Shocking texts revealed at ‘Pike County Massacre’ trial

Prosecutors in the murder trial of an Ohio man accused of the 2016 massacre of eight members of a rival family released chilling texts that shed light on a bitter custody battle that allegedly led to the slaughter.

George Wagner IV, 30, is the first defendant to stand trial in Pike County Court more than six years after the shocking execution killings of the Rhoden family.

Wagner IV — along with his father George “Billy” Wagner III, mother Anglea Wagner and brother Edward “Jake” Wagner — are accused of killing the Rhodens on their property in the Appalachian foothills on April 22, 2016.

The victims were Christopher Rhoden, Sr., 40, his ex-wife Dana Manley Rhoden, 37, and their three children: Hannah Rhoden, 19, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20.

George "Billy" Wagner IV is indicted in Ohio for the 2016 murders of eight members of the Rhoden family.
George “Billy” Wagner IV is indicted in Ohio for the 2016 murders of eight members of the Rhoden family.
AP
The victims were Christopher Rhoden, Sr., his ex-wife Dana Manley Rhoden, and their three children: Hanna Rhoden, Christopher Rhoden Jr., and Clarence
The victims were Christopher Rhoden, Sr., his ex-wife Dana Manley Rhoden, and their three children: Hannah Rhoden, Christopher Rhoden Jr., and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden.
WXIX-TV

Frankie Rhoden’s fiancee, Hannah “Hazel” Gilley, 20, was also killed, along with the elder Christopher Rhoden’s brother Kenneth Rhoden, 44, and cousin Gary Rhoden, 38.

At the arraignment Thursday, a Bureau of Criminal Investigations agent read aloud text messages between Jake Wagner and Hannah Rhoden from November 2013 documenting their custody disputes — which began before their daughter, Sophia, was even born.

Prosecutors have said that furious disagreements between Jake and Hannah over Sophia’s upbringing were the main motive behind the massacre.

In text messages presented in court, Jake and Hannah repeatedly clashed over their relationship, where they wanted to live and who their baby would live with, WCPO reported.

Prosecutors believe the bloodshed stemmed from a custody battle between Edward "Jake" Wagner, right, and his girlfriend.
Prosecutors believe the bloodshed stemmed from a custody battle between Edward “Jake” Wagner, right, and his girlfriend.
AP
Hannah Rhoden, the mother of Jake Wagner's daughter, Sophia, did not want to live with her family and claimed he abused her.
Hannah Rhoden, the mother of Jake Wagner’s daughter, Sophia, did not want to live with her family and claimed he abused her.
Facebook

Jake, who started dating Hannah when she was 13 and got her pregnant two years later, insisted they move in with his parents and brother, but his girlfriend resisted.

“I told you she lives with me now, you can live with us or not, it’s your choice,” Jake wrote in a text to Hannah on Nov. 4, 2013.

Hannah replied that if he tried to take the child away from her, it would be his worst mistake.

“Hanna I’m telling you right now make a choice and make it now if you do this it’s over and I’ll take Sophie and if I have to by force” Jake replied. “I love you with all my heart, if you love me and Sophie you will make the right choice, I want you to live with me and Sophie. It doesn’t mean we have to live at my house all the time, but she will live with always (sic) I am.”

The couple fought over their daughter via text before she was even born.
The couple fought over their daughter via text before she was even born.
WCPO
In a message shown in court on Thursday, Jake wrote to Hannah in November 2013: "I'll take Sophie and if I have to by force."
In a message shown in court on Thursday, Jake wrote to Hannah in November 2013: “I’m taking Sophie and if I have to by force.”
WCPO

The pair continued to argue via text for the next two years, with Hannah refusing to live with her family and insisting they get their own place.

In March 2015, she sent Jake a text that read: “I don’t want to be with you. You hurt me,” referring to alleged domestic violence.

The couple eventually separated and the battle for custody of their daughter intensified. Rhoden refused to sign papers sharing custody with Jake’s brother, George.

“They’ll have to kill me first,” she wrote in a message on Facebook in December 2015.

Prosecutors said members of the Wagner clan spent months preparing the attack on Hannah and her family, including building homemade silencers and obtaining answering machines to prevent victims from calling for help.

Most of the victims were shot in the head as they slept in trailers and an RV. Some of the dead were said to have been hit, while others were killed simply because they were there. The attackers spared the lives of two babies and a toddler.

George
George “Billy” Wagner III, Angela Wagner and sons George Wagner IV and Edward “Jake” Wagner were each charged with eight counts of aggravated murder.
Ohio Attorney General

Jake Wagner pleaded guilty last year to murder and related charges, admitting to killing five of the victims.

As part of Wagner’s plea deal, he would be spared the death penalty if he testified against his brother and father.

Angela Wagner also pleaded guilty to participating in the murder plot and agreed to testify against her husband and son in exchange for a 30-year prison sentence.

George Wagner IV’s defense has argued that he was not directly responsible for any of the murders and only went along with the plot out of fear that his father would kill Jake.

George Wagner III has pleaded not guilty and is expected to stand trial after his son.

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