized. But she said there was nothing on the warrant to indicate why authorities wanted to search a 71-acre farm in Peebles they had recently sold. Nor was there any indication why they wanted to look through a semi-tractor trailer loaded with their household items, she said. And she said it remains unclear why her in-law's 2,000-acre farm in Pike County was raided or why the Franklin County SWAT team was called to assist in that search.

"Just the addresses" were listed on the warrants, she said.

Wagner declined to provide copies of those warrants or the inventories of items officers took to The Enquirer for verification. 

Neighbors and some family members have said that Jake Wagner and Hanna Rhoden were involved in a contentious custody dispute related to Sophia at the time of the killings. Both Wagners denied that.

Rather, Angela Wagner said the couple wanted to legally formalize their agreed-upon shared custody arrangement. After they split up, each parent had custody of Sophia for one week, usually alternating each Saturday.

However the week before the killings, Rhoden dropped Sophia off on Friday, April 15, Wagner said. He was to return the towheaded toddler to her mom the following Friday, which was April 22 – the day the bodies were discovered.

Jake Wagner said he never received any text message from a family member at 2 a.m. on April 22, 2016, which was alleged Sophia's great grandfather.

"Did not happen," Wager wrote in all capital letters in his email to The Enquirer.

After the homicides, Jake Wagner sought and won full custody of his daughter, he has said. He has taken his daughter to visit some members of the family but said he hasn't been able to take her to Union Hill Road, where her mom and grandparents and aunts and uncles were slain inside their three trailers. Last spring, authorities towed those trailers off the property as evidence.

"I'm afraid if I take her back up there and she sees the (mobile) homes gone, she will think they just moved off and left her," he wrote in an email. "If we even go past Union Hill Road, she will ask if that is where we are going.

"It breaks my heart."

IF YOU HAVE INFORMATION

Anyone with information related to the case is asked to call the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation at 855-224-6446 or the Pike County Sheriff's Office at 740-947-2111. There remains a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and a conviction in the case.

Cincinnati Enquirer


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