OHIO — Hundreds of interviews. Thousands of miles traveled to 10 states, even as far as Alaska. A search for a silencer.
Since eight members of a family were found dead in the small Ohio rural community of Piketon on April 22, 2016, investigators have chased leads wherever they took them, including Alaska, where the prime suspects had lived. Authorities obsessed over the case, working seven days a week at times, determined to make an arrest.
On Tuesday, authorities said their hard work resulted in the arrests of members of another family in the killings. Two grandmothers in the suspects’ families were also accused of trying to cover up the crime, authorities said.
“We have obsessively focused on solving this case,” Pike County Sheriff Charles S. Reader told reporters Tuesday. “We’ve been patient when it was painful to be, running down every lead, no matter how small. But it all has brought us to this day.”
Recently, investigators uncovered key evidence, including a suppressor, also known as a silencer.
“That was just one of the things that we’ve been looking for, and we found it. And we continued looking for it till we did find it,” said Al Lewis, a recently retired major with the Pike County Sheriff’s Office who kept working on the case until arrests was made this week.
George “Billy” Wagner III, 47; his wife, Angela, 48; and their sons, George Wagner IV, 27; and Edward “Jake” Wagner, 26, were indicted Monday by a Pike County grand jury on several offenses, including eight counts each of aggravated murder with death penalty specifications.
The Wagners had been “the prime suspects for some time,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said. He declined to say when they were identified as such.
DeWine also declined to identify a motive but said custody of a child “plays a role in this case.”
The Wagners are also accused of forging custody documents, the prosecutor said.
One of the couple’s sons, Edward “Jake” Wagner, has also been charged with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor over contact with one of the victims, Hanna May Rhoden, when she was 15 and he was 20, prosecutors said.
He is the father of Hanna May Rhoden’s older daughter, who was staying with the Wagners on the night of the killings, prosecutors said.
The Wagners are from South Webster, about a 30-mile drive southeast of Piketon, a town of about 2,000 residents, around 80 miles east of Cincinnati.
Angela Wagner’s mother, Rita Newcomb, 65, of South Webster, and George “Billy” Wagner’s mother, Fredericka Wagner, 76, of Lucasville, Ohio, face felony charges of obstructing justice and perjury over allegedly misleading investigators, according to prosecutors.
Five of the suspects are in custody in Ohio. George “Billy” Wagner, the family patriarch, was arrested in Kentucky but waived extradition Wednesday. Law enforcement officers are expected to take Wagner back to Ohio in a few days, according to John Hayne, assistant Fayette County attorney in Kentucky.
CNN couldn’t immediately determine whether lawyers had been appointed to represent the defendants.
‘Just hard, tough police work’
Many of the victims were killed as they slept, authorities said.
In addition to Hanna May Rhoden, 19, those slain included her parents Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; and Dana Rhoden, 37; and two of the divorced couple’s other children, Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, and Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16. Other victims were Christopher Sr.’s brother Kenneth Rhoden, 44; Hannah Gilley, 20, who was engaged to Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden; and Gary Rhoden, 38, a cousin.
“What solved this case was just hard tough police work, day after day after day,” DeWine said.
“Our investigators, any analysts have lived this case, have lived it. It has been all consuming for them.”
The 2016 killing rattled many in the rural community, among them Reader, a Pike County native. The sheriff said that day “changed a lot of our lives, including mine.”
Reader and Lewis were among law enforcement officers who shared the news of the arrests with family members.
Lewis said there were “a lot of tears, a lot of crying.”
“We fulfilled the promise that we made that we’re going to make arrests on this case,” he said.