George Wagner IV’s ex-wife takes the stand for second day

George Wagner IV’s ex-wife takes the stand for second day
Published: Oct. 4, 2022 at 9:02 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 4, 2022 at 12:37 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - George Wagner IV’s ex-wife and mother of his son, Tabitha Claytor, returned to the stand Tuesday to continue recalling disturbing details about her time living with his family.

Pike County massacre: Complete trial coverage

Relatives and friends have been testifying for the past few days about the stormy relationship between Hanna Rhoden and Jake Wagner and the controlling ways of his parents, especially his mother, Angela Wagner.

The couple had their daughter when Hanna May Rhoden was 15 and Jake Wagner was 20 but broke up. Hanna May Rhoden began seeing someone else and had another baby with that man.

The custody and control of that child was the motive in what has become Ohio’s biggest and most expensive homicide investigation to date.

Sophia was just 2 years old when her mother and seven of her mother’s relatives were all shot to death at four separate residences overnight on April 21-22, 2016.

During her opening statement, Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa said George Wagner IV and his family abused and controlled his ex-wife and their son, Bovine, when they were together as well.

Claytor tried to flee once but, Angela Wagner threw a 2-by-4 at her — and the family kept their son, Canepa told jurors.

The Wagners won a custody arrangement that allowed Claytor to only see her child “if and when the Wagners said so,” according to Canepa.

Claytor’s mother told Hanna May in a Facebook message not to sign custody papers after what happened to Tabitha.

“I won’t sign papers ever it won’t happen they will have to kill me first,” Hanna May wrote, Canepa has told the jury.

Claytor testified Monday that Angela Wagner wouldn’t let her family see her son or even come to the hospital when he was born.

Angela Wagner ran the house and set the rules, Claytor testified: “It all had to be done the way that she wanted it or you had to either redo it or she’d just do it herself.”

She said she left after she and her husband argued when she didn’t clean up the kitchen after Angela Wagner made lunch.

Claytor testified that her ex-husband wound up physically assaulting her in a dispute that led to their divorce. The argument started because she did not clean up the kitchen after Angela made lunch, according to Claytor.

“Me and George [IV] were in an argument and he slapped me,” Claytor said.

She told jurors he did everything he could to keep her son from her for more than a year, even instructing her at one point not to tell the boy she was his mother.

She said they went into their bedroom and he wouldn’t let her leave. He blocked the door.

Eventually, Claytor said she was able to get past him by biting his arm.

Once outside, Claytor said Angela and George came after her.

“Angela threw a board at me and told George she was going inside to get a gun,” she told jurors.

Claytor says she then hid under one of the Wagner’s trucks, adding that she didn’t “want to get shot.”

George IV’s ex-wife said she waited until dark and rode her bike to a gas station and called her mother to come and get her.

Their divorce was final in January 2015 but she would not get custody of her son until she filed a legal action for it in 2018.

“After we got divorced it was about a year before I got to see my son again,” Claytor said. “Because George wouldn’t let me.”

Download & Listen on Spotify or Apple: Cincinnati’s Crime Vault | Beyond the Broadcast: Pike County Massacre - Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4

Exhibit from prosecution during opening statements in the trial of George IV.
Exhibit from prosecution during opening statements in the trial of George IV.(Liz Duf | Cincinnati Enquirer)

Claytor says she had no idea the Wagners took her son and moved to Alaska in 2017 until a friend told her.

Claytor: “I had called and asked him why he left without telling me.

State prosecutor: “And what was his response?”

Claytor: “That it’s his son, he needs to do what’s best for him.”

George IV’s ex-wife says in the year that followed, she was eventually allowed limited visitation with Bovine, but her son did not recognize him.

The defense made an attempt to discredit Claytor, pointing to the affair she said she had with her best friend’s dad who was 25-30 years her senior.

Defense: “You and George were having issues about your marriage based on your infidelity, right?”

Claytor: “Somewhat.”

Defense: “And George had questions about whether he was actually the father of this child.”

Claytor: “Yes.”

Wagner IV is the first of his four family members to go on trial in the April 21-22, 2016 killings of eight members of another family, the Rhodens.

Wagner IV, 30, has pleaded not guilty to eight counts of aggravated murder and other charges.

His 2018 indictment says Wagner IV, his father, George “Billy Wagner III, his mother, Angela Wagner and his younger brother, Jake Wagner, all carefully planned for months to kill the Rhodens. The motive was to gain “custody and control” of the 2-year-old daughter of Jake Wagner, and one of the victims, 19-year-old Hanna May Rhoden, prosecutors say.

All of the victims were shot to death, mostly execution-style in their beds as they slept, at four separate trailers on two properties in or near Piketon.

In addition to Hanna May Rhoden, the other victims are her father, Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; two of her uncles, Kenneth Rhoden, 44 and Gary Rhoden, 38; her mother, Dana Lynn Rhoden, 37, and both of her brothers: Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16 and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, as well as Frankie’s fiancé, Hannah “Hazel” Gilley, 20.

Jake Wagner, 28, and Angela Wagner, 51, both pleaded guilty for their roles in the killings last year.

They are scheduled to testify against him soon.

Jake’s ex-wife, Beth, also is set to take the stand for the prosecution at some point.

Jake Wagner has pleaded guilty to eight counts of murder and 15 other charges including gun specifications, conspiracy, burglary, possession of dangerous ordnance and tampering with evidence.

In exchange, prosecutors say they will drop the possibility of the death penalty and Jake Wagner agreed to serve eight life sentences without parole.

His lawyer said Jake Wagner “knows he’s going to die in prison without any judicial relief.”

He is held at the Franklin County Jail.

His mother pleaded to conspiracy to commit aggravated murder, several counts of aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence, and other charges as part of a plea deal. The remaining eight counts of aggravated murder were dismissed.

The prosecution is recommending that she serve 30 years in prison with no possibility of the death penalty.

She currently is held at the jail in Delaware County.

George “Billy” Wagner III, 50, is continuing to fight his charges and will be the next one to go on trial.

He has pleaded not guilty and remains locked up at the Butler County Jail.