Pike County murders: Arrests ‘put a Band-Aid on an open wound’

Waverly barber Bill Harbert
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Waverly barber Bill Harbert

For more than 2½ years, uncertainty and fear hung over this rural community. Eight people had been gunned down in their homes and it wasn’t clear if detectives even had suspects. Were the killers still in their community? Would it ever be solved?

Now state and local law enforcement officials claim they have the murderers in custody; a family of four was arrested Tuesday and charged with the crime. Two others were charged with helping cover it up.

“It’s putting a Band-Aid on an open wound. It’s definitely trying to heal itself now,” said Bill Harbert, a barber in Waverly, the county seat.

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Harbert said his customers have speculated for years about who could have committed a crime so sophisticated it apparently left investigators with few leads. There was a spike in applications for conceal carry permits, he said.

“We feel a little safer now, thinking that they’re off the street, hoping the right people are off the street,” he said. “It’s been scary for the whole community.”

He said the Wagners were known for having a nice farm and real estate, and “nothing really bad was ever said around here about them.”

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Saundra Ford, a co-worker of victim Dana Rhoden, said they have been “all on pins and needles” waiting for an arrest.

She said the community’s attention turned to the Wagners when they moved to Alaska last year.

“The minute they left town everybody started speculating,” she said.

But while the community is feeling relief, it may be a while before they get closure, according to Matt Lucas, managing editor, Pike County News Watchman.

“Everybody kind of wondered if the day would ever come when they would make any arrests,” he said, noting what is to follow is possibly years of legal proceedings that will be hard on the victims’ family and friends.

“The process is just beginning and it’s not over by a long stretch,” he said.

“Something has happened. There’s movement on the case,” Lucas said. “But it’s in the early stages as far as closure.”

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