Officials remain tight-lipped about investigation details
By Patricia Beech
Rumors and speculations have continued to mount in Pike County as the investigation into the Rhoden family murders continues without any conclusive answers from investigators.
News of a commercial-size marijuana-grow operation at three of the crime scenes has fueled speculation about connections to a Mexican drug cartel. On his radio talk show Tuesday Bill Cunnigham of 700 WLW suggested that rural counties like Piketon serve as smuggling routes for cartel operations in Dayton, Cincinnati and other surrounding metropolitan areas.
Speculation about a cartel role in the murders was ramped up Tuesday by rumors that the corpse of the eighth victim, Kenneth Rhoden, was found with money “strewn from his knees down giving some validity to the idea that the execution-style killings were the work of hit men hired by a Mexican cartel.” Rhoden’s body was discovered by his cousin Donald Stone. Officials refused to confirm or deny the story, even though they have called the killings sophisticated and well-planned.
Leonard Manley, Dana Rhoden’s father, also questioned why the two pit bulls at the Union Hill property failed to alert the victims. He told Channel 10 Live, “Whoever done it had to know the family because there were two dogs there that would eat you up.” Manley said he believed the assailants must have been familiar with the dogs.
The coroner’s report released Tuesday provided new details about the shooting deaths. Autopsies revealed that most of the victims were shot three to nine times and some had mild to severe bruising. The three women, four men, and 16-year-old boy had gun shot wounds to their heads, torsos, and other body parts. One victim was shot once, another had two gun shot wounds, and the rest had three or more.
Attorney General Mike DeWine said Wednesday that investigators have received more than 300 tips and are still serving search warrants, but would give no information about the number or locations. He said 79 pieces of evidence have been sent to a state crime lab for DNA and fingerprint analysis.
Ohio and Pike County authorities are leading the investigation, with help from more 215 law enforcement personnel including county sheriffs from as far away as Lake Erie. The FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) are also assisting. Despite the overwhelming law-enforcement response, no arrests have been made and officials are tight lipped about possible suspects.
“I assume that the person or people who committed these murders are watching the news reports that are coming out of Pike County,” DeWine said, “I do not want to broadcast any information that will let them know details about this investigation which would be helpful to them and which would hinder our investigation.”
After visiting the crime scenes Wednesday, DeWine said the priority is to get convictions, not just arrests.
“It’s a case that will eventually have to be prosecuted in court,” he said, “As much as we would like to share information with the public, we have no intention of doing anything that can jeopardize this case.” He said they were determined to get what everyone wants, “Justice for the victims.”
DeWine said that visiting the crime scenes gave him a frame of reference for looking at the case, “You think just a few days ago, there was a family living here, if we need to be reminded of the gravity of the situation, that brings it home.”
Refusing to confirm or deny multiple speculative questions at Wednesday’s press conference, he acknowledged there are several potential scenarios and possibilities, but said he did not intend to shoot down every single rumor.
Officials have received over 30o tips during the week-long investigation. DeWine said there was concern about polluting the thinking of potential informants: “We do not want to suggest the investigation is going in any particular direction,” he said. “That information could in fact influence tips and information that we might receive.”
He said investigators do not want to give the killer or killers any indication of where the investigation is going, or what information they have or do not have.
“As more facts come in, you can make educated guesses,” the Attorney General told reporters Wednesday, but our job is not to make educated guesses, our job is to find out the truth. We’re not only seeking convictions, ultimately what we’re about today is finding the truth. The people of Pike County have a right to know the truth, the victims family has a right to know the truth, and they have a right to have these people brought to justice. That is our focus.”
Attempting to dispel rumors and reassure anxious Pike County residents, Sheriff Charles Reader cautioned that only the information coming directly from his office or the Attorney General should be considered verified.
He said that since the murders his office has ten times its normal manpower: “I want to assure my county citizens that we are stepping it up to make sure that everything is going to be okay.”
Reader confirmed his office would provide whatever security was needed during the family funerals.
Family cousin, Gary Rhoden, 38 was buried Wednesday in South Shore, Ky., the Crockett L. Reed Funeral Home presided. Kenneth Rhoden, 44 will be interned at Mound Cemetery in Piketon next to his son who succumbed to cancer.
Services for Hannah Gilley, fiancee of “Frankie” Rhoden is scheduled for Saturday, April 30. Arrangements were handled by The Botkin Hornback Funeral Home in Waverly, interment was at the Hackworth Hill Cemetery.
The visitation for Christopher Rhoden Sr. 40, Dana Rhoden 37, Christopher Rhoden Jr. 16, Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden 21, and Hannah Rhoden 19, will be conducted by the Roger W. Davis Funeral Home in West Portsmouth on Monday, May 2 from noon-4 p.m. Funeral services will be held Tuesday, May 3 at noon at the Dry Run Church of Christ on SR 73/104.
Funds to help the family with funeral expenses may be donated at any Fifth Third Bank, at First State Bank in Peebles, or sent directly to the Roger W. Davis Funeral Home at 1310 3rd St., West Portsmouth, Ohio 45663.
Call 1-855-BCI-OHIO (224-6446). if you have any information about the case.