Show Notes Rhoden Family Slaughter and The Vandling Murder

This show, “Michigan and other Mayhem”, is a sort of factual, slightly comical, always earnest podcast about interesting stuff in Michigan and around the world. It is done by two sisters-in-law (Ali and Jenn) that like to talk about random interesting stories.  Expect cults, mysteries, murder, fast-talking, and a couple of mental palate cleansers… and cuss words.  Those happen on this show, a lot.

Episode 20: Rhoden Family Slaughter, Vandling Murder

Click Here to Listen to Episode 20

Alerts:

  • Pretend podcast music (because we couldn’t find any we liked enough for a theme song).
  • Ali has a weird laugh. It is often loud.

Rhoden Family Slaughter

Pike county massacre, where eight members of the Rhoden family were killed execution style, shot in the head, in 2018.  The victims live in four separate homes in the same village, a rural area in Ohio.

They were all killed by being shot in the head.  Some of the family members were sleeping in their beds when it happened.  Some people were shot multiple times, including one person being shot nine times. The murderers left three children in the homes unharmed.  They were ages 4 years and younger.

People murdered:  Mom and Dad Rhoden, their children, one of their children’s fiancé, and a cousin.  Dana Rhoden, Christopher Rhoden Sr., Christopher Rhoden Jr., Kenneth Rhoden, Hanna May Rhoden, Frankie Rhoden, Hannah Giley, Gary Rhoden.

In 2018, a family of four, parents George III, Angela, and their children George IV, and Jake Wagner, were arrested. They were charged with the aggravated murder of the Rhoden family.

Jake Wagner was an ex-boyfriend of Hanna Rhoden, and they had a 3-year-old daughter together.

The Wagners spent months planning the murder, watching the family’s habits and studying layouts of the homes and properties. It was believed that child custody was one of the reasons for the murders.

Two other arrests were made in the case, with the mother of George III being brought in for tampering with evidence, and the mother of Angela Wagner for the same reason. Angela Wagner has asked for her case to be in a different courthouse because of extensive publicity.  Angela has also asked for the death penalty to be removed as it is unconstitutional in Ohio.

(Michigan was the first English-speaking government to ban the death penalty for all cases but treason. Come to Michigan if you don’t want to be executed.)

Jenn thought it was crazy that one whole family was involved in executing another whole family.

Vandling Murder

Most of my information comes from Litter Girl Lost, The True Story of the Vandling Murder by Tammy Mal.

A young girl named Mae Barrett was murdered on January 2, 1945, tail end of World War 2, in a small town in Pennsylvania.

Mae had moved to Vandling, Pennsylvania to live with her maternal grandparents, with her little sister Nan. Her mother had died of ovarian cancer at a young age, and her father had two elderly aunts to care for. While Mae spent summers with her father, she was being raised by her grandparents.

Mae was nine years old on the night she was murdered. She was described as gutsy and spirited. Mae was known for being smart and tenacious, unafraid of challenges. She enjoyed church and being with other people. Mae was very independent.

Mae was killed by Myron Semunchick, a 13-year-old teenager. Myron had been described as a good-looking boy, well mannered. His mother was a bit of a smother, a smothering mother, named Anna. There is some mom-blaming that goes on in the book, not necessarily by the author, but by people in the community at the time.  When it comes to sociopathy, I think sometimes it is nature, sometimes it is nurture, and sometimes it is a crapshoot of both.

Myron had been very sick as a baby and his mother, Anna, who was already caring for her invalid mother, responded by becoming overprotective and somewhat manipulative over her only child. She would tether him to her until he was older than five when they were out of the house.  (Baby leashes were a thing for a longer time than I knew. This is the early 1930’s.)

He wasn’t often let out to play with other children, not even in his own yard. He could be seen crying at the yard’s gate and sometimes in frustration he would throw rocks and sticks at the other children passing by on the sidewalk. During family Sunday dinners all the children would come dressed to play, but Anna would dress Myron up in his best clothes and then tell him he couldn’t play because his good clothes would be ruined. He’d be stuck inside listening to adults talk, instead of being outside with the other kids, playing.  He already had a hard time getting along with other kids.

