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.
The Case of the Bones in the Barn has been solved at last, and the answer leads to even more mysteries. For our second case, The Porchlight Project assisted the New London, Ohio Police Department to determine the identify of the young woman whose bones were found wrapped up in newspaper in an old barn, there. I was personally interested because the barn was located just a few doors down from a suspect in the Amy Mihaljevic case.
The Porchlight Project funded DNA testing and genetic genealogy, which led investigators to conclude that the bones belonged to one Hallie Armstrong, an eighteen-year-old schoolteacher who died in 1881.
The strange case of the man who called himself Joseph Newton Chandler is one of my favorite true crime mysteries of all time – and the inspiration behind my novel, The Man from Primrose Lane. So it was a honor to be interviewed by Katya Cengel for her new piece of long-form nonfiction, which appeared on Vox.
Investigative journalist James Renner, who reported on the Chandler case and even wrote a novel loosely based on it, believes Ruff and those like her who are running from something terrible should be able to disappear.
“What right do we have to open up those doors?” he asks.
He makes an exception for rape and murder, and he is not the only one who believes the Nichols case may have involved both. Because of Robert Nichols’s various eccentricities and the time he spent in California in the late 1960s and early ’70s, when the Zodiac Killer was active there, some web sleuths and even members of law enforcement, like Elliott, who says he can’t rule it out, suspect Nichols could be the killer.
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.