PIKETON, Ohio — When Chris and Frankie Rhoden showed up at a demolition derby rival’s home last May, they were ready to fight. The brothers brought more than a dozen friends with them to confront Tommy Gorman Jr.
Chris, 16, and Frankie, 20, refused to leave even after winning what was apparently a one-sided fight, according to Tommy’s mother, Laura. Not only did the Rhoden boys beat down Laura’s son, but they also knocked out some of the teeth of her husband, Tommy Sr.
“At least he had false teeth. He was able to superglue them back in,” Tommy’s son, Richard, told The Daily Beast.
Frankie was sentenced to less than a year’s probation for the attack, according to his case file at the Pike County Courthouse, about 20 miles from where he and the rest of his family were shot to death last Friday morning. The killer or killers—authorities aren’t sure how many—went on to murder five more Rhodens and Hannah Gilley, Frankie’s fiancée. The three children, presumably too young to identify the perpetrators, were spared.
In all, the dead are: Frankie and Chris Jr.; their father, Chris Sr.; his ex-wife, Dana Rhoden; Chris Sr.’s brother, Kenneth; their cousin Gary; and Gilley.
The Gormans aren’t at all suspected to be behind the massacre, but authorities seem to believe the targeted attack was something akin to payback.
Police executed at least one search warrant and questioned one young man in the area after seeing a recent argument between him and the Rhoden boys.
“The only thing I’d ever heard bad about them is that they had a tendency to fight in groups and jump on people,” Laura said.
That’s exactly what happened in May of last year, according to police. Tommy Jr. had slighted Chris, Frankie, or both, in a Facebook comment, Laura said. Court documents show that the remark had something to do with local demolition derbies, which Chris drove in and in which the Gorman family is heavily involved.
So Frankie shot back by telling Tommy he would “beat his ass,” according to his case file. Chris Jr. joined his older brother in racing through the winding back roads to the Gorman family compound some 20 miles northwest of Waverly, the Pike County seat where today a command post is set up for the law enforcement agencies trying to solve this most recent American massacre.
The Rhoden boys arrived and quickly took down Tommy and his dad. Frankie and Chris rained blows on the pair with feet and fists while their crew cheered them on, Laura said. Even after they’d won and the fight was clearly over, the Rhodens refused to leave.
“So Richard come haulin’ butt down here in a derby car,” Laura remembered. “He was gonna run ’em all over.”
That’s when Laura’s father, Richard McCune, emerged from one of the family’s trailers and fired “multiple gunshots” into the air, according to court documents. That scared everyone off, and the Gorman-Rhoden feud was over just as quickly as it had begun.
“And that was it,” Laura said. “That’s the last we’ve ever seen of them.”
Richard expanded on that thought, saying another brother even became friends with Frankie after the ordeal. There was some bad blood with the Rhodens, Richard said, but not enough to retaliate and certainly not enough to kill. In fact, the police haven’t even bothered to question anyone at the Gorman residence. The only people who’ve shown up there are reporters.
That wasn’t the case for Rusty Mongold, whose own beef with Frankie and Chris got him arrested, detained, and then released by police last week. Mongold had written his own Facebook manifesto calling out Chris Rhoden for some sort of teenage road rage incident.
“God I can’t stop thinking of the kid that hit me with his car,” he wrote on April 12 of Chris. “…we will get them all of them.”
Police scooped up Mongold for this vague threat after the murders. The 19-year-old wrote that he regretted using tones of violence in his diatribe against Chris. He also told friends and family that he had met with the Pike County Sheriff’s Office and submitted a DNA sample for testing.
But Mongold wasn’t the only one who was forced to pay a visit to the authorities following the murders after having spoken ill of the Rhodens—a friend, Larry Jones, penned his own statement of innocence after meeting with police on Saturday.
“What happened to the Rhoden family was an absolute tragedy,” Jones wrote on Facebook. “Even though I had posted some stuff on here in the past doesn’t mean I would even think about acting on it.”
He went on.
“What is important is that whoever did this gets caught quick,” Jones wrote. “This is a very small town where everybody knows everybody. And all of this gossip and he said/she said is hindering the whole investigation.”
Police have said they have accumulated 79 items of evidence from four locations where the murders took place. The Pike County coroner on Tuesday told the media that most of the victims died of single gunshot wounds to the head, while one victim was shot nine times. The coroner, Dr. David Kessler, did not release any further information about estimated times of death or orientations of the fatal gunshot wounds, and was not at his office on Wednesday.
Dr. Kessler’s secretary couldn’t afford to be away.
Sitting at a desk with paperwork up to her neck, Linda Murphy shuffled through files, saying the Rhoden murders have been the focus of her office for the last three days. With only a few homicides per year, the body count of the Pike County massacre has Murphy and others working overtime.
“It’s been quite an ordeal on everyone here,” she said. “All the family was in here yesterday and for all of us and them it has… not been good.”
Richard Gorman and his mother, Laura, are struggling to comprehend such a violent end for so many members of this small community. Neither of them knew about the apparent marijuana operation the Rhodens were running, according to authorities.
“This county is small and word gets around,” Laura said. “You’d think word would have gotten around about that.”
Sheriff Charles Reader told residents to arm themselves if they felt threatened or scared, and the Gormans have already done so, Laura said. The family has purchased security equipment that sounds an alarm if anyone breaches a threshold at the family compound.
“We’ve been on edge,” Laura said.
And like Larry Jones, who had his scrapes with the Rhoden family, the Gormans are well beyond those past disagreements.
“We feel for the family. You’ve got relatives who are dealing with the loss of their children, and you got young children who’s gonna have to be told how their parents died one day,” Laura said.
“No one deserves to die like that.”