'They will have to kill me': Disturbing texts by Hannah Rhoden revealed during Pike County massacre trial
PIKE COUNTY, OHIO: Prosecutors revealed chilling texts on Thursday, October 20, during the murder trial of an Ohio family accused of the 2016 Pike County massacre of eight family members over a bitter custody battle of a little girl.
George Wagner IV, 30, is the first defendant to go on trial in Pike County Court more than six years after the gruesome murders. He allegedly carried out the massacre with the help of his father, George 'Billy' Wagner III, his brother, Edward 'Jake' Wagner, and his mother, Angela Wagner, who were all accused of killing the Rhoden family along with Hannah Rhoden, the mother of the child, on April 22, 2016.
Jake and Hannah began dating when she was 13 and two years into the relationship Jake got her pregnant, after which the couple started to bicker over the child Sophie's custody. However, during the trial, the Bureau of Criminal Investigations agent read aloud the text messages between Jake and Hannah from November 2013, which alleged the couple was in a furious disagreement even before the child was born.
Documenting their custody strife, prosecutors claimed Sophia’s upbringing was the main motive behind the massacre. After Hannah had gotten pregnant with Jake's child, he insisted Hannah move in with his parents and brother but she resisted. “I done told u she is living with me now u can live with us or not that’s ur choice,” Jake wrote in a text to Hannah on November 4, 2013. Hannah replied, if he tried to take the baby from her, it would be his worst mistake. “Hanna I’m telling you right now make a choice and make it now if u do this it’s over and I’ll take Sophie and if I have to by force,” Jake replied.
“I love u with all my heart if u love me and Sophie u will make the right choice I want u to live with me and Sophie. That don’t mean we have to stay at my house all the time but she will live wear ever I am.” The couple allegedly bickered for two years, with Hannah refusing to live with his family and insisting they get their own place. In March 2015, Hannah texted Jake, “I don’t want to be with you. You hurt me,” following alleged domestic violence. The couple allegedly split in 2015, and Hannah refused to sign custody papers agreeing to share Sophie with Jake’s brother, George, which intensified the custody strife. "I won't sign papers ever. It wont happen." Rhoden wrote in a private Facebook message in 2015. “They will have to kill me first."
Prosecutors said the notorious Wagner clan had spent months planning the killings and targeted only a few selective members while others were caught in the crossfire. Wagners killed Hannah, both her parents, Christopher Rhoden Sr, 40, and his ex-wife, Dana Manley Rhoden, 37 along with her siblings, Christopher Rhoden Jr, 16, and Clarence Rhoden, 20. Other murder victims were Clarence’s fiancee, Hannah Gilley, 20, Christopher’s brother Kenneth Rhoden, 44, and his 38-year-old cousin Gary. The suspects reportedly used guns with silencers and were shot multiple times in the killing spree.
After years of investigation, authorities got to know that Jake orchestrated the massacre just to get custody of his daughter Sophie. Jake Wagner pleaded guilty last year to counts of murder and related charges, confessing to killing five of the victims. As part of George Wagner IV's plea deal, he would be spared the death penalty if he testifies against his brother and father. Angela Wagner also pleaded guilty to taking part in the murderous plot and agreed to give evidence against her husband and son in exchange for a 30-year prison sentence. George Wagner III has pleaded not guilty and is expected to go to trial after his son.