James Renner is an award-winning journalist, and author of True Crime Addict, the definitive book on the Maura Murray disappearance. He also hosts the podcast, The Philosophy of Crime. In 2019, he founded The Porchlight Project which raises money for new DNA testing and genetic genealogy for Ohio cold cases. In May, 2020, James Zastawnik was arrested for the murder of Barbara Blatnik, thanks to the work of genealogists funded by the Porchlight Project.
Today I published a new piece of long-form journalism, a story about false confessions and serial murder. Hopefully, Shaker Heights police will reopen these old murders so we can finally know who killed Plain Dealer executive editor Philip Porter and his wife, Dorothy. It’s possible the killer was also involved in the murder of Lisa Pruett, five years later.
JAMES ARNOS WAS ONLY NINETEEN when he found his grandfather’s dead body. It was Sunday, May 19, 1985 and James’s mother, Joly, had become concerned that she had not heard from her mother in several days. So she sent her son, James, to check in. Her mother was Dorothy Porter, a renowned artist, who lived with her husband Philip Porter in a large house in Shaker Heights, on Lee Road near Shaker Boulevard. Philip was executive editor of the Plain Dealer in the 60s. The couple were practically Cleveland royalty.
The first two Larkey mysteries are now available on Kindle Vella, Amazon’s new short-story service that works sort of like a subscription podcast, except it’s a story you read on your phone or favorite device. Here’s the teaser for the first book, Winter’s End:
Retired FBI Special Agent Phil Larkey used to investigate the Bureau’s toughest “locked room mysteries.” These days, he just wants to investigate a good book beside a warm fire. But when a young woman is crucified on the side of a barn on a remote Lake Erie island, Larkey knows he’s the only one who can track down her killer before the ice thaws.
For my fellow true crime fanatics thirsty for something more; a more introspective, varietal look at this phenomenon we call true crime, look no further. This is the podcast I didn’t know I needed. – Kristen32
People are polarized by Renner. I get it. Just listen. – SailorFamiLee
Initially, I was really intrigued by title of this podcast but was hesitant to listen to or subscribe after I discovered James Renner was at the helm. SO … here I am, years later, binge listening to one of the most well-thought-out and thoroughly researched podcasts I’ve ever listened to. – ssoozee
I could not stop listening once I started. It went from listening at work, to the car and kept going while making dinner. – G Lunn
In 1967, the philosopher, Roland Barthes, wrote an essay titled “The Death of the Author,” in which he explains how an artist is essentially nothing more than a medium, distilling history and pop culture through the lens of their mind. The idea is that, if Stephen King hadn’t written The Shining, someone would have written something similar around the same time because that idea was percolating in the air, waiting to transcribed. And the author, himself, may not even be aware of what their story is really about. For that reason, authors should be given as much reverence as cheese cloth.
I like coming up with ideas nobody else can think up but I’m simply a lens for the world, too, and so it was inevitable that one day, one of my ideas would get scooped.
Last winter, during COVID lockdown, an idea came into my mind, fully-formed, with wonderful characters and social relevance. It was the story of how our country was formed as a monarchy and the descendants of Thomas Jefferson still ruled as a family – until one of Sally Hemings’ illegitimate African American grandsons tried to claim the throne. It was set in 1970, and Nixon was the Prime Minister who planned to bring down the monarchy.
In February, I sent it to a small list of production companies who had read my stuff before. It slowly made its way around some offices.
Set in a reimagined, contemporary America where the nation was founded as a monarchy. This entirely white Royal Family is plunged into a scorched earth succession battle when it’s revealed the late King has hidden a mind-blowing secret: A Black son who is the true heir to the throne.
I’m a huge fan of Esmail, who is one of the most original voices in TV these days. I had the pleasure of meeting with his team a few years ago, when they were interested in a different project of mine. Seems like Esmail and I were separate cheese clothes straining the same creative juice for this one and he beat me to it. C’est la vie.
Personally, I fell in love with the Crown over lockdown and I think The Last King of America came from wanting to play in that sandbox over here.
Anyway, I wish Esmail and his team the best. Can’t wait to watch this.
I’m the guest on this week’s episode of the Mile Higher Podcast. It was such a treat to get to meet Kendall, Josh, and Janelle in Denver and talk about developments in the Amy Mihaljevic case, Maura Murray, and little green men! Check it out!
I was asked to pen half of a new audio short story for my friend, Pi, and her podcast, Stories from the In-Between. It’s called BLANK, and it’s a spooky little bit of absurdity set in a world where adults possess the ability to remove parts of their face. And some covet certain features they lack themselves.