Pike County murder trial defendant George Wagner IV testifies about relationships, family’s actions

WAVERLY — George Wagner IV was on the stand in his three-month long murder trial on Wednesday. He is accused of killing eight members of the Rhoden family in their Pike County homes six years ago.

Wagner’s family members are also charged in the execution-style killings, which prosecutors say were motivated by custody issues between Wagner’s brother, Jake, and one of the homicide victims, Hanna May Rhoden.

Defense attorneys say George Wagner has nothing to do with the murders.

Jake Wagner took a plea deal, as did their mother, Angela. Both testified in George Wagner’s trial. George and Jake’s father, Billy, will go to trial at a later date.

Those who were killed include Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; Dana Rhoden, 37, Hannah “Hazel” Gilley, 20; Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16; Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; Gary Rhoden, 37; Hanna May Rhoden, 19 and Kenneth Rhoden, 44.

Some of Wagner’s testimony on Wednesday:

  • He was friends with Frankie Rhoden before his brother Jake met and dated Hanna May Rhoden. “I knew Hanna before him ... I didn’t know they were brother and sister at the time,” George Wagner said. “I used to drink and party with Frankie a lot.”
  • George described his brother Jake as a gamer who collected action figures.
  • George quit school when he was about 14. He said he thought he was ready. “When I was a young kid I wanted to be either a game warden or forester.” His dad didn’t want anyone in the family that wore a badge. “He thought all law enforcement was crooked.” He was pushed to become a diesel mechanic, he said.
  • Billy Wagner, his father, taught the boys to do things such as pick locks and steal, he testified. For George, it started around the age of 13, he told the courtroom. He was taught to break into truck trailers and steal loads. George said Billy liked stealing from Walmart because he despised it, but George didn’t know why.
  • George and Jake would steal fuel from underneath gas stations, George testified Wednesday. “You pull over, open padlock, drop the hose in and pump the fuel out of it,” he said. They would do it every weekend starting at 14- and 15-years old. The family would store thousands of gallons of fuel at their property and sell what could not be stored, he told the court.
  • When Jake Wagner and Hanna May Rhoden began dating, their group of friends would go camping together, George said, and Jake would sit with her all night at the tent, not joining in on any drinking. “He wouldn’t let Hanna, either,” he said. Their mother Angela didn’t like them drinking, but Billy was OK with it so long as no one was driving, he testified.
  • His parents made attempts — and succeeded — to burn down trailer homes they had lived in to collect insurance money, George testified.
  • Billy Wagner grew marijuana in the basement of their home, he said. He also got with friends and stole a tractor trailer full of Rocky boots, it got divided and George said Angela helped plan the theft. “Everybody in Pike County was wearing Rocky boots at that point.”
  • Testifying about his ex-wife Tabitha, who testified earlier in the trial, George told the court she took him to court to change their parenting arrangement right before he was arrested for the homicides. He said Tabitha had violent fits and he did not want their son Bulvine with her. He said Tabitha was sexually abused by her stepfather with permission from her mother. He did not want their son near those grandparents, he said. George would pick Tabitha up for court hearings and still spend holidays together to be part of the son’s life together. When Tabitha testified in early October, her account of events was much different.
  • George testified about how the Wagner family’s money was entangled. He would pay some bills and Jake would pay others, splitting them fairly, he said. Angela would give them credit cards to make purchases.
  • At one point, both sons and their wives and children all lived with Angela and Billy. That would cause Billy to go stay with his parents, George said. He visited a few times a week.
  • The Wagners were arrested traveling from Alaska to Ohio, and the arrests happened in Montana. That is where George says law enforcement asked him to spy on his brother. This is because he says he didn’t know about the plan to kill the Rhoden family, and he trusted the Bureau of Criminal Investigations.
  • Prosecutors asked George about a tattoo on his arm that has a billiards No. 8 ball in the mouth of a skeleton. They asked if it represented the eight murders of the Rhoden family. He told the court it did not and that he didn’t even come up with it, the tattoo artist did, to cover an older tattoo. The tattoo artist earlier testified the same thing.
  • George Wagner described each of the other three family members accused of the killings and said his father Billy was a good guy but would have outbursts and was irritable; his mother Angela was overopinionated, arrogant and bossy. He said his brother Jake was a jealous person who was greedy and selfish.

George Wagner is expected to continue testimony Thursday.

WCPO’s Courtney Francisco provided information for this report.

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