June 2023

Little, Crazy Children

By James Renner
Review by
In his latest true crime investigation, James Renner refuses to let the murder of Shaker Heights, Ohio, teenager Lisa Pruett be washed away by the tide of time.
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Shaker Heights, east of Cleveland, Ohio, is an idyllic American town, a “planned utopia . . . plotted out, parcel by parcel.” With its mansions full of doctors and lawyers and paved streets lined with high-end department stores, it’s an unexpected place for a murder. Little, Crazy Children reveals what happens when teenagers take “justice” into their own hands, spreading misinformation and blurring the line between the accused and the guilty. 

Sixteen-year-old Lisa Pruett was known and loved by all as a romantic, a poet, a member of her church youth group—and someone who was madly in love with her boyfriend, Dan Dreifort. But in September 1990, Pruett was found dead in a back yard near Dreifort’s house, brutally stabbed. 

Dreifort admitted to having contaminated the crime scene—putting his fingerprints on Pruett’s bike while straightening it up. Dreifort’s bedroom, less than 100 yards from the crime scene, was full of empty bottles of Robitussin and contained the suspected murder weapon. In journal upon journal, investigators found that Dreifort had written of his blistering hatred for Lisa, of sacrificing a virgin and poking her eyes out with his pocket knife. 

But Dreifort was not the one the state chose to prosecute. Instead, they fixed their attention on another teenager, 18-year-old Kevin Young. An outcast in the community who vehemently denied any involvement, Young soon became the main suspect without ever being placed at the scene of the crime. 

Journalist, novelist and renowned true crime reporter James Renner (The Great Forgetting) forages for the truth among mixed-up rumors and lies. Renner writes in short chapters with propulsive pacing and cliffhanger endings, turning this disturbing journey into quite a page turner. With a casual narration style, Renner imbues his story with plenty of personal anecdotes, making it feel like readers are on the case alongside him. 

The tragedy recounted in Little, Crazy Children includes an undercurrent of romantic, religious and racial tumult. There’s a mysterious phone call predicting the murder, a series of troubling love letters and a highly loaded trial—details that are as engrossing for readers as they were for the townspeople of Shaker Heights. Much of the mystery is still unanswered, and Renner fills his final chapter with theoretical questions. You’ll have plenty to deliberate over even after you finish reading, making this the perfect pick for your book club of amateur sleuths.

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Little, Crazy Children

Little, Crazy Children

By James Renner
ISBN 9780806542553

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