This aerial photo shows one of the locations being investigated in Pike County, Ohio, as part of an ongoing homicide investigation; eight people were found dead at four crime scenes. (Lisa Marie Miller, The Columbus Dispatch via AP)

Details on Ohio slayings of 8 include marijuana growing, cockfighting

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine won’t confirm most of the theories swirling around the small, rural town of Piketon, Ohio — rumors of gang turf wars, Mexican drug cartels and stealthy trained assassins. But the few details he has released in the days since eight people were brutally executed there offers a glimpse into what does indeed appear to be a degree of mystery surrounding the victims’ lives — and the businesses with which they were associated.

News that marijuana plants were found growing at three of the four crime scenes broke Sunday, but in a radio interview Monday DeWine offered more specifics. The plants were not recreational or in short supply, DeWine said. He called them “commercial marijuana operation(s).”

“In other words, this is not a plant in a window or six or seven plants out in the backyard in the garden or something. They were doing this to sell,” DeWine told radio personality Bill Cunningham. “We don’t know whether it is relevant or not, but at this point everything is relevant.”

Perhaps even more bizarre was the discovery of roosters at one of the homes, caged separately, a common practice to keep aggressors apart and a clue that someone in the family may have been running a cockfighting enterprise, which is illegal. Cockfighting and its associated gambling, according to the Humane Society of the United States, is frequently connected with illegal drug activity.

Five days into the investigation, no arrests have been made and few questions have been answered, including who may have targeted the Rhoden family and why. More than 100 tips have flooded law enforcement officials, who have interviewed more than 60 people since the killings last week.

When Cunningham pressed DeWine further about possible motives based on the case’s mounting details, ingredients for a crime drama worthy of Truman Capote or the TV show “Fargo,” the attorney general balked.

“Nothing is off the table,” he said. “We don’t want to come up with some theory and try to fit the facts into the theory.”

The nation has been absorbed by this corner of Appalachia since Friday, when eight members of the Rhoden family were found shot, execution style, across four separate crime scenes in an isolated stretch of Pike County, a jurisdiction with a declining population of about 28,000 people, with a median household income of about $39,000 compared with the national median of about $51,000. Most of the victims, ranging in age from 16 to 44, were found still in bed, as if they’d been shot while sleeping.

The victims were identified as 40-year-old Christopher Rhoden Sr.; his 16-year-old son, Christopher Rhoden Jr.; 44-year-old Kenneth Rhoden; 38-year-old Gary Rhoden; 37-year-old Dana Rhoden; 20-year-old Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden; 20-year-old Hannah Gilley; and 19-year-old Hanna Rhoden.

Hanna Rhoden’s newborn baby, less than a week old, was found near her mother’s body, the AP reported. The newborn, along with Hannah Gilley’s 6-month-old baby and another small child, were unhurt, reports said.

By Monday, all eight autopsies had been completed by the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office, according to a news release. DeWine’s office also compiled a Rhoden family tree, outlining how each of the victims was related.

Three of the youngest victims — Hanna, Clarence and Christopher Rhoden Jr. — were the children of Dana Rhoden and Christopher Rhoden Sr. The elder Rhodens were divorced.

Hanna Gilley and Clarence Rhoden were in a relationship, according to the chart, and were parents to a 6-month-old baby boy. Clarence Rhoden also had a 3-year-old son by a different mother.

The other two victims, Kenneth Rhoden and Gary Rhoden, were a brother and cousin, respectively, to Christopher Rhoden Sr.

Their bodies were found by family inside three trailer homes clustered close together on Union Hill Road and a fourth location about a 10-minute drive away.

Pike County prosecutor Rob Junk told The Columbus Dispatch that authorities were not aware of the marijuana or cockfighting ventures until the slayings. They were familiar with the family only because of prior “altercations with people,” Junk told the paper.

Thirty-five special agents with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, an arm of the Attorney General’s Office, have been dispatched to Pike County to help local law enforcement with the case. Roadblocks still guard the crime scenes, according to a news release.

DeWine told Cunningham that authorities are working nonstop to solve the case, but that because of the sophisticated and calculated nature of the attacks, the investigation will take time.

“In Ohio’s history, I don’t think we’ve ever had any tragedy quite like this,” he said.

A memorial fund has been set up to help the Rhoden family and donations can be made to a Fifth Third Bank, according to DeWine’s office. An Ohio business man has offered a $25,000 reward to anyone who provides information to authorities that leads to the capture or arrest of those responsible for the slayings.

The Pike County Sheriff’s Office asks anyone with information to call 1-855-BCI-OHIO or 740-947-2111.