True Crime Writer James Renner is September Fogle Author

James RennerHis last name is a palindrome.

He’s a founding member of Last Call Cleveland, a sketch comedy troupe.

He directed a film based on the Stephen King story All That You Love Will Be Carried Away that the famed author sold him for $1 as well as a documentary that explored the influence of J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye that led to a short meeting with the reclusive writer – all in 2004.

A year later, he was named by Cleveland Magazine as one of the city’s 30 most interesting people.

However, what James Renner is best known for is his work as a true crime writer.

Renner started making a name for himself as a journalist with Cleveland’s Scene Magazine when he uncovered new clues and suspects in the cold-case murder of Amy Mihaljevic, a 10-year-old girl who was kidnapped from the Bay Square Shopping Center in Bay Village in October 1989 and whose remains were found in Ashland County in February 1990.

His work led to the successful closure of the Tina Harmon case in 2009. Harmon was a 12-year-old girl who was abducted and murdered in October 1981.

Renner spent months researching the Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus abductions when the girls were still missing and is haunted by the fact that he had Castro's name in his notes. 

And he is the author of the critically acclaimed True Crime Addict, which examines how he became obsessed with the case of Maura Murray, a 21-year-old woman who disappeared on the evening of February 9, 2004, after a car crash on Route 112 near Woodsville, New Hampshire, and whose whereabouts remain unknown.

When the Kent State graduate appears at Rodman Public Library on Monday, September 11 at 6:30 p.m. as part of the Fogle Author Series, he will discuss his latest book, Little, Crazy Children, which was released earlier this year.

Registration is required to attend Renner’s visit. [REGISTER HERE]

In Little, Crazy Children, Renner explores the unsolved murder of 16-year-old Lisa Pruett, who was on her way to a midnight tryst with her boyfriend in Shaker Heights when she was stabbed to death only thirty feet from the boy’s home in September of 1990.

The murder cast a gloom over the community and a high school outcast was arrested, charged, and tried for the crime. But without a shred of evidence against him, the teen was acquitted and that sparked anger and outrage among those who believed that the he got away with murder.

The host of two podcasts, including The Philosophy of Crime and True Crime This Week, Renner has also penned two novels, including The Man from Primrose Lane, which blends mystery with sci-fi in a very unique structure, and The Great Forgetting, described as a “love letter to conspiracy thrillers.”

An Akron resident, Renner is the founder of The Porchlight Project, a nonprofit that raises money for new DNA testing of cold cases in Ohio. In 2020, an arrest was made in the first case -- the murder of Barbara Blatnik -- thanks to its funding of genetic genealogy.

Ahead of his visit, here are some questions and answers with James Renner:Little, Crazy Children

Q: You began your writing career as a journalist. Did you always want to be a reporter/writer covering crime?

A: When I was younger, I wanted to be an FBI agent, like Fox Mulder. But when I got to Kent State I started writing for the student newspaper and fell in love with journalism. Back then, the free alt-weekly from Cleveland, Scene Magazine, could be found all over town and I would spend afternoons reading the long-form stories of crime and local politics. That's the kind of stuff I wanted to do. So after graduation, I began submitting stories to Scene and eventually they started to publish them. I worked there for several years and had a blast. It opened the doors to the bigger world of book publishing for me.

Q: How do you decide what to write about?

A: I'm constantly reading about unsolved mysteries online and every so often one of those stories gets its hooks in me and I have to dive deeper. If I find one that has plenty of sources and documentation, I begin to structure a new book around it. That gives me permission to travel to the locations and meet the people involved. Like getting a front-row seat to history.

Q: Is there any story that haunts you? Is there any case that you would really like to research that you haven't yet?

A: The Amy Mihaljevic story will always haunt me. We were the same age, both born in 1978. So her abduction and murder had a profound effect on me and how I saw the world. I still think about that case all the time. One case I'd love to look into further is the disappearance of MH370. I find it fascinating that a jumbo jet can just disappear in this day of satellites and data tracking.

Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

A: I always tell asspiring writers to pick up two books: Stephen King's On Writing, and the Writer’s Market manual. Those two books will explain everything you need to know. You should also be reading and writing every day. It should feel like a compulsion. Schedule your day around writing.

Q:  If you weren't a writer, what do you think you would be doing?

A: I think if I weren't a writer, I'd enjoy being a short order cook at a diner. As long as you're adequate, you're making everyone happy and you can lose yourself in the routine of the work.

Q: What can people expect when they come see you at Rodman Library?

A: You're going to learn more about the unsolved mystery of Lisa Pruett than anyone other than the police.