Sizing Up the Rhoden Family Murders

An Obsession With the Rhoden Case

Friday, May the 13th, marks a three-week milestone in the unbelievable mass murder of eight members of the Rhoden family (April 22nd) in rural Pike County, Ohio (county and city maps of Ohio are necessary tools). As the story slowly progresses, my obsession only grows, stemming from the time the shocking news was first reported!

Since Friday, April 22nd, at least some time has been set aside each day to study the Rhoden murders. As I sink deeper and deeper into the quagmire of this sordid tale (the tragic angle takes a second chair), my focus redirects nearly exclusively on the economic activity of the family. The economic blueprint will provide, I believe, the magic key unlocking the murders, thus, solving the mystery of who did it, and why it had to be done.

The Rhoden murder case is an intriguing Who-Done-It; my newest revelation is Christopher Sr. (and his extended family) weren’t exactly living in poverty; to my surprise, he owned 30 acres of property. This flash comes in stark contrast to the widely described poverty that cripples Pike County, along with the surrounding Appalachian region. We’ve already heard of ways the locals get around this problem, such as growing marijuana, cock-fighting, demolition derby, perhaps selling flea market merchandise, or maybe even selling harder drugs (meth and heroin), and a new enterprise I just heard about, fixing up old cars and selling them.

Which of these illicit activities were the Rhodens NOT involved in? Perchance, zero!

Rhoden case, trucks take homes on highway.
A solemn procession of trailers in tow, homes where eight Rhoden family members were mercilessly slain, slowly grinds down rural highways towards the command center in Waverly. A surreal sight to behold!

Bobby Jo Manley’s Ghastly Discoveries!

A big break through in the case came on Monday, May 11th when the Cincinnati Enquirer posted a piece by staff writer Chris Graves, titled Pike County: ‘I was not leaving those babies in there.’ Chris got an exclusive interview with Bobby Jo Manley, 36, a sister to one of the victims, Dana Rhoden; Bobby Jo discovered two of the crime scenes and placed the 911 call, that has seen much exposure. One of the reasons this interview is so important is that Bobby Jo did not hold back on what she observed that Friday in late April. On the other hand, law enforcement has been totally tight-lipped!

If you’re really interested in this case, you should give this article careful consideration. I’ve tried to do as such, and I’m starting to read some of the details revealed by Bobby Jo as important clues; I hope I’m not getting too carried away, so bear with me for a moment! I’ll not parrot every word that’s there, nor repeat the bloody, horrible mayhem first witnessed by Bobby Jo. Rather, I’m thinking abstractly, reading into some of the facts disclosed; telling extensions emerge from data-rich clues. Realize, these abstractions are not facts, but rather implications regarding the responsible parties.

I’ll provide you with a few examples of what I’m thinking, and I won’t be surprised at all if you have a few of your own brainstorms. First is, that both trailers were locked; Bobby Jo says the doors were normally unlocked (at least, whenever she’d come over in the morning to feed the chickens). As such, if Christopher Sr. hadn’t locked it at night, the killers could have just entered the trailer. Then after killing the people, they could have just locked the door from the inside, then exited from the window.

Okay, maybe they had a key already or they got a key from one of the deceased’s pocket, then locked the trailer from the outside. This implies they originally entered through the window; it also suggests they still have possession of a key. Not a good thing to have when investigators come knocking at your door! Okay, so there are quite a few possibilities you can come up with, when you have a locked front trailer door, as well as open windows.

Bobby Jo also observed the two pit bulls were on the porch; normally, they would be left in the trailer. A likely conclusion is, the killers let them out uninterrupted (as the foul task was completed); another one is, not so far-fetched, the dogs knew the culprits. If they were strangers the pit bulls would have attacked! This doesn’t prove familiarity between the victims and perpetrators, but there are other items of support that can beef up this claim (I’ll not disclose them here).

