Pike County killings: Witnesses paint picture of Wagner family

Witnesses in the trial of George Wagner IV took jurors on a tour of Pike County pastimes and Wagner family dynamics during Monday testimony.

Wagner IV’s family spent their time fishing, hunting and riding four-wheelers – but also torching a home for insurance money and seeking information for a custody battle via Facebook, witnesses said.

Wagner IV, facing 22 counts related to the 2016 shooting deaths of Pike County’s Rhoden family, was bubbly and “always trying to make someone laugh,” long-time friend Samantha Staley said. That changed after the Rhoden deaths, Staley said. “He looked dead inside. He didn’t have the crooked smile he always had.” But he would not talk to her about the crimes. “I was pretty much told to shut the ---- up,” she said.

Wagner IV’s brother, Edward “Jake” Wagner, was a “momma’s boy” who did whatever his mother, Angela Wagner, wanted, Staley said. Jake Wagner acted like he was better than other people and tended to blame his brother for anything that went wrong, she said.

George “Billy” Wagner, Wagner IV’s father, was erratic and moody because he took pain pills that his mother supplied, according to Jeffrey Tackett, his longtime friend. The elder Wagner had guns and ammunition in his bedroom a week before the Rhodens were killed, Tackett said. He waited to alerted authorities about the stash until after the Rhodens were dead, he said, because “I was scared he might kill me.”

Earlier in the day, Tackett told jurors he wore a wire four or five times on behalf of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the agency that led what is considered Ohio’s largest criminal investigation. He was paid $100 for each attempt to capture information from Billy Wagner.

Wagner IV’s mother got much attention on Monday, with witnesses saying she called the shots in the family.

Angela Wagner quizzed Staley about babysitting the young daughter that Jake Wagner shared with victim Hanna May Rhoden, seeking information for a custody battle. The Wagners killed the Rhodens to try to win custody of the child, prosecutors maintain.

Angela Wagner ran the family household, said Tabitha Claytor, the woman Wagner IV married in 2012.

“It was Angela’s house so it was her rules,” said Claytor, who had a son with Wagner IV in 2013.

“It applied to basically everything – cooking, cleaning, laundry. It all had to be done the way she wanted it.”

Claytor was cut off from her family of origin – her own mother did not meet her son until he was a year and a half old – at Angela Wagner’s direction, Claytor said.

Angela Wagner also interfered in the couple’s sex life, gave Wagner IV nightly back scratches in bed and often insisted their child sleep with her and Billy Wagner.

Billy and Angela Wagner fought frequently and were headed for divorce, witnesses said. “It was a rocky situation,” Tackett said.

In a day marked by frequent objections from Wagner IV’s lawyers and nine sidebar conversations between lawyers and Judge Randy Deering, witnesses also told jurors that the Wagner family burned their home 845 Bethel Hill Road for insurance money. They collected $250,000, Tackett said.

The whole family was involved in the arson, Claytor said, moving furniture and valuables out in advance of setting the fire.

None of the day’s witnesses pinned any Rhoden killings on Wagner IV.

At the end of her time on the stand, defense attorney John Parker asked Staley: “It’s fair to say you don’t know what happened that day?”

Staley replied: “A tragedy. A tragedy for sure.”

The trial resumes Tuesday at 9 a.m.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: What was Pike County Wagner family like?