Foundation Partner Project: Cold Case Expands Billboard Campaign to Raise Awareness of Unsolved Murders￼
Founded by Ryan Backmann in 2015, Project: Cold Case is a nonprofit organization that works to shine a spotlight on unsolved murder cases and creates a supportive and understanding community for the family, friends and loved ones of victims. In 2019, the Finker-Frenkel Family Foundation presented Project: Cold Case with a grant to expand beyond Florida, covering cold cases throughout the U.S. In 2022, the Foundation committed to funding a billboard campaign to raise awareness of unsolved murders. We recently spoke with Backmann and Project: Cold Case board member, Sergeant Dan Janson, about the new campaign, the Foundation’s partnership and what’s next for the organization.
Tell us about the billboard campaign—how will this help to further the impact of Project: Cold Case?
Backmann: The campaign consists of 19 billboards that will be placed throughout the State of Florida, each bringing attention to cold cases. The goal of the campaign is to remind people throughout the day about just how many cold cases there are out there and direct them to our website where they can learn more about how to get involved. Additionally, we want to highlight cases in each area—the idea is to be a resource for survivors while at the same time making the public aware of unsolved cases, as it’s possible someone who knows something that could help to solve the case will see the billboard.
In terms of impact, the billboard companies estimate that there are 4 million people seeing our billboards every day, and even if some of them are distracted or looking in the other direction, that’s pretty cool. I love getting texts from people in Tampa or Jacksonville saying, “I just saw your billboard on the side of the highway when I was driving to work,” because that shows that people are seeing it! While it may be hard to gauge exact numbers, our philosophy all along has been that we only need to reach one person, the right one, but we may have to go through a million to get to that one who has information that could help to bring peace to the families we serve. Some of these families feel like the world has forgotten about their loved ones, and this campaign is designed to show them that’s not true.
The fact of the matter is that the majority of cold cases are solved by a change in relationship—a divorce, a death in the family, or the perpetrator being incarcerated for another crime. So this billboard campaign is also a call to action for people who may have recently realized they want to talk. They can call us any time and we can help direct them to the right places.
How is Project: Cold Case different than other nonprofits?
Janson: One thing I will say about Project: Cold Case is that everything that happens within this organization happens organically. We’re not out here doing hard pushes or sells, the organization really just sells itself. It’s a nonprofit like no other out there. It can be tricky, because the cause isn’t as straightforward as cancer or heart disease—we are talking about murder, which can be very dark. But there are hundreds of thousands of unsolved murder cases in this country, and there’s little to no representation of the surviving families in most of those cases. When they get cold and you go 5, 7, or 10 years down the line with no arrests and no answers, those families can feel like their loved ones have been forgotten. So it’s our responsibility at Project: Cold Case to make sure we bring all of these unsolved cases back to the surface.
Like Ryan said, sometimes all that’s needed to solve a case is a change in a relationship. As technology is updated and the genetic genealogy field really takes off, there is more opportunity to solve these cases than ever before. I mean, the oldest cold case we’ve seen solved was 43 years old, so it can be done. Our philosophy has always been to do what’s right and do it the right way. We’re not looking for recognition or awards, we just want to keep helping people however we can.
How has the Finker-Frenkel Family Foundation’s support made a difference for Project: Cold Case?
Backmann: We are so grateful to the Finker-Frenkel Family Foundation for all their support over the last couple of years. They are an incredible partner in that they help us in any way we need—from this latest billboard campaign to enabling us to assist families in different states around the country. Without the Finker-Frenkel Family Foundation, I might still be doing this basically on my own out of my home office. They have made a world of difference, not just for us, but for the families we serve.
To learn more about Project: Cold Case, visit: https://projectcoldcase.org/