The Serial Killer's Apprentice
And 12 Other True Stories of Cleveland's Most Intriguing Unsolved Crimes
by James Renner
- Softcover, 235 pages, 5.5 x 8.5 inches
- ISBN: 978-1-59851-046-1
James Renner is genuine. He cares about these victims . . . When it comes to true crime, this is the kind of writer we need. Crime Shadow News
An investigative journalist confronts 13 of Northeast Ohio's most intriguing unsolved crimes and attempts to crack open dark secrets that have baffled Clevelanders for years, including:
• Abduction—In 2003, sixteen-year-old Georgina DeJesus disappeared on a West Side street corner, almost exactly one year after teenager Amanda Berry vanished just blocks away.
• Stolen Identity—Joseph Newton Chandler of Eastlake was not who he claimed to be. Some think he was the Zodiac killer; others say he was D.B. Cooper, or even Jim Morrison.
• Suicide or murder?—Joseph Kupchik hid gambling problems from friends and family until he was found at the bottom of a nine-story parking deck in downtown Cleveland—with multiple stab wounds.
• Heist—In 1969, Lakewood bank employee Ted Conrad nabbed $215,000 from the vault one day after his twentieth birthday. The FBI still shows up at his high school reunions.
• Controversy—Jeffrey Krotine was thrice tried for the grisly 2003 murder of his wife and ultimately acquitted, to the frustration of Cuyahoga County prosecutors, detectives, and even jurors.
These stories venture into dark alleys and seedy strip clubs, as well as comfortable suburbs and cozy small towns, where some of the region's most horrendous crimes have occurred. Renner's unblinking eye for detail and unwavering search for the truth make this book a gripping read.
Illustrations: 71 black-and-white photographs
Takes the imagination to a dark and chilling place. This, Renner's second book, shows off his talents in the [crime reporting] genre: an investigator's persistence, a strong sense of mystery-suspense storytelling and a direct and restrained style that can both pull back to describe a crime scene and turn sympathetic to illuminate victims' vibrant but lost lives . . . Renner's writing is gripping, well researched and hard to put down. Cleveland Magazine
James Renner is genuine. He cares about these victims. They have become a part of him. He's not writing from a distance with apathetic cynicism. He's right in the heart of the cases, digging and searching for answers. When it comes to true crime, this is the kind of writer we need. crimeshadows.com
Renner's book is chilling because it reminds us that the bad guys often get away. Instead of the neat closure that we find at the end of every “CSI” and “Monk” episode, we have nothing but a pile of frustrating questions . . . This book is for the true-crime aficionado that understands the frustration of a cold case . . . It is for those of us that find the ice-cold splash of reality intellectually more refreshing than the perfect neatness of fiction. crimecritics.com
This is a great book for true crime aficionados who don't necessarily require a tidy ending . . . Renner has a great, documentary-like feel to his storytellingyou experience the cases firsthand as he sorts through the clues, theories, conjecture and intrigue. truecrimediary.com
Not for the faint of heart. This well-written book delves into 13 true and as yet unsolved Northeast Ohio casesmany involving grisly murders . . . Renner tracks down leads as he reviews the cases and confronts suspects. Although new techniques, such as analyzing DNA may someday be used to discover what really happened, Renner's book makes clear that today the truth stubbornly remains elusive. Morning Journal
A most fascinating book. I know journalists are constantly told to stay objective, but it's obvious that these cases have touched Mr. Renner on a personal level . . . I highly recommend this book to any true crime fan. It is one of the best I have read in a long time. CrimeNe.ws
Most of [Renner's] mysteries are as enticing as any you are likely to see on any network crime show. The only difference is that in these real crime stories, the guilty remain at large. News Journal
About James Renner
James Renner is a novelist, freelance journalist, and blogger. In his spare time, he hunts serial killers. His true crime stories have been published in the Best American Crime Reporting and Best Creative Nonfiction anthologies. His film adaptation of a Stephen King story was an official selection at the 2005 Montreal World Film Festival. A graduate of Kent State University, Renner lives in Akron, Ohio. More About James Renner
Question & Answer with the author...
Q: Why did you write this book? Are you trying to make money from people's appetite for sensational stories?
A: I want to help solve these crimes. I suppose each time I start writing about a case, I hope I can be the one to solve it. More realistically, I'm hoping someone out there will read what I've written—whether it's the summary of what's already known about the crime or some of the new information I've dug up—and realize they know something or have some missing piece of information. Captain Robert Sackett, the officer in charge of the Beverly Jarosz case, said in the foreword to my book that with cold cases, the media can play a crucial role by creating new interest in the public. I get paid to be an investigative reporter, so it's my job. But trying to help solve crimes like these is a big reason I got into journalism in the first place.
Q: Your first book was about the Amy Mihaljevic case. Why did you decide to write about these other crimes?
A: My work on the Amy case led to this book. When I was researching, and later when I gave public talks about Amy, people would come up to me and ask, “Have you looked into this particular murder—or into this unsolved case?” It made me realize there were a lot of other stories, other local cold cases, that should be retold and that might bring in some clues from the readers.
