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Suspect in Rhoden murders changes plea from not guilty to guilty

Published: Apr. 22, 2021 at 3:12 PM EDT
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WAVERLY, Ohio (WSAZ/FOX 19) - One of the suspects charged in connection with the murder of eight members of the Rhoden family has changed his plea from not guilty to guilty.

Edward “Jake” Wagner is intending to withdraw his plea from not guilty to guilty to multiple offenses including the first eight counts of the indictment, which is aggravated murder.

He changed his plea on the five year anniversary of Ohio’s most complex homicide investigation.

Eight members of the Rhoden Family were found shot and killed on April 22, 2016 at multiple properties in their Pike County homes in southern Ohio.

The slayings are considered the state’s biggest and most complex homicide investigation to date, resulting in more than 1,000 tips, hundreds of people interviewed and dozens of search warrants, officials say.

The victims are family patriarch Christopher Rhoden, 40; his older brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44; his cousin, Gary Rhoden; his former wife, Dana Lynn Rhoden, 37, and their children: Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, Hanna Mae Rhoden, 19, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Frankie’s fiancé, Hannah Gilley.

More than two and a half years went by before authorities made arrests in the case.

Six people with blood ties to the Rhodens through a young child were arrested the morning of Nov. 13, 2018, and charged in connection with the murders.

George “Billy” Wagner III, 49, Angela Wagner, 50, George Wagner IV, 29, and Edward “Jake” Wagner, 27, all were taken into custody on aggravated murder charges with the possibility for the death penalty.

Jake is also charged with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor for having sexual contact with Hanna Mae Rhoden when she was 15 and he was 20 years old.

They’ve made multiple court appearances in the Pike County Courthouse in the now more than two years since their arrests as the case progresses very slowly toward their trials.

State lawmakers have approved funding to help pay for the trials, which officials have said likely will cost $1 million.

The young child connecting the two families is now-7-year-old Sophia Wagner, the daughter of Hanna Mae Rhoden and Jake Wagner.

Ohio Governor and then-Attorney General Mike DeWine has said the child’s custody was a factor in the elaborately planned crime.

“After extensive joint investigation – these individuals are now in custody for committing these heartless, ruthless cold blooded murders,” DeWine said the day the Wagners’ indictments and arrests were announced.

“Many were killed as they slept. All eight victims were killed in cold blood. They were brutally and viciously executed.”

All of the Rhodens were shot in the head -- most several times in three mobile homes on Union Hill Road and at another home a few miles away, according to autopsy records released in September.

Christopher Rhoden was among the first killed and was awake when he was confronted by at least one person with a gun, the reports showed.

He was shot a total of 9 times, and at least one bullet went through a door before hitting him, according to reports.

Three children were at two of the trailers during the killings, but they were spared.

  • Brentley Rhoden 4: His father was Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden
  • Brentley’s half-brother, Ruger Lee, who was 6 months old. Ruger’s parents were Frankie Rhoden and Hannah Gilley. The couple was engaged to be married.
  • Kyle Mae, 5 days old: She was the newborn daughter of Hanna Mae Rhoden and was found next to her dead mother.

Billy’s mother Fredericka Wagner, and Angela’s mother, Rita Newcomb, also were charged with obstruction of justice and perjury.

The charges were eventually dropped against Fredericka Wagner, and Newcomb pleaded guilty to obstruction official business, a misdemeanor.

Her other charges, perjury and forgery, were dismissed.

This is a developing story.

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