PIKE COUNTY/SCIOTO COUNTY LINE, Ohio — It's the image of her 6-month-old nephew covered in blood “from head-to-toe" stroking his slain father’s upper chest that Bobby Jo Manley can’t get out of her mind.
Ruger Rhoden was wearing a diaper and on his hands and knees when she found him between the bodies of his father, Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, and his mother, Hannah Gilley, the morning of April 22. The three were in the same blood-soaked bed. The baby was not crying.
But Manley, 36, started weeping as she recalled leaning over Frankie Rhoden’s body to pick Ruger up and carry him out of the trailer on Union Hill Road. She said she wrapped Ruger in a blanket, put her hoodie sweatshirt on his 3-year-old brother, Brentley, and ran out of the trailer with the two children.
“I was not leaving those babies in there. All I wanted was to get those babies out of there," she said in exclusive interviews with the Cincinnati Enquirer Tuesday and Wednesday. “Thank God, they didn’t take those babies, too.”
Manley would discover four bodies in two adjacent Rhoden family residences that morning. It is her frantic 911 call the public has heard played repeatedly on news websites and TV news shows the past two weeks.
The interviews are the first time Manley has publicly discussed the discoveries. The details she described are the most specific disclosures yet about the killings of eight people that rocked this rural community about 90 miles east of Cincinnati.
Authorities have declined to release much information about the nation's largest mass-killing in 2016 in which there have been no arrests.The Attorney General's Office on Wednesday would not confirm any of the details Manley offered.
Attorney General Mike DeWine has repeatedly called the Rhoden family killings a “calculated, cold-blooded, pre-planned execution."
Manley calls it a nightmare.
'Rhoden! Rhoden! Rhoden!'
That Friday morning started out much like every other morning, she said. Manley got up about 6:10 a.m. to wake her 15-year-old daughter by 6:30 a.m. and get her on the bus to school by 7. Then — as she did most every weekday morning — she drove over to the trailer of Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40, to feed his dogs and chickens. Rhoden was her brother-in-law.
She had a friend and his wife with her when she pulled into the driveway. She left her cellphone charging in the car and went up to the trailer. She turned the handle of the door and thought it was odd it was locked, she said. She also thought it was odd that Rhoden's two pit bulls were outside on the front porch, one sitting in a recliner. The animals normally stayed inside the trailer, she said.
She found the key and opened the door.
She saw a “bunch of blood in the front room,’’ and what looked like drag marks in blood from there to a back bedroom.
“I yelled, 'Rhoden! Rhoden! Rhoden!'" she recalled, and ran to Chris Rhoden's bedroom.
That's where she saw Gary Rhoden, 38, lying on his stomach. Dead. Just up from his body, she saw a bloodied Chris Rhoden, also on his stomach. He was dead, as well.
Chris and Gary Rhoden were cousins.
She said she did not see any guns or shell casings in the trailer, but she did notice a window in a bedroom was wide open.
She said she ran out of the trailer, crying. Manley thinks she was screaming: “Get me my phone, get my phone.” She called 911 at 7:49 a.m. and had to look at the mailbox to find the address, which the police operator wanted.
'Where is your daddy?'
She then went to the next trailer to alert her nephew Frankie Rhoden that she had found his father dead.
But his front door was locked, too.
She pounded on the door, calling for Frankie or for Brentley to open the door for "Aunt Jo."
The toddler unlocked the door and let her in.
“I said: ‘Where is your daddy? Where is your daddy?'" she said. "He pointed to the bedroom.”
That’s when she discovered her nephew and his fiancee dead in bed. She said Frankie Rhoden, who was lying on his back, had a black left eye, but she couldn’t tell where they had been shot: "There was just all that blood in the middle of the bed."
She said she did not see any guns or shell casings in that trailer, either, but did see a window in that bedroom was wide open, she said.
Tears welled in Manley’s eyes as she described how she found Gilley. Manley demonstrated by lying down on her parents’ couch. She curled up on her right side as if she were in the fetal position and said she is convinced Gilley had been nursing her infant son.
"Whoever did this is one sick son of a ...," she stopped herself, "gun."
Both Frankie Rhoden and Gilley were 20 years old. Infant Ruger is in the custody of child protective services. Brentley, who had a different mother, is with a family member.
'I didn't kill my family'
Manley said she thinks one of the people in her car may have followed her into one of the trailers, but she's not sure which one or what they saw. She said she can't remember many details after the discoveries, including how her older brother, James Manley, came to find their sister Dana Rhoden dead in her trailer, which is north of the other two trailers on Union Hill Road.
"He could hear the baby crying and he backed up out of there," said his wife, April Manley, in a separate interview describing what her husband told her. "He didn't want to find his niece like that."
Also found dead in that trailer:
Dana Rhoden's and Chris Rhoden Sr.'s daughter, Hanna Rhoden, 19. She was shot to death in bed with her 5-day-old daughter, Kylie, lying next to her, authorities said. Kylie was alive and remains in the custody of protective services.
Chris Rhoden Jr., 16, a high school freshman who'd recently earned his driver's license.
The eighth victim, Chris Rhoden Sr.'s brother Kenneth Rhoden, was found dead in a fourth trailer miles away. He was 44.
Bobby Jo Manley said she, her brother and his son as well as the two people who were with her that morning were taken to be questioned. They took her shirt and her pants and her shoes. They took her fingerprints and swabbed the inside of her mouth, presumably for her DNA, she said.
She said she understands why they had to do that; but she said she was startled by the question of a Pike County prosecutor's investigator.
"He asked me: 'How much did someone pay you to kill your family?'" Manley said, again tearing up.
"I didn't kill my family," she said. "I'd never wish this on anybody."
'I won't ever see them again'
She and other members of the Manley family have said they feel unfairly targeted by investigators. But focusing on those closest to a homicide victim — like family members and friends — is a routine investigative strategy.
The attorney general, DeWine, has steadfastly declined to discuss specifics about the case, who investigators have interviewed or a possible motive. He has said investigators found three marijuana grow sites and evidence of cockfighting at the crime scenes, but he stopped short of linking either of those to a motive.
Still the implication that Manley could be involved in her family deaths hurts, she said.
She is making decorations for their graves and plans to visit those soon.
Manley said she helped her sister Dana raise her children and was helping Frankie and Hanna raise their new families.
"Not having my family with me is the hardest. Sure we had our little arguments here and there, but they still love you, you still love them,'' she said. "I won't ever see them again until I meet them in heaven or hell.
"I'll visit the graveyard," she said.
"But it's not the same."
Anyone with information about the crimes is asked to call 1-800-BCI-OHIO (224-6446) or the Pike County Sheriff's Office at 740-947-1111