Oxygen’s ‘The Pike County Murders: A Family Massacre’ chronicles one of the most horrific crimes in Ohio’s history — the Pike County massacre. Taking place in late April 2016, it saw the almost eradication of the Rhoden family, with eight members of the family brutally shot and killed. The episode features in-depth interviews with the investigators and locals, presenting a clear picture of why the Wagner family committed the crime, including the two plotting women figures — Rita Newcomb and Angela Wagner.
What Did Rita Newcomb and Angela Wagner Do?
Around 4:30 am on April 22, 2016, a coordinated and systematic series of attacks unfolded, resulting in the tragic death of Hanna May Rhoden, 19, and several other members of the Rhoden family. The assailants targeted four separate trailer homes, claiming the lives of Hanna’s parents, Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40, and Dana Manley Rhoden, 38. The victims also included Hanna’s brothers, Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, and Chris Rhoden Jr., 16, as well as Frankie’s fiancée, Hannah Gilley, 20.
The devastating toll extended to Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s older brother Kenneth Rhoden, 44, and cousin Gary Rhoden, 38. Although the killers didn’t leave DNA evidence, they left behind a distinctive trail of two left shoe prints in different sizes, indicating the involvement of at least two shooters. Through diligent analysis, BCI analysts linked the shoeprints to sneakers available at a local Walmart. Meanwhile, Jake Wagner, the father of Hanna’s then-2-year-old daughter Sophia, was granted temporary custody of the child shortly after the murders.
Jake lived with his brother, George Wagner IV, and their parents, Angela Wagner and George “Billy” Wagner III. Following the murders, the Wagner family relocated to Kenai, Alaska. As the investigation progressed, BCI investigators discovered a Walmart receipt tying the Wagner family to the purchased shoes matching the crime scene prints. Surveillance footage identified Angela as the shopper during the purchase. In May 2017, authorities intercepted the Wagners in Montana as they returned to collect more belongings.
Angela, confronted with the Walmart information, agreed to cooperate with investigators. Upon their return to Ohio in April 2018, authorities initiated wiretaps to monitor the Wagner family’s conversations. Wiretaps and surveillance were extended to Jake and his brother’s trucks with the company’s consent when they began working for a trucking company. A wiretap recording from June 9, 2018, captured Angela expressing concern, stating, “We’re running on borrowed time,” while Jake dismissed her worries as paranoia.
On November 13, 2018, Billy, Angela, George, and Jake were arrested and charged with aggravated murder, along with several related counts. As the four family members were kept imprisoned in different prisons, Angela and Jake decided to plead guilty in 2021 to all charges and testify against Billy and George, saving their family from the possible death penalty. The mother-son duo took the stand against George in his late 2022 trial. Angela asserted the entire Wagner family collectively engaged in the massacre in her early November 2022 testimony.
However, the grandmother maintained that their actions were motivated by a desire to safeguard their infant granddaughter, Sophia, then two, from potential molestation. Angela testified, “Nobody’s heart was in it. Nobody wanted to do it.” She shared that, except for her husband, Billy Wagner, the family considered relocating to Alaska after the killings. She expressed regret about moving after both her father and father-in-law passed away during the family’s time in Alaska (spring 2017 to spring 2018).
Angela recounted how she was an “emotional wreck” when state agents separated them and interviewed them in different rooms after apprehending them at the Montana border. “I would cry every time they went out the door,” she said, referring to her husband and sons. After the Wagners were arrested, Angela’s mother, Rita Jo Newcomb was accused of forging documents that appointed a guardian for her two great-grandchildren. A handwriting analysis proved Rita did not sign the documents and lied to the prosecution at her daughter’s request.
Rita Newcomb and Angela Wagner Face Prison
On December 2, 2019, Rita, then 66, confessed to forging the documents after initially claiming not guilty to three counts of forgery regarding three separate custody documents. She stated, “It’s not a good, Christian thing to lie, so I didn’t want to do that anymore.” As a result of her plea deal, the prosecution agreed to drop the serious forgery, obstruction of justice, and perjury charges, allowing her to plead guilty to a lesser misdemeanor charge of obstruction of official business. She is expected to face a 90-day prison term at a later date.
During George’s late 2022 trial, Rita testified, claiming she admitted the truth motivated by her faith and expressed regret that Angela had married Billy despite her undying love for her grandchildren. She said, “I didn’t feel right all along, but told my kids I’d do anything for them.” Angela pled guilty to conspiracy to commit aggravated murder, several counts of aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence, and other charges as part of a plea deal on September 10, 2021. As a result, the remaining eight counts of aggravated murder were dismissed. She was sentenced to 30 years and is presumably serving her sentence in a prison in a different state.