I’ll add in, Bobby Jo didn’t observe any guns left lying around or see any bullets or cartridges strewn about; naturally enough, we must assume these professionals picked them up, such as was part of the job. I will further mention, there were 32 gunshot wounds altogether, at 4 different crime scenes. This has me wondering why the neighborhood didn’t hear some of these gunshots. Were silencers used? Finally, as if Bobby Jo Manley didn’t have to suffer enough with her ghastly discoveries, investigators treated her like a suspect (which is protocol, I understand).

Mexican Cartel Theories Wax Then Wane!

Initially, this theory of that the Sinaloa cartel ordered the executions gained prominence; as for myself, the thought of this bunch taking control within the interior of The United States was as scary as it gets! Another spooky realization, is, the Rhodens were working directly for and with Mexican Nationals. Since then, a little over three weeks ago, the prominence of this theory has been undermined; that’s not to say, it’s been completely dismissed. Sam Quinones, author of the book, Dreamland: the true tale of America’s opiate epidemic, has argued against this cartel connection; many are agreeing with him, and that includes yours truly.

A sensational article that stirred us outsiders up quite a bit and changed our way of thinking is “were eight members of the Rhoden family murdered in an extreme case of ‘hillbilly justice’?” by Marnie O’Neill, published in New Zealand Herald on May 6th. The proclivity of the argument is this was an Inside Job (within the Appalachian community); furthermore, it probably was economically motivated. However, the marijuana was merely a sideline; the main trade was/is in meth and heroin. If the Rhodens were trafficking in hard drugs, they kept it a carefully guarded secret, since no has come forward ,thus far, making such claims.

Hair-Raising Hearsay Herein

I know better than to give much credence to the forum Brandon Rhoden and Donald Stone – Discussion on Topix, but I did take a gander at it, as curious as I am for information. Yea, the posts on there were outlandish, and most of the posts came from out-of-state writers (Kentucky may be okay), not locals from Pike County. I was unable to determine who Brandon is, so if you know, clue me in.

As far as Jake goes, I suspect he’s Jake Wagner, biological father to Sophia Wagner (not present), daughter of deceased Hanna May Rhoden. Was Jake also a father to 4-day-old Kylie Rhoden? This was touched on in the forum. One last outlandish rumor on Topix, is a claim by Bobby that Donald Stone took $8,000 from Kenneth’s trailer. As I said before, none of this can be verified, yet it sure provides good cause for rumination!

Video Camera Evidence – Ace Up Their Sleeve?

How important is the video camera evidence? Well, does the footage from Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s system, installed near his trailer, have any clips of interest? And why do the Rhodens have so many cars, both working and broken down? Did they operate a car junkyard? Apparently, Kenneth’s trailer at 799 Left Fork Road had a video system too; has there been verification yet that the killers removed it out on their way out? You see, the video equipment raises lots of questions, which likely won’t get answered anytime soon, and you know the reason why!

The first question that came to me as I pondered an article, Family: Rhoden property had video cameras (by Bob Strickley and Chris Graves – Cincinnati Enquirer – May 11, 2016), is, why did Christopher Sr. have the video camera system installed in the first place? When did this take place, and was there some cause for paranoia? Were there lots of people dropping by? If this is so, were they mainly friends or family, or were quite a few of them strangers? Finally, if the killers confiscated Kenneth’s video system, why didn’t they take Christopher’s also? Were they aware it even existed? We know virtually nothing about the video evidence, but it’s time to start asking some nosey questions!

Donald Stone’s Telling Television Interview!

Stymied by overarching deliberation, I switched gears to a more focused approach (a posteriori), desperate attempts at broaching the twists and turns of this multi-dimensional crime. After viewing the Donald ‘Donny’ Stone (cousin of victim, Kenneth Rhoden) interview on WLWT 5 – Cincinnati several times, I scurried over to the multitude of articles I’ve thought to print out on the Rhoden case, mining specifically, what Donald Stone has said to reporters, or random observations made about him in the press (or elsewhere). I assume Mr. Stone has come to a harsh realization, he’s getting put under a red-hot magnifying glass and then some!

