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.
A year ago, I put together a new nonprofit to fund new investigations into some of Ohio’s coldest cases. I’m so thrilled to announce that there has been an arrest made in our first case – the 1987 unsolved murder of Barbara Blatnik. James Zastawnik was arrested for the girl’s murder on Wednesday. Here’s a report from the Beacon Journal and USAToday.
Donna Zanath, Blatnik’s sister, said Wednesday evening that she was in shock that an arrest had been made after all this time. She credited Project Porchlight, a local effort lead by Akron author James Renner that took on her sister’s case as its first attempt to generate renewed interest in a cold case. Project Porchlight raised $6,000 for DNA testing that helped with the Blatnik case. “Without James Renner, we wouldn’t be talking right now,” she said, choking back tears.
SHAKER HEIGHTS is a six-part true crime podcast miniseries, which places the listener beside police detectives as they investigate the 1990 unsolved murder of Lisa Pruett. Did the weird kid in school get away with murder or was he unwittingly set up by a group of teens?
The Porchlight Project has it’s next case. We’re working with the New London police department and will pay for DNA testing of human bones found in an old barn, there. The remains are that of a young woman between the ages of 12 and 20, and could have been in the barn for over 30 years.
This last year, I’ve been working hard to put together a new non-profit that can provide financial help and media attention to the families of the missing and murdered, focusing on cold cases in Ohio. I’m excited to announce that The Porchlight Project is here and our first case is the 1987 unsolved murder of Barbara Blatnik.
My new, little novel MUSE is officially out via Cemetery Dance. The story is set in 1960s New England, and follows a private investigator hired by a teenage girl to steal a box from the estate of H.P. Lovecraft. Signed hardbacks are limited to 750 copies. You can order yours here.
Do lie detectors really work? How do psychopaths convince other people to commit murder? What’s the deal with familial DNA? I explore these questions and more in Season Two of The Philosophy of Crime. All 6 episodes are now available everywhere you can find podcasts. Check it out!
2019 TOUR ANNOUNCED! This June, I’ll be on the road in the eastern U.S. for my “Confessions of a True Crime Addict” tour. It’s a mix of stand up and scary tales about my adventures in true crime journalism. Get your tickets before they sell out!