Google alerts keep track of people and things of interestNo, not me.

I have Google alerts loaded for all my authors — the search engine automatically sends me an email message with a reference when one of them is mentioned on the internet.

So for several years, among the articles, interviews, TV appearances and reviews of my authors, I’ve also been getting alerts about the trial and conviction — and this week, the sentencing — of a rapist and multiple murderer called Eugene Blake and his 1982 murder in West Virginia of 21 year old of Mark Withers — NOT, I hasten to add, ‘our’ Mark Withers — author of Property Tax — A New Zealand Investor’s Guide and MARKET UPDATE. (‘Our’ Mark Withers is fine, thanks.)

It’s been an awful but fascinating ‘true-life’ crime-story … and sporadically following it via Google alerts has taught me some lessons about human nature — and the value of tenacious attention by a journalist.

Eugene Blake — a convincing and plausible con artist

After his conviction for brutally murdering an 18 year old girl in 1967 Blake was sentenced to life without mercy — meaning no possibility of parole. But through smooth-talking and ingratiating himself with others — a con-man’s key skill — he gained the confidence of prison officials (‘con’ stands for confidence, remember?) Blake gained ‘trusty’ status, was allowed to go outside the prison, to drive a vehicle, and even for a time lived in the warden’s residence (!) He also participated in local community theatre productions and other local community events.

This glib, engaging, sycophantic liar — he possessed good ‘communication skills’, apparently — made such a positive impression on local community members that several of them supported an application that his sentence be commuted to life with mercy. An outgoing state governor upheld that application and commuted Blake’s sentence, allowing parole. The killer was paroled in 1979.

Parole gave Eugene Blake the opportunity to commit at least two more murders: Withers in 1982 and 13-year-old Maryann Hope Helmbright in 1984 in Wheeling. Bastard.

I commented in Why legal action can be sooo dangerous…

Anyone with a smidgen of journalism training, a decent attention span and a connection to the internet would have little trouble putting enough of it together to shred the credibility of the protagonists.

Well it turns out an investigative journalist Fred Connors’ ongoing ‘interest’ in murderous con-man Eugene Blake was part of his undoing …

Retired Reporter Helps Convict a Con Man

By GABE WELLS The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register April 4, 2010

WHEELING – For nearly a decade, Fred Connors researched a 1982 murder and rape case that led to the conviction of serial killer Eugene Blake.

What Connors didn’t know is what he would uncover from his research – a murderer who conned state prison officials, local residents and even a governor.

Connors recently retired from The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, and he estimates he wrote at least two dozen stories on Blake in those publications.

A three-part series Connors penned on the man who killed at least three people – “Eugene Blake: A Killer Con Man” – earned him a first-place honor from the West Virginia Press Association and was considered for the Pulitzer Prize….

Read the full article and more here.

There’s a lesson for all con-men in this story — and encouragement for whistle-blowers.