Donald discovered the body of his cousin, Kenneth Rhoden, 44, (at 799 Left Fork Road, Rardon), after hearing the terrible news of the other 7 victims; as such, Kenneth was the last to be found. Donald’s 911 call has been characterized by some as dispassionate, but this isn’t so ominous, he was just doing what he had to do. Several aspects of the crime scene came off as unusual to Stone. Nearly $1,000 in cash was noticed lying on the bed where Kenneth died *(the question arises whether some of the bills were actually placed on the body). I wondered whether he had counted it at the time, or rather that law enforcement later released this figure. Was the money clue left by the killer(s) as a warning?

Another oddity I found out (in my most recent probe), was that a CCTV system (a video camera installation), installed in Kenneth’s camper, had been removed by the perpetrators; or at least, this is what D.S. claims. Then we have the unresolved situation with the victim’s pet pit-bull dog, Brownie, who gets ferocious with law officers when they dropped by, but was tame as a kitten (purportedly) when the intruders paid Kenneth a visit the night before. To me, a startling revelation is transparent as a plate-glass window: K.R. knew his guests!

One last observation made by Stone had me scratching my head. He first noticed the marijuana plants growing nearby K.R.’s camper, on the day he came upon the appalling scene (April 22nd). Since he probably had dropped by many times before, we can’t help but wonder why Donny hadn’t noticed these plants well before. I don’t mean to suggest he’s lying, but nonetheless, this discrepancy is not easily reconciled, as I turn it over and over in my mind. And what about Kenneth only getting shot once, whereas many of the other victims were shot multiple times (one 9 times, and one 7); what does this tell you?

Towing the Rhoden Trailer Homes Preserves the Crime Scene!

I was awestruck when viewing news footage from last Thursday (May 12th) of a caravan of trailers in tow, gliding gingerly down some of Ohio’s rural highways! Law enforcement (Attorney General Mike DeWine, Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader and his team, plus so many agents with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation) working on the Rhoden case, are taking very drastic measures to assure the crime scenes will not be compromised; this is the largest investigation ever in Ohio’s history, so the stakes are as high as they can be. This thoroughness is understandable; just think of the O.J. Simpson case and how the LAPD dropped the ball as far as how they handled what turned into two crime scenes. I rest my case, they (Ohio) did the right thing!

Surreal (a word used by a Cincinnati Enquirer writer) is a good one to describe the meandering caravan of trailers! I thought of shocking also; I sense the image is symbolic of something greater, but I’m not exactly sure what that might be. It’s almost like they were removing a slice of that culture (the Appalachian thing) in order to create a (novelty) museum. I exaggerate, and pardon me for this grim crumb of humor, but this has actually happened in the past many times before, such as the Bonnie and Clyde Ford (a traveling exhibit) riddled with thousands of bullet holes, that certainly brought in the crowds. I’ll need to rest this extension, I know it doesn’t apply here, but I bet I’m not the only one who came up with this interpolation.

Finally, I’m going to make a few comments about the tremendous number of vehicles, belonging to the Rhodens, confiscated by the law. This is a back story or one which hasn’t been given a great deal of coverage; for me, however, it increasingly rises to the surface, gaining significance! 100 to 150 cars are in the Waverly compound, according to Leonard Manley, father of Dana Rhoden. You can add to that a semi-tractor trailer, a hoe, a dump truck, and who knows what else. Manley says Christopher Sr. would fix cars up and sell them. But jeez, this doesn’t look like a sideline operation; it looks more like a really big, full-time operation to me! And that represents a lot of money, even if these cars were broken-down pieces of junk. Or is something else going on here?

(Photo credit: Scenes of death roll slowly up rural highways, by Bob Strickley and Chris Graves – Cincinnati Enquirer – May 13, 2016)

John Kays
John Kays identifies timeless remnants from our past that will endure, or be admired by future generations.