Myron was recognized as having above average intelligence by age of seven. After Anna’s mother, Myron’s grandmother, passed away their family moved to a home on Main Street in Vandling.

In 1939, when Myron was 8 years old, he came down with chicken pox, then mumps, then whooping cough, almost dying. He had all the diseases. This could be where his brain was fried, I don’t know, I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on TV. After that, he started having seizures and he had uncontrolled twitching in one arm. They thought he had a terminal disease but after extensive testing, a small tumor was removed from his right arm and he made a complete recovery.

Myron’s mom kicked her overprotective behavior up to an unnecessary notch. He was coddled and spoiled with material goods, but all within the confines of the house. Eventually, Metro, Myron’s dad –cool name—put his foot down and Myron was able to venture outside and play with other kids.

Parents and teachers thought that Myron was a great kid, good looking and well behaved, and athletically inclined. He was considered the “golden boy” of Vandling by adults. Other kids thought he was just alright.

Myron had a weird fascination with knives and often carried one.  He even made up a weird stabby knife game he likes to play. He liked to play with a set of brass knuckles that he had. His playmates were usually younger than him.

Myron was shy around girls, but he was interested in them. Some girls liked him, others felt uncomfortable around Myron.  It is a tossup whether or not he gave off creepy vibes.

There was as time in which Myron had argued with his grandfather and pulled a hatchet on him, saying he would kill him. His grandpa ran off, and the next time he came around Myron, everyone acted as if nothing had happened. Myron had other weird, slightly dangerous games he liked to play but nothing too alarming to the times.  The country was at war and it was considered to influence the way children played.

January 2, 1945, Mae and a friend went to a church social together in the evening. Afterward, Mae decided not to ride the bus that came at 8:45 p.m. and instead was going to walk the mile home. This wasn’t uncommon for Mae or other children to do at the time. Small town life.

There was heavy snow that night, but she was bundled in full gear, including snow pants. Mae stopped at a local store bought herself, her sister, and her cousin ice cream cones with the money she saved on bus fare. As Mae was walking in the store, Myron and a friend named Louie were walking out. The boys started walking to Vandling, just ahead of Mae by about 200 feet.

The boys made it to the edge of Vandling and Louie headed home.  His mother had been very cross that he had wanted to out that night during a storm and she demanded he come home by 9 p.m. Myron told Louie he might go to the poolhall to buy a soda, and the two parted ways.

Myron did not go to the pool hall but continued up the Main street. At one point he had stopped to pick up a heavy piece of wood.  He had been having fantasies about “doing something”, and in the quiet of the dark and snow, with an unattended little girl, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to him.

Myron went around the side of an auto garage called Fries’ Garage and waited for Mae. Mae’s house is less than 100 yards from the garage. As Myron waited, he kicked around in the snow at a pile of discarded parts and found a metal shock absorber that weighed between 8 and 10 pounds. He decided it was a better weapon, so he tossed aside the wood piece he had and continued waiting.

At this point, Mae’s family is starting to worry a little. When she didn’t arrive at 9:15pm, they thought that she might have stopped by the movie theatre to speak with her aunt who worked at the ticket counter. Elizabeth, Mae’s grandma, did call with a few homes of Mae’s playmates and everyone agreed they had seen her in town. Her grandma was worried about the cold and snow and thought that maybe after Mae chatted with her aunt, she then took the 10 p.m. bus.

Unfortunately, Myron Semunchick, was there to stop Mae’s journey three houses down from her own. As Mae passed the garage, Myron grabbed the hood of her coat and pulled her back, causing her to scream and almost lose her balance. Mae wheeled around and tried to break the grip on her coat.

When she saw the person holding her, she called out Myron’s name. This alarmed Myron.  He didn’t know that she knew his name and he was terrified someone had heard her call out. He was also startled by how strong she was as she fought to be free of him. Myron slammed the shock absorber into her left temple

The blow dazed her, and she started to bleed from her temple. Mae’s knees buckled, and Myron held on to her. She moaned, and let out little small cries, which again scared him, and he began to panic. The two of them were close to occupied homes and he wanted her quiet. He struck her with the shock absorber again, as hard as he could. Mae went limp this time.

