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Ex-Wife Of Pike County Massacre Defendant George Wagner IV Takes The Stand
Tabitha Claytor told jurors that her former mother-in-law, Angela Wagner, interfered with the defendant's sex life and in the custody of their young son. The claims are similar to the alleged motive behind the 2016 murders that left eight dead in rural Ohio.
The former wife of George Wagner IV — one of the four family members accused of killing eight people in what became known as the Pike County family massacre — took the stand against her ex-husband at trial this week.
Tabitha Claytor, 29, testified against Wagner on Monday and Tuesday, according to CBS Cincinnati affiliate WKRC-TV. Her ex-husband stands accused of helping his brother and parents commit the execution-style murders of eight members of the Rhoden family's circle in rural Ohio in April 2016. He maintains that he was not the triggerman in the mass murder.
Prosecutors say the defendant, his brother, Edward “Jake” Wagner, and their parents, Angela and George “Billy” Wagner III murdered the Rhodens across multiple dwellings, motivated by a heated custody battle between the youngest Wagner, Jake, and 19-year-old Hanna May Rhoden.
Tabitha Claytor — who married George Wagner IV just after she graduated from high school in 2012 — testified that she and her ex had gotten into a custody battle over their son, Bulvine (who was born in 2013), after she left the defendant, according to Law & Crime.
The custody battle between Claytor and George Wagner IV is pivotal in his trial for the murders, as prosecutors attempt to draw similarities between what happened to Claytor and the alleged motive for the 2016 murders: a contentious dispute between Jake Wagner and Hanna May Rhoden over their young daughter, Sophia.
Claytor referred to her mother-in-law as "strange and controlling," accusing her of giving her son, George Wager IV, nightly back scratches while the couple was in bed, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
“It was Angela’s house and Angela’s rules,” Claytor told the court.
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Claytor said Angela helped isolate Claytor from her family and prevented her from leaving the Wagner home when she pleased. She also allegedly dictated the terms of her son's sex life, according to WKRC-TV.
Claytor testified that Angela allegedly said, “You wasn’t allowed to give blowjobs, or you’d go to Hell,” according to Law & Crime.
Angela also allegedly prohibited Claytor’s own mother from meeting her grandson until Bulvine was about 18 months old. Claytor tried to convince her then-husband to move out of his mother's house, but he refused — leading to her decision to end the marriage.
Per the Cincinnati outlet, Claytor detailed the day she left her husband in November 2014, claiming that Wagner IV allegedly began beating her with a belt after she had words with his mother. She fought back by biting him and grabbing his groin, then ran out of the house.
Angela Wagner allegedly became involved in the altercation by throwing a 2x4 piece of wood at Claytor and threatening her with a gun, per Claytor’s testimony. Claytor hid until she was able to ride her bicycle to a gas station and call her mom.
She never went back. The couple divorced in January 2015.
George Wagner IV kept Bulvine and — with the alleged support of his family — banned Claytor from having contact with their son for more than a year, according to WKRC-TV. After that, they agreed to 50-50 custody but she alleged he would rarely comply, and didn't tell her when the family moved with her son to Alaska in 2017. She regained custody of the child following the Wagners’ 2018 arrests, according to WKRC-TV.
Jeffrey Tackett, a long-time friend of the defendant’s father, George “Billy” Wagner III, also took the stand on Monday, according to ABC Cincinnati affiliate WCPO. He referred to the Wagners as being “very close … like a cult,” according to Law & Crime. Prosecutors had previously noted that the Wagner family was quite insular and said both sons were homeschooled by their parents.
Tackett testified that, prior to the murders, he saw the elder Wagner in his bedroom with multiple firearms, bulletproof vests and 30-round clips.
He also testified that he had warned Christopher Rhoden Sr. soon after Hanna May Rhoden and Jake Wagner began seeing one another, according to Law & Crime.
“If you have trouble with them, they will harm you or kill your family,” Tackett said he told the Rhodens of the Wagners.
Hanna May, who was 15, was soon pregnant with 20-year-old Jake Wagner's child.
He wasn't the only one to warn the Rhodens: Claytor’s mother reportedly messaged Hanna May Rhoden and warned her not to sign custody of Sophia over to the Wagner family, according to Fox Cincinnati affiliate WXIX.
“I won’t sign papers, ever,” Hanna May reportedly wrote Claytor’s mother on Facebook. “It won’t happen. They will have to kill me first.”
Sometime between the evening of April 21 and the morning April 22, 2016, someone did. In total, eight people in the Rhoden family circle — including Hanna May — were shot to death that night in and around rural Piketon, Ohio that night.
Other victims included Hanna May Rhoden’s parents, Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40, and Dana Manley-Rhoden, 37; her brothers, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Frankie Rhoden, 20; and her uncle Kenneth Rhoden.
Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s cousin, Gary Rhoden, 38, and Frankie Rhoden’s fiancée, Hannah Gilley, 20, were also shot to death.
George "Billy" Wagner III has pleaded not guilty to charges connected with the murders and will be tried separately from his eldest son at a later date.
Angela Wagner was initially charged with murder but pleaded guilty to lesser charges, including conspiracy to commit aggravated murder and burglary. She was sentenced to 30 years behind bars without the possibility of parole.
Jake Wagner also pleaded guilty to a number of charges, including eight counts of murder, and is currently serving eight life sentences without the possibility of parole.
In exchange for their cooperation — including their upcoming, anticipated testimony in George Wagner IV’s murder trial — the death penalty was taken off the table for Angela and Jake Wagner.
If convicted, George Wagner IV and his father could face execution.
The case was the focus of the Oxygen original series, “The Piketon Family Murders.”