Award-winning investigative reporter Fred Connors dies at 77

Aug 1, 2023


From delving into the mindset of a local serial killer to uncovering major cost overruns at the Wheeling Tunnel renovation project, Fred Connors never shied away from informing the Ohio Valley on the important news of the day. He stayed active in retirement, writing the occasional story and spending time with his wife, children and grandchildren.

That lifetime of service to his community served our region and its residents well. Connors’ final story ran in Monday’s editions of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, as he penned his own obituary not long before his death. Connors died Sunday, July 2, at the age of 77.

Connors was an investigative reporter for The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register before retiring and going on to found the Ohio Valley Cold Case Task Force.

During his career, he earned multiple journalism awards from the West Virginia Press Association and the Southern Newspapers Publishing Association. He was, by all definitions, a newsman.

“Fred Connors was the newsman’s newsman. His dedication, commitment and passion for reporting the news remains unmatched in our region,” said John McCabe, editor of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register. “He reported on so many important stories during his decade-plus tenure at the newspapers. From helping put a serial killer behind bars, to interviewing convicted murderers on death row so local families could find closure, to spending three construction seasons chronicling the fiasco with the Wheeling Tunnel renovations, Fred never backed down from a story Ohio Valley readers needed to know.

“All that aside, it was the little things that really defined Fred Connors. He loved to talk about the various endeavors his children — Dean, Scott and Joelle — were involved with, and how proud he was. He loved to share conversation on any topic over that first cup of coffee in the morning. And in 2007, when he ended his 43-year relationship with cigarettes, he quickly jumped at the chance to chronicle his journey with readers, both as a way to have an outlet for the angst and also to help others in the Upper Ohio Valley who might have been considering a similar journey.”

Connors wrote the following on May 1, 2007, shortly after he quit smoking, citing something his then 9-year-old grandson wrote for a school Thanksgiving project: “I am thankful for my family. Also, I hope my cousins have a great Thanksgiving. I hope that God will help my grandfather to stop smoking. I hope that everyone stops doing bad things. I praise the Lord for everything.”

“That’s powerful. And in the end, when it came to being a newsman, so was Fred Connors,” McCabe said.

One of Connors’ best friends and associates was retired Ohio County Sheriff’s Department investigator Harry Croft, who joined Connors on the Ohio Valley Cold Case Task Force.

Croft said he had known Connors “a number of years — I don’t know how long.”

He said the two met at a dinner, where Connors began to speak about the case involving the death of Justin Hughes.

“I told him that I knew something about that, and we started conversing,” Croft said. “I saw him just a few days before he passed. I told him then that I will do what I can to solve the Justin Hughes case.

“Then I told him, ‘You got to get squared away. We have things to do.'”

Croft, also a minister, presided over Connors’ wedding to his wife, Sharon, at the Marwin Church of the Nazarene in Wheeling.

“They are beautiful people, and they are still beautiful people,” Croft said of the Connors family. “He also cared about people, and the people he wrote about. He was a dear friend. I will miss him a lot.”

Connors frequently communicated with Wheeling attorney Robert McCoid on court cases, and the two struck up a friendship.

“I was very saddened to learn of Fred Connors’ passing this past weekend,” he said. “In addition to being an excellent reporter, he was a devoted father and a good friend.

“I last saw him in March for lunch, and we reminisced about many of the criminal cases he had covered over the years before retiring, including a number I had defended.”

He remembered that Connors was accompanied by his wife at the lunch and was struggling with his health on that date.

“In this age where news cycles 24 hours a day and salacious headlines sell, Fred was a rare breed of investigative reporter in that he would actually do deep dives into his articles, peel back as many layers of the onion on a story as necessary to get to the heart of what it was really about,” McCoid continued. “At times, his questions seemed endless. He was a genuine credit to his profession, always bringing a refreshing sense of objectivity to his reporting and scrupulously giving both sides of a case equal opportunity to comment.

“I will very much miss his inquisitive mind, his impish smile and his biting Irish wit.”

Retired assistant editor Heather Ziegler, a former co-worker of Connors, termed him “an old-school newspaper reporter through and through.”

“I was fortunate to have worked in the same newsroom with him during his tenure with the Wheeling newspapers,” Ziegler said. “His tenacity earned him some great bylined stories that he gleaned from simple reports that he then delved into deeper than most in the business.

“Fred cared about his community and was most proud of his family. They have plenty of reasons to be proud of him, as well. He had a great sense of humor and always added a bit of fun to our newsroom family, especially on trying news days. I considered him a colleague and friend.”

In addition to his career as a reporter, Connors also was employed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, D.C., and served as a third-class petty officer in the U.S. Navy.

Interment will be at the convenience of the family in National Cemetery of the Alleghenies, Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, with full military honors.