An Ohio man described the gruesome scene he came upon more than six years ago after eight of his family members were executed by a rival family.
James Manley first drove to the home of his nephew, Frankie Rhoden, 20, and his fiancé, Hannah “Hazel” Gilley, 20, April 22, 2016.
One of Manley’s sisters, Bobby Jo, was already there holding the slain couple’s 6-month-old baby, Ruger.
“I see Frankie’s baby is covered in blood,” Manley recalled. “I said, ‘What the hell happened?’”
That’s when Bobby Jo told him, “Chris and Gary was dead down at Chris’ house and Frankie and Hazel is dead,” he recalled, his voice cracking with emotion.
It was the second day of George Wagner IV’s murder trial in Pike County Court in southern Ohio near the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
He’s accused of conspiring with his younger brother Edward “Jake” Wagner and his parents, Angela and George “Billy” Wagner III, to gun down eight members of the Rhoden family, ambushing most of them as they slept at four separate locations.
It was the first time that Manley, who works as a logger in Pike County, spoke publicly about the horrifying carnage he came upon that day.
There was “blood everywhere,” he said, adding that it was “on the bodies, on the bed, on the walls.”
He hopped into his truck and drove to the home of his sister, Dana Rhoden, 37, the mother of Frankie Rhoden, to tell her what had happened. Chris Rhoden, 40, Dana Rhoden’s ex-husband, was already found riddled with bullets. His brother Kenneth Rhoden, 44, and cousin, Gary Rhoden, 38, had also been murdered.
When Manly arrived at his sister’s trailer it was dark inside and no one responded when he called out her name. He went inside her bedroom, felt her body on the bed and tried to wake her.
“I, like, felt a pillow over her head. I started to pick the pillow up, and it felt stuck,” he recalled. “She was dead too.”
In another room of the trailer, her daughter, Hanna Rhoden, 19, and her son Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, were riddled with bullets.
Hanna Rhoden’s infant, Kylie, who was four days old, was alive and crying. Prosecutors say that after Jake Wagner murdered Hanna Rhoden, he positioned her body so that Kylie could continue to nurse.
The Wagners originally plotted to murder only Hanna Rhoden, who shared a then-3-year-old daughter with Jake Wagner, after she refused to sign over custody of the little girl.
But soon the hit list expanded to include anyone who could implicate them, prosecutors said in opening statements.
Jake Wagner pleaded guilty last year to shooting five of the victims, including Hanna Wagner, in a deal that spared him the death penalty.
He agreed to testify against his older brother, who is the first defendant in the case to go to trial. George Wagner IV was present for the ambush but did not fire a weapon.
Angela Wagner also pleaded guilty to helping plot the murders – although she did not take part in the killings – in exchange for 30 years in prison. She’s expected to testify against her son. The Wagner family patriarch is awaiting trial.