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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.
I am currently at work, researching my next book, which will be about a death that occurred when I was a counselor at Seven Ranges Boy Scout Reservation, in 1995. It’s also about the current state of the Boy Scouts of America, which is fighting to get out of bankruptcy after a sex scandal that is exponentially greater in scale than that of the Catholic Church.
Earlier this week, I had the privilege of testifying at the Ohio Statehouse in support of HB35, which would get rid of the statute of limitations for Boy Scout sex abuse cases in civil courts. You can listen to my testimony here, around the 45 min mark.
Part of my book involves a secret society within Seven Ranges called Pipestone. If you took part in the “honors program” there and would like to share your experience, please email me: jameswrenner [at] gmail [dot] com
My next true crime book Little, Crazy Children comes out June 27 but you can reserve your copy today, by pre-ordering from your favorite local bookstore or online at the links below.
In this riveting work of investigative journalism, the author of True Crime Addict and host of “True Crime This Week,” James Renner, explores the tragic unsolved 1990 murder of Lisa Pruett in the privileged enclave of Shaker Heights, Ohio, its troubling aftershocks, and the dark secrets teens tell—and keep.
TWIN PEAKS meets THE CRUCIBLE in 1990s Shaker Heights, the setting of LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE.
In September of 1990, in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, sixteen-year-old Lisa Pruett, a poetry lover and member of a church youth group, was on her way to a midnight tryst with her boyfriend, when she was viciously stabbed to death only thirty feet from the boy’s home.
The murder cast a palpable gloom over the upscale community and sparked accusations, theories, and rumors among Lisa’s friends and peers. Together they wove a damning narrative that circled back to a likely suspect: “weird” high school outcast Kevin Young. Without a shred of evidence the teen was arrested, charged, and tried for the crime. His eventual acquittal didn’t squelch the anger and outrage among those who believed that Kevin got away with murder.
With a fresh perspective and painstaking research culled from police files, court records, transcripts, uncollected evidence, and new interviews, James Renner reconstructs the events leading up to and following that heartbreaking night. What emerges is a portrait of a community seething with dark undercurrents—its single-minded authorities, protective status-conscious parents, and the deeply peer-pressured teens within Lisa’s circle.
Who had the capacity for such unchecked violence? What monsters still lurk in the dark? After more than thirty years, questions like these continue to fester among the community of Shaker Heights, Ohio, still deeply scarred by wounds that remain hidden, unspoken, and unhealed.
It’s a busy fall! Come see me if you can. Click on links for more info.
September 10: Savannah Crime Expo
September 18: Fundraiser for the Nancy Eagleson Cold Case, Paulding, Ohio.
September 24: Mentor Barnes & Noble 20th Anniversary: 1 p.m.
October 8: Rocky River Readers & Writers Event 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
October 9: PNW True Crime festival
October 27: Kent State lecture, “True Crime from May 4, 1970 to Present Day)
November 5: Buckeye Book Fair
True Crime This Week is now on YouTube, too! New episodes every Friday morning. Click here to subscribe.
How cool is this!?! The Porchlight Project is featured in the new edition of Kent State Magazine.
Renner put out a message on Facebook asking for help; it was answered by Alexa Doutt, a director of advancement at Kent State. The two met at a coffee shop in West Akron—and the idea of the Porchlight Project was born.
The new season of The Philosophy of Crime premieres today! Check it out everywhere you get your podcasts.
Here’s the full release schedule:
April 20: “How Can Lawyers Defend Guilty People?
April 27: “Does Reward Money Ever Help Solve Cases?”
May 4: “The Alford Plea – Pleading Guilty When You’re Innocent”
May 11: “School Shootings and Toxic Masculinity”
May 18: “Help! I Still Don’t Understand Money Laundering.”
May 25: “The Most Difficult Case — No Body, No Crime”
Hey there, true crime addicts! I’ve started a brand new, weekly podcast. Every Friday, I will catch you up on the top true crime stories of the last week and share updates on your favorite cold cases. Follow this link to find True Crime This Week on any podcast platform you like to use.
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.