Q: How do you choose which crimes to write about?
A: I write about unsolved crimes because I believe my writing about them can help solve them. They're also a lot more interesting to me than ones with a clear conclusion. I write about cold cases because they need the help and because I'm not getting in the way of a current investigation. Then, I make sure that the family or friends or police are willing to talk to me about the case, and make sure they're really open for this to happen. Because if they're not, there's really no way to get any new information. Finally, I look for crimes that have a lot of loose ends or strange coincidences because they make interesting reading and because they tend to involve more people who might still have information to share.
Q: What do people in law enforcement think about your efforts to investigate unsolved crimes? Do they think you're sticking your nose into police business?
A: Ninety percent of the time, the detectives in charge of these cases invited me in to their office to talk and sometimes would share their files or old photographs. Most of them were very open with me and glad I was doing this. They hoped it would stir up some new leads, or that readers would contact them with some new information. There were one or two times when I think I wasn't really welcome, and those were cases where the detectives felt strongly that they know who did it but those suspects managed to get off the hook. I'm not sure I agree with them.
Q: Do you think the victims' families approve of what you're doing?
A: Most of the victims' families were thankful that I was presenting these stories to the public. All of these cases are unsolved, and these families, especially in the murder cases, want closure, to know what happened to their loved ones. With the Ted Conrad case, where you've got this young, fun kid who pulled off the coolest heist in Cleveland history, there was a friend of the family who didn't really want me poking my nose into it because as far as they were concerned, good for him for getting away with it.
Q: Did you ever feel that you were in danger when confronting potential suspects in a violent crime?
A: When I'm going up to a front door or calling somebody who is a potential suspect in one of the murders, I'm hardly ever scared. Many of these murder cases involve young women or girls, and people who commit those sorts of crimes are cowards for the most part. They're not going to want to pick a fight with a full-grown man, even one as skinny as I am. They go after kids. For the Andrea Flenoury case, I had to go into some strip clubs in Akron where there were a few unsavory characters. There were a couple of times when I was in clubs talking to people who didn't want their names on record, and nobody knew that I was in the back room talking to them, and maybe they could even be a suspect themselves. A couple of times, I was a little worried and thought that maybe I shouldn't have taken some of the risks that I took for a some of these stories.
Q: Why are people who might be suspects in a crime willing to talk to a reporter like you?
A: I think they like the attention. For one reason or another, they think it's cool to be a suspect in a murder. It doesn't make any sense to me. I don't know why they would want to talk to a reporter, but nine times out of ten, they are more open than the victim's family.
Q: What was the single biggest challenge you faced while conducting your investigations?
A: It's really hard to uncover new clues in cases that are sometimes decades old and have been written about before. It takes time to track down people who have moved out of state or family and friends of those who have died, getting them to talk and go through their old documents and photographs to find something that detectives might have overlooked back in the sixties or seventies. That is always a challenge, but that is also one of my favorite parts of the entire process. But I did still manage to find some new information about each case, maybe something that will help uncover that last piece in the puzzle that leads to an arrest.
Q: Which of these crimes got the most media attention at the time it happened? Which got the least?
A: The one that received the most attention was the Lisa Pruett case, which took place in Shaker Heights in 1990 and became kind of a witch hunt. The city hired a PR firm to protect its image in the press because Lisa's murder was on the front page of the Plain Dealer a number of times and it became a media frenzy. The case that got the least attention involved a young black woman from Akron. Nobody read much about Andrea Flenoury, a beautiful woman in her twenties who was a stripper in Akron and who, one night after work, was found floating in a canal, wrapped in chains. Both cases deserve to be solved.
Q: What would you consider to be your biggest “break” while investigating these crimes?
A: The title story, “The Serial Killer's Apprentice,” was about a crime for which a man was executed in 2002 and that everybody had considered the case closed. There were similarities between this case and Amy Mihaljevic's murder that led me to reinvestigate the evidence. Ultimately, I didn't find a link between the two cases, but in the course of my research, I came to believe that the man they executed, Bob Buell, was not guilty of Krista Harrison's murder or the two other murders he was assumed to have committed. I found evidence that seems to implicate another man and all but exonerate Bob Buell, who was no doubt a very bad man and who was guilty of other crimes, but maybe not this one. That was a weird case to work on.
Q: Do you plan to continue your investigations?
A: Yes. I always welcome tips from readers about these cases and other unsolved cold cases in Northeast Ohio. I have a blog where readers can share information and where I post updates: jamesrenner.wordpress.com. My other blog about the Amy Mihaljevic case has been going for more than a year and still gets a lot of traffic.
Q: Why do you think people want to read about unsolved crimes?
A: I personally like to read about unsolved crimes because there's a part of me that thinks maybe I can solve this thing or make sense of the clues that have stumped detectives and other readers. Another reason is, no matter where you live in Northeast Ohio, there's a crime in this book that's going to be close to you. Either it happened near you, or you know someone who is involved or who was affected by the crime. There's a ripple effect that these crimes have had on the community.