Ohio’s attorney general said Monday that cockfighting chickens were found at one of the properties where eight members of the same extended family were killed execution-style last week.
Mike DeWine told The Cincinnati Enquirer that investigators found roosters kept in individual cages, which he said was “consistent with” an illegal cockfighting operation. DeWine cautioned, however that investigators “don’t know what’s relevant” to the murders of members of the Rhoden family.
Also Monday, a local prosecutor confirmed that several hundred marijauna plants were found at three of the crime scenes, some of which were sheltered in a large grow-house.
“It wasn’t just somebody sitting pots in the window,” Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk told The Columbus Dispatch.
All eight victims were fatally shot in the head, including a young mother whose newborn baby was sleeping beside her Friday morning. That baby, another infant and a toddler were spared.
The youngest victim Christopher Rhoden Jr., was a 16-year-old freshman at Piketon High School, which has just 530 students. The teen’s siblings and fellow victims — 19-year-old Hanna Rhoden and 20-year-old Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden — also had attended the school.
All eight autopsies have been completed, and while authorities have released no details about a motive, the Attorney General’s office did confirm Monday that one of the victims had received a threat via Facebook. Junk, the Pike County prosecutor, did not immediately respond to multiple requests from The Associated Press for comment.
Extensive marijuana-growing operations are not uncommon in sparsely populated rural southern Ohio, an economically distressed corner of Appalachia. Two of the four homes that became crime scenes Friday are within walking distance of each other along a remote, winding road leading into wooded hills from a rural highway. The others are nearby.
Piketon — about 60 miles south of Columbus and 90 miles east of Cincinnati — is in Pike County, which is home to just 28,000 people and has an unemployment rate of 8.6 percent, considerably higher than Ohio’s rate of 5.1. A main employer is a shuttered Cold War-era uranium plant whose cleanup provides hundreds of local jobs.
More than 22,000 marijuana plants were seized in Pike County in 2010, and while authorities made no arrests, they said they found two abandoned camps where Mexican nationals apparently stayed. In 2012, another 1,200 plants were seized in Pike County in an operation connected to a Mexican drug cartel, the Attorney General’s office said. Seizures continued in 2013 and 2014 in the county.
The victims have been identified as 40-year-old Christopher Rhoden Sr.; his ex-wife, 37-year-old Dana Rhoden; their three children; Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s brother, 44-year-old Kenneth Rhoden; their cousin, 38-year-old Gary Rhoden; and 20-year-old Hannah Gilley, whose 6-month old son with “Frankie” was unharmed.
DeWine said the state’s crime lab was looking at 18 pieces of evidence from a DNA and ballistic standpoint, and that five search warrants have been executed. More than 100 tips have been given to investigators, and a Cincinnati-area businessman offered a $25,000 reward for details leading to those responsible.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.