James Renner's Top 10 Most Important Crime Stories Of 2018

James Renner is the author of True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray. He is also the host of the true-crime series Lake Erie's Coldest Cases, available on ID GO.

Here, Renner shares with us what he feels are the most important true-crime stories of the past year.

December 31, 2018
By: James Renner
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Photo By: Scott Olson

Photo By: Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation

10. The Parkland Mass Shooting

On Valentine’s Day, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, with an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle, pulled a fire alarm, and began shooting as people fled the building.
Fourteen students and three staff members were murdered, making it the deadliest high school shooting in United States history. The event sparked debate and discussion about tougher gun-control laws, and a series of political rallies organized in part by surviving students. [CrimeFeed] [Photo: Nikolas Cruz (Broward County Sheriff’s Office)]

9. Harvey Weinstein Arrested

Once considered untouchable, the legacy of Harvey Weinstein was undone quickly by a series of articles in The New York Times and The New Yorker, leading to his arrest on May 25. He is charged with multiple counts of rape, sex abuse, and criminal misconduct. So far, more than 75 women have come forward with frightening stories of abuse and payback. [BBC] [Photo: Wikimedia Commons/David Shankbone]

8. Lyle Stevik Revealed

For 17 years, nobody knew the real name of the young man who hung himself in a hotel room in Washington State less than a week after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

He’d checked in using the name “Lyle Stevik,” a character from a Joyce Carol Oates novel, and left no identification behind. Conspiracy theorists wondered if he could have been involved in 9/11 or other crimes.

In May, the DNA Doe Project announced that they had identified the dead man’s relatives using familial DNA searches. When contacted, the family asked to remain unnamed. There was no connection to terror cells. [CrimeFeed] [Photo: Artist reconstruction of Lyle Stevik by Carl Koppelman (TheDoeNetwork)

7. NXIVM Sex Cult Leader Arrested

NXIVM started out as a multi-level marketing scheme, but quickly shifted into sex-cult territory, according to authorities, in which women were treated as slaves and expected to have sex with the male leaders. Its cofounder, Keith Raniere, was arrested in Mexico in March, and extradited to the U.S. where he was indicted on charges that include sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit forced labor. [Vanity Fair] [Keith Raniere courtroom sketch: Elizabeth Williams via AP]

6. Austin Serial Bombings

A serial bomber terrorized Austin in March, his five package bombs killing two people and injuring five more.

The bombs were sophisticated, but constructed with common household items. The FBI pulled receipts from stores in the region and quickly identified a suspect – 23-year-old Mark Anthony Conditt, a home-schooled survivalist. But as a SWAT team moved in for the arrest, Conditt blew himself up in his vehicle in an apparent suicide. He left behind a 25-minute confession video on his cell phone. [SplinterNews.com]

[Photo: Law-enforcement officials continue their investigation at the home of Mark Anthony Conditt March 22, 2018, in Pflugerville, Texas. Scott Olson/Getty Images]

5. YouTube Shooting

On April 3, a woman walked into YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, California, and began shooting. She wounded three people before turning the gun on herself.

Police identified the woman as Nasim Najafi Aghdam, a vegan activist and fitness personality who tried to make money off her social-media videos. Before the shootings, she had complained that YouTube was filtering her channel in a way that made it hard to monetize. [WOKV.com] [Photo: Nasim Najafi Aghdam (San Bruno Police)]

4. The Murder of Mollie Tibbetts

The disappearance of Mollie Tibbetts captured the country’s attention for a month after she vanished on July 18, while jogging near her home in Brooklyn, Iowa.

After police obtained video footage from a nearby surveillance camera, they noticed a Chevy Malibu driving back and forth in the area where Tibbetts was jogging. The car was linked to Cristhian Rivera, a migrant worker. When police confronted Rivera, he confessed and led them to the woman’s body, which he had placed in a cornfield. [CrimeFeed] [Photo: Mollie Tibbets (Iowa Dept. Of Criminal Investigation)]

3. The Confessions of Samuel Little

Police already knew Sam Little was a bad man, but nobody had any idea just how bad he’d turn out to be.

Little was charged with three murders in 2014, after DNA linked him to the crimes, but Texas Ranger James Holland suspected that Little was responsible for many more cold cases. When Holland interviewed Little earlier this year, the suspect claimed he had killed as many as 90 people and provided clues that allowed law enforcement to begin to connect him to open cases from Ohio to Louisiana.

However, it remains to be seen if his confessions are all legitimate. If true, it would make Little the most prolific serial killer in modern history. [CrimeFeed] [Photo: Samuel Little (Wise County Jail)]

2. Joseph Newton Chandler’s Real Name Revealed

Joseph Newton Chandler was the name given to an old man who committed suicide in Eastlake, Ohio, in 2002. But evidence found by a private investigator showed that Chandler was not actually the man’s name, and theories about his real identity ranged from the Zodiac Killer to Jim Morrison. U.S. Marshals held a press conference in Cleveland on June 21, revealing that forensic genealogists Colleen Fitzpatrick and Margaret Press had used the man’s DNA profile and public databases to figure out his real name – Robert Ivan Nichols, a WWII vet who disappeared in 1965. Police are still investigating his possible connection to the Zodiac murders. [CrimeFeed] [Photo: Robert Nichols aka Joseph Chandler (U.S. Marshals Service)]

1. The Golden State Killer Suspect is Caught

Suspected in at least 13 murders, 50 rapes, and over 100 burglaries, the Golden State Killer terrified California residents from 1974 to 1986.

A book about the case, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, was published in February, written by Michelle McNamara, a true-crime blogger who died of an accidental overdose in 2016.

On April 24, sheriff’s deputies arrested 72-year-old Joseph DeAngelo of Citrus Heights, California, after another forensic genealogist — Barbara Rae-Venter — linked his DNA profile to the cold-case murders and rapes. McNamara’s husband, the comedian Patton Oswalt, tweeted: “I hope you got him, Michelle.” [CrimeFeed] [Photo: Joseph DeAngelo (Sacramento Sheriff's Office)]