Two weeks have passed since the bodies of eight family members were found on April 22 at four different homes in Pike County. No arrests have been made, and a motive for the killings remains unclear. Autopsies show the victims were shot, some of them multiple times. Here’s a look at the killings and what’s known:
At 7:49 a.m. on April 22, a breathless woman calls 911 saying two people appear dead in a home: “There’s blood all over the house.” Minutes later, a sheriff’s deputy requests “multiple ambulances due to multiple people down at multiple residences.” Seven bodies are discovered in three houses. At 1:26 p.m., another 911 call comes in with the report of an eighth body: “All that stuff that’s on the news. I just found my cousin with a gunshot wound.”
Members of the Rhoden family found shot to death: 40-year-old Christopher Rhoden; his ex-wife, 37-year-old Dana Rhoden; their three children, 20-year-old Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 16-year-old Christopher Jr., and 19-year-old Hanna; Frankie Rhoden’s fiancée, 20-year-old Hannah Gilley; Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s brother, 44-year-old Kenneth Rhoden; and 38-year-old Gary Rhoden, a cousin. Hanna Rhoden’s 4-day-old baby girl was found unharmed beside her; another baby and a young child were also unharmed.
The Hamilton County coroner says one victim was shot once, with others sustaining multiple gunshot wounds, including two victims shot five times and one victim shot nine times. The report didn’t specify which victim had which number of wounds. The coroner’s office says some victims showed signs of soft tissue bruising, consistent with the first 911 caller’s description of the victims having been beaten. A sheriff’s department report says a large amount of blood was found in the living room of the house where the first two victims were found; their bodies were located in a back bedroom.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has assigned multiple officers with the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation to work alongside the Pike County Sheriff’s Office. The Pike County prosecutor, the Hamilton County coroner and more than 20 other sheriff’s offices and Piketon police are assisting. The FBI and the DEA are providing some assistance on an as-needed basis.
Numerous theories on a motive abound, including a family rift, a revenge killing by outsiders or something related to drugs. DeWine has confirmed the presence of large marijuana growing operations at three of the four crime scenes. In 2012, DeWine said the seizure of 1,200 marijuana plants in Pike County was related to Mexican cartel activity. He has since downplayed the comment, but it led to speculation that the slayings were part of a drug rivalry. Other law enforcement officials familiar with the region say they doubt the cartel connection, saying there was no evidence of it in past years.
More than 100 items of evidence have been sent to the state crime lab for analysis. More than 450 tips have been received and state and Pike County investigators have spoken with nearly 130 witnesses. On Tuesday, authorities towed vehicles from the properties as part of the investigation.
The victims were buried in three separate services. The first, for Gary Rhoden, was held in his hometown of South Shore, Kentucky, on April 28. The second, for Hannah Gilley, the fiancée of Frankie Rhoden, was held on April 30, in Otway, Ohio. The third, for the remaining six victims, was held at Dry Run Church of Christ church in West Portsmouth on May 2, with hundreds in attendance.
Officials haven’t announced suspects or even named “persons of interest.” That’s unusual when it comes to mass killings, in which the perpetrator is often quickly identified. The last time eight people were shot to death in Ohio was in 2011 near Akron. The killer targeted his girlfriend and her relatives and neighbors and fatally shot seven people before killing himself. In the Piketon case, the lack of arrests doesn’t mean authorities don’t have suspects. University of Dayton criminal law professor Thomas Hagel said, “The fact they have not run out and arrested someone right way is not unusual. They’re still building their case.”
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.