Myron grabbed her under her arms and dragged/carried her to a house he knew was unoccupied. Mae’s head wound left a trail of blood. As Myron drug Mae to a shed, she regained consciousness and started struggling with Myron again. Myron’s gloves were slick with blood and he lost his grip on Mae. She fell to the ground outside the shed of the abandoned house.

Myron hadn’t dragged the shock absorber with him, and he decided needed a new weapon. Inside the shed he found a piece of lumber that was about 2 feet long and 6 inches in diameter. Returning to Mae, Myron began to strike her around her head and face, fracturing her skull and causing major cranial damage. Now heavily bleeding, she finally stilled. However, Myron knew she wasn’t dead because he could hear her breathing in low, gurgling rasps.

Myron then grabs Mae’s legs and pulls her into the shed. Once in the shed he pulls off her snow pants and pulled down her underwear. Myron wanted to see her genitals, but it was too dark in the shed. Myron pulled down his own pants and laid down on top of her, to rape her but he couldn’t/didn’t know how to perform the actual sex act. Now furious, he picked up the piece of lumber again and struck her several more times.

The whole attack, so far, was less than 5 minutes but Myron said he felt exhausted. He rested for a minute, appalled that Mae was still struggling to breathe. He was scared that Mae hadn’t died yet.  None of this was going to plan.

Myron said knew he had to make sure Mae was dead because she had called out his name, she knew who had attacked her. He was sure she would tell on him. Myron picked the lumber up for the third time and started beating her in the face. He shattered her eye sockets, smashed her nose and knocked out several teeth. Still, Mae had not died but continued with her labored breathing.

According to Myron’s confession, at this point, he is starting to wonder “Oh no, what did I do?” (a little too late for that). He began to freak out and blame Mae for the attack.  Blaming her for calling out and saying his name.  Bending down to her body and hissing to her that she was a stupid bitch.

Myron then began to focus on hiding the body since there were no witnesses. There was a nearby old outhouse that Myron thought he could stuff her down. He thought that even though she wasn’t dead now, she would soon freeze to death. Using all his strength, he lifted her up and tried to cram her body in but no matter what he did, she did not fit. He gave up, looking a new way to dispose of Mae.

Myron dragged Mae through the snow again into the abandoned house. He pulled her down to the basement.

Mae was still alive and struggling to breathe.  Myron said he wanted to weep with frustration at his inability to quiet her. He would whisper to her, “Please, Mae, just die.” Myron found a broken window pane and remembered from class that a jugular vein cut could kill someone. He slashed Mae’s throat twice with the broken glass and finally, she stilled. Myron pulled her dead body into the root cellar and closed the door.

Myron started for home again and part way there realized that at some point he had lost his right glove. He checked the shed and outhouse but couldn’t bring himself to check the abandoned house. Myron walked down a few streets before burying his left glove in a snow bank.

When Myron returned home just before 10pm his mother, Anna, noticed the blood on his coat and pants. Myron told her that he had helped a drunk man that had a bloody nose. Anna was relieved Myron wasn’t hurt and proud her son had stopped to help someone during a snowstorm. Anna washed the blood out of his clothes and Myron went up to bed.

By this time, Mae’s grandparents had already called the police, and by the next morning, Vandling was crawling with police. Vandling was a small town and a missing child was big news.

Anna, Myron’s mom, told her son that “something must have happened last night” due to the police activity. Myron dressed quickly in the same clothes he had on the night before, those he was wearing when he killed Mae, and headed outside.

Suspiciously enough, that day at school Myron asked Louie for a favor and told Louie that if anyone asks about it, Myron lost his gloves while helping a drunk guy the night before. The school was dismissed early, and the children went home.

The local paper, the Scranton Tribune, ran the story of a little-lost girl on the front page that morning. Police were talking to residents, trying to create a timeline for Mae’s whereabouts.

That evening the town gossip let everyone know Mae’s body had been found up the street.

