Legal analyst and former prosecutor Beth Karas is the host of ‘The Piketon Family Murders’ special. HL spoke with Beth about the shocking murders and what it’s been like exploring this case.
The brutal murders of 7 members of the Rhoden family and the fiancee of one of the victims took the small town of Piketon, Ohio, by storm in 2016. For more than two years, the residents of Piketon waited for a major break in the case. In Nov. 2018, a series of arrests were finally made that took the town by storm once again. Four members of a prominent family with a connection to the Rhodens were charged with first-degree murder. Oxygen Media’s two-hour special, The Piketon Family Murders, airing March 31 at 7 p.m. ET, will explore the complicated and horrific massacre.
Beth Karas, who is hosting the special, spoke with HollywoodLife EXCLUSIVELY about the special and complex case. Beth told HollywoodLife that the two-hour special “lays the groundwork for us looking ahead. It just explains what’s happened to date and why we don’t know more. We know enough, but we don’t know more.” Beth has covered a number of high-profile cases over the years, including the Casey Anthony and Jodi Arias cases. We asked Beth what her initial reaction was to this jaw-dropping massacre.
“I was just shocked,” Beth said. “Who does this? We hear about mass killings, whether it’s a school shooting or an office place shooting because of a disgruntled employee. So, unfortunately, mass killings are too common these days, but this one differed because it was a family in four locations [7 family members and the fiancee of one of them]. This was a coordinated effort and now we know, according to law enforcement, wasn’t done by one person. The kind of mass shootings we hear about in a school or an office place, it’s one person who’s disgruntled or mentally ill, whatever the motive is. It’s one person doing it. Here, it was not that case apparently. It was coordinated. It was planned. It was methodical.”
The young children, including an infant who was born just days earlier, were left alive. Police believe a child custody dispute between Edward “Jake” Wagner, one of the Wagner family members who was arrested, and Hannah Rhoden, one of the family members killed, prompted the mass killings. However, Beth believes there may be more to the story. “Regarding the custody battle, it’s hard to believe that that’s it. There may be some beef between the two families, custody being one. But the people in the community I talked to, who are skeptical, they don’t believe that you would kill 8 people over a custody battle, especially since the Wagners had a lot of money to fight a custody battle, to get joint custody, for example. I don’t know if Jake wanted full custody. But really what was reasonable was joint, if anything, right? Why kill 8 people over that? Like why the cousin Kenneth in a totally different location? I don’t understand. A message was being sent out.”
Once Beth got involved with the special, she started doing her own digging into the special. “I can’t help it. It’s what I do,” Beth said. “Because of my background, when I go into a community, sometimes people will know who I am or they will check me out and they’ll say, ‘Oh, we know who she is. You can trust her. You can talk to her.’ Over the years, my 19 years at Court TV, I’ve built up trust as an on-air person and somebody who was a straight shooter, so I’m finding that that’s happening here. I had doors shut on me when I was in Ohio, but not all. I left my card places, and I’m starting to get people contacting me. Nothing that’s reportable at this point, but people are reaching out to me, and I am continuing to dig into the story. While law enforcement is preparing now or prosecutors are preparing for trial, reporters want to know what law enforcement knows, and sometimes things that they may not have learned or can’t use at trial. We’re always interested in sort of collateral things that may not be admissible at trial, so I am continuing to dig and take a look. The community is still split, at least the people that I’ve talked to. I’m listening to what everyone has to say. I’m listening to all the theories, but not reporting anything until I have something else reportable.”