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Leonard Manley, outspoken patriarch of 5 murdered in Rhoden family killings, dies

leonard manley rhoden family
John Minchillo
Leonard Manley, father and grandfather of several murder victims, gets into his truck after speaking with police on Union Hill Road beside a roadblock at the outer perimeter of a crime scene, Wednesday, April 27, 2016, in Piketon, Ohio. Seven adults and 16-year-old boy were found dead Friday, April 22 at four properties near Piketon.

Leonard Manley, the fierce patriarch whose devotion to his family never waned during the investigation into the slayings of his daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren in Pike County in 2016, died Sunday. He was 70.

Manley was the father of Dana Manley Rhoden, 37; father-in-law of Christopher Rhoden, Sr., 40; and grandfather of Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; Hanna Rhoden, 19; and Christopher Rhoden, Jr., 16 — five of the eight victims in the killings that also left Hannah Hazel Gilley, 20; Kenneth Rhoden, 44; and Gary Rhoden, 38, dead.

Manley, a mechanic who broke his neck as a young man while working for a logging company and managed to find help on his own, died at home from natural causes, according to the Pike County Coroner’s Office in Waverly. There will not be an autopsy.

Services are pending at the Wallace-Thompson Funeral Home in Peebles, according to the Rev. Phil Fulton, pastor at Union Hill Church.

"He got liver cancer and two months ago he gave his heart to the Lord and he said he was the happiest he had ever been in his life," said Fulton, who is also fighting cancer. “Bless his heart. I loved that man, I really did.”

Manley, at first a vocal critic of law enforcement as the investigation dragged from months into years, later became a fixture at the Pike County courthouse after authorities arrested four members of another local family in the slayings. Manley vowed to seek justice for his family and he rarely missed a court hearing.

In those early days, however, his sometimes gruff demeanor was off-putting to some in law enforcement and the media. But one thing was clear: He loved his family.

He once said the slayings shattered him.

"You go down and ask about Dana, they will all tell you: I spoiled my girl," he said during an interview just days after the killings outside his home. "They would tell you her dad would do anything for her."

In the early weeks and months of the investigation, suspicion swirled around his surviving family members and some in the community pointed fingers at his son, James Manley, and daughter, Bobby Jo Manley, as possible suspects in what became the state’s largest and most complex criminal investigation.

Bobby Jo Manley called 911 when she discovered four of the eight bodies in two trailers on Union Hill Road on April 22, 2016. She also called her father, who lived less than two miles away, that fateful morning.

Leonard Manley said he knew his family was not involved. He was among the first to point the finger at the Wagner family as potential suspects in the slayings, citing a bitter battle between the two families brewing for months over child custody.

He was correct.

Two years later — and after investigators subjected his son and daughter to lie detector tests and surveillance — authorities arrested four members of the Wagner family and charged them in the homicides.

Jake Wagner pleaded guilty in April to eight counts of first-degree murder and 15 lesser charges, and agreed to testify against his mother, father and older brother in the case. In exchange, prosecutors agreed to remove the death penalty from the cases.

In September, prosecutors dropped eight aggravated murder charges against Wagner’s mother, Angela, 50. In exchange, she pleaded guilty to 14 lesser charges and she agreed to serve 30 years in prison with no option for early release.

Through it all, Manley and his wife, Judy, sought solace at Union Hill Church and continued to attend services there when they were able, Fulton said.

"With all he went through, I tried to understand all that. What that poor man went though," Fulton said. "Nothing, just nothing was as important as his family."

Manley is survived by his wife, Judy; his son, James “George,” and daughter-in-law, April; daughters Bobby Jo, and Kathy Clay and son-in-law Henry Clay; and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.