Lorretta Armstrong had gone outside to dump coal ashes, as temperatures had risen enough that day to melt the snow enough to leave a thin ice trail. She was spreading the ashes on to the ice when she noticed what looked like fresh blood dotting the snow. Loretta followed the blood trail until she spotted what looked like a pair of bloody mittens half frozen in the snow. She ran to the first group of searchers that she found and told them about the find.

The blood trail from Fries’ Garage was easy to follow through all the different places Myron had dragged Mae, ending at the root cellar. They found the ice cream cones in a bag outside the shed.

Responding officers said that she had not been missing, no one would have known who the body was, as her face had been battered beyond recognition.  It was a mass of bloody flesh. Her snow pants were missing, and her underwear was down around her ankles.

Myron did have a lot of suspicious behavior, like inserting himself into different aspects of the investigation, asking a lot of questions about what information the police had, offering to walk young girls’ home so they don’t have to be alone, but nothing so massive that it brought attention from the police. The police were looking for a grown man, not a 14-year-old boy.

They let Myron go after questioning him originally, however he did mention seeing a girl walking behind him and Louie while they had walked home that night. He said she was wearing a red coat with a hood and she was by herself.

The police did find a man’s blood-stained glove nearby in the snow. It was finally made by an expensive manufacturer.

Vandling and surrounding towns go into high alert.  Everyone is worried about a child sex fiend that had brutalized a girl to death. People considered loners, odd, those with criminal records, or mentally ill, were scrutinized by the police. Police were worried that if they didn’t catch the killer soon, tensions would boil over and someone else might be hurt or killed. Everyone was looking at their neighbors sideways and children were being kept close to home.

The found glove had been sent to a crime lab where a technician noticed the wearer had a defect in their right pinky finger. Local police found the manufacturer sold the gloves exclusively to one store. The store owner remembered selling the gloves to Myron and his mother.  Myron has a malformed right pinky finger.

The police were floored that it was a young person, and they picked up both Myron and Louie, who had been together that night. Louie explains that there was a girl walking behind them that night, but it was dark and snowing too hard to give any details as he couldn’t see her plainly. The officers checked, and Myron did not go to the pool hall like he had told Louie.

Myron’s story changes a few times before he gives a full confession after being confronted by the officers holding his blood-soaked glove. Myron was giving the police the creeps.  He was telling funny stories on the ride to the garage so Myron to go over what happened when he killed Mae. He pointed out places he thought were significant, like where he slipped, where he found the weapons. He told them he was shocked when she said his name as he thought she didn’t know him. Myron is not having appropriate reactions to what he had done.  He was off emotionally. His confession was 20 pages, typed.

In Pennsylvania at the time, there was a precedent that said, “A male child between the ages of 7 and 14 is presumed incapable of committing a crime.”  Myron was 13/14. To rectify the issue, the officer in charge omitted Myron’s age on the arrest warrant. The crime was considered so heinous, the officer knew Myron had to face justice for it. Myron became the youngest person ever charged with 1st-degree murder in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

His parents were emotionally traumatized, both equally—they both pass out at the courthouse at one point. The people of Vandling were rocked over the information that it was Myron.

Myron’s attorneys were worried about Myron receiving the death penalty. People were really stirred up over the little girl’s very brutal death, the public was calling for blood. They had him plead guilty in the hopes that he would do time in a mental institution and then be sent to a minimum-security prison. Myron’s parents stayed dedicated to him although Myron was aloof towards them.

January 18, 1945, just 16 days after the murder, a grand jury indicted Myron on a charge of first-degree murder, setting the trial date for February 5th. Myron’s lawyers had him examined by an “alienist”, which is what they used to call psychologists/psychiatrists (psychiatrists are MDs, psychologists have PhDs).

The psychiatrist found Myron to be intellectually brilliant for his age, but also said that he was “immature, emotionally blunted, and should be considered pre-schizophrenic”. Myron had complained to the psych doc of violent headaches and dizziness.

