Exactly five years after eight members of the Rhoden family were discovered dead at four homes in Ohio, a man has admitted to killing them.
“It’s not anticipated that you will ever be released from prison," Judge Randy Deering told 28-year-old Edward “Jake” Wagner, who pleaded guilty to eight counts of aggravated murder during an April 22 hearing in Pike County.
“We are fully satisfied that he has gone into this agreement with his eyes wide open,” defense attorney Gregory Meyers said. “He knows he’s going to die in prison without any judicial release.”
In addition to the murders, Wagner also admitted guilt to felony conspiracy, aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence and obstruction of justice, among a long list of other charges.
Wagner’s mother, Angela Wagner, his father, George "Billy" Wagner III, and his brother, George Wagner IV, also face charges in connection with the case.
According to prosecutors, the Wagner family conspired to kill the Rhodens following a custody dispute between Jake Wagner and 19-year-old Hanna May Rhoden — who he started dating when she was 13 — over their then-2-year-old daughter, Sophia.
A court document filed in February claims Wagner strangled his ex and threatened to murder her and “put her body where it would never be found,” Cincinnati’s WCPO-TV reported.
In a message on her Facebook account, which the Wagners secretly monitored, Rhoden wrote four months before she died: “[I'll] never sign papers ever. They will have to kill me first.”
Prosecutors alleged that the Wagner family began preparing for the murders not long after she sent the message, including by buying a cell phone jammer, making homemade silencers, and forging documents that would give Wagner parental rights to his daughter if her mother died.
On April 22, 2016, Rhoden and seven other family members were discovered shot to death. The victims included her parents, Dana Rhoden and Christopher Rhoden Sr., her uncle, Kenneth Rhoden, her father's cousin, Gary Rhoden, her brothers, Christopher Rhoden Jr. and Clarence Rhoden, and Clarence’s fiancée, Hanna Hazel Gilley.
Investigators spent years searching for who killed the Rhodens before they identified the Wagners as their main suspects in November 2018.
“I am incredibly proud of our team at the Bureau of Criminal Investigation whose dedication, perseverance and expertise lead to today’s plea,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said in a statement. “The scope of this crime and subsequent investigation surpasses any other in Ohio’s history. The dedicated men and women of BCI rose to the challenge in the pursuit of justice for the victims — and never gave up.”