Here’s the mom blaming- the psychiatrist suggested that maybe Myron’s issues stem from the fact that his mom, Anna, made Myron sit and listen to adult conversations and it gave him unusual knowledge of currents events for his age. The doctor then proclaimed Myron to be mentally ill and in need of treatment at a psychiatric hospital.

The first week of May 1945, Myron is found guilty of 1st-degree murder. They have the glove, the fact that he asked Louie to lie, and his confession. He was to be sent to a psychiatric hospital until the age of 15. After that, he was to be sent to a boy’s camp until age 21, then spend the remainder of his life in Eastern State Penitentiary.

At Allentown Psychiatric Hospital, Myron falls for a 15-year-old girl named Mabel. She is a regular teenager who was put in the hospital by her parents for being a jackass.

In October, 5 months after getting there, he finds out he is to be transferred. The new hospital meant that he wouldn’t be able to see his parents. He wasn’t too into his parents, but they were taking him off campus to eat and shop and stuff—a convicted killer out in town with his parents—that’s nuts. It also meant it was over with Mabel…so the two of them ran away. Mabel had run away a few times, no big deal, but now a child killer was on the loose.

Once again, rumors are flying about where Myron is going, what he’s doing with Mabel, what he could possibly do to other children. Local radio broadcasters broke through programs to give bulletins on the missing teens. People in Vandling found out about Myron’s excursions through town and the luxuries he was allowed at the hospital and the public was enraged.

Despite the fervor, three days later the two of them were found sleeping in a car outside of a restaurant, within 25 miles of the hospital. They had wandered in the cold for a day and night, stole a little food to eat, hitchhiked some and ran into Mark Peters.

Mark was married twice and had three kids and at first seemed like a nice guy when he picked the two up, hitchhiking. Then he starts using vulgar language and staring at Mabel. Mark Peters, then drives them to a deserted, wooded area and has Myron get out of the car and tells and Mabel get in the back.

Myron stood outside as Mark raped Mabel. Myron said he was too afraid to interfere because he thought Mark was going to kill them when he was done. After the rape, Mark Peters starts driving again, as if nothing happened and drives to the store where he worked. Mark’s boss sees Mabel and Myron in the car and tells Mark that they are fugitives. Mark then drives them to the restaurant, buys them some much needed food, and tells them they can sleep in the car. That’s how the police find them.

Mark Peters was charged with raping Mabel. He lawyers tried to object, claiming Mabel was not a reliable witness, they said she was insane. A doctor at the hospital was called to confirm that Mabel was not insane, just slightly troubled. Both Mark and Myron changed their stories a few times, but a jury did find him guilty of rape… and they also recommended leniency. Mark Peters was sentenced to 1.5 to 3 years in prison.

The hospital was investigated after the escape of a confessed killer. More people heard about the lax conditions that Myron was being held under. The judge ordered Myron to be sent to Eastern State Penitentiary right away, despite his age.  People believed he needed to be punished, not coddled.

Eastern State Penitentiary was considered the world’s first “true” prison. It had solitary confinement and was constructed so you can’t see your neighbors. You never saw other prisoners during exercise time and complete silence was enforced. When Myron arrived, some of the rules were loosened but it was still a bad place to be.

In 1953, Myron petitioned the State Board of Pardons asking for his life sentence to be commuted. When he answered the question “How have you conducted yourself while in prison?” Myron commented on his good behavior and ended with “I have so behaved to earn the good will of the prison officials”. They felt that he was only acting right in order to get out, but he hadn’t changed so they kept him in prison.

Over and over Myron petitions the State to be let out and Mae’s dad is there at the proceedings to remind officials of the brutality of Myron’s crime against his daughter. Myron never really acknowledges the severity of his crime.

By 1965, general public are starting to change their feelings toward Myron.  The public is starting to feel like he paid for the crime he had committed 20 years earlier. Unfortunately, Jim Barrett, Mae’s father died in a car crash that year. Without him at the appeal hearings to remind everyone of the crime and its toll, Myron is released on parole that year by the governor.

Myron married a woman who was older than him and started a family.  He was in his mid-30s’s. His parents passed away almost 20 years after his release. He lived a crime free life and died at age 60 in 2005.

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