Project Cold Case hosts 3rd annual Year of Hope event

By Katherine Hamilton |

Project Cold Case recently hosted its 3rd annual Year of Hope event in honor of the families who have supported the non-profit’s growth since 2015.

Ryan Backmann, Executive Director of Project Cold Case, started the organization after his father, Cliff Backmann, was murdered unexpectedly in a robbery while working construction on a Saturday morning. When his father’s case took a place with around 1,400 other of Jacksonville’s cold cases, Backmann realized that there was a need that wasn’t being met.

Around 70 to 100 people were in attendance of the 3rd annual Year of Hope event.

“I hope people realize that murder can affect anyone. It’s anyone at any time. Nobody is immune, and there’s somewhere to turn if that does happen. In the meantime, I want people to know that somebody is out here fighting for all of these cases,” Backmann said.

The main purpose of Project Cold Case is to raise awareness for unsolved cases everywhere and to link families to information and law enforcement. Both families and law enforcement can submit cases to be spotlighted on their website and shared over various social media platforms.

Located at Royal Palm Village Wine and Tapas, the main goal of the gala was to tell members of Project Cold Case the progress they made in 2017, as well as the future goals for the upcoming year. They also had the opportunity to show their new promotional video shot by Crop Creative Productions.

The event came fully stocked, offering free food, drinks and a silent and live auction hosted by Senator Aaron Bean. Selling things like spa packages, jewelry or even a night at the symphony helped to raise money for future projects—specifically the development of labs for private DNA testing.

“Murder is not exactly something that people smile about and think they can enjoy. We bring them out here, and it’s all about having a good time, and supporting a good cause and still having fun,” Backmann said. “It’s showing these families that it’s okay to laugh and smile and enjoy your time—that it doesn’t take away from what you’ve been through, but you’ve got to get out and enjoy yourself and smile every now and then and have some joy in your life.”

Executive Director of Project Cold Case, Ryan Backmann, and Senator Aaron Bean leading the live auction.

In attendance was a family centered around one of Jacksonville’s oldest and recently solved cold cases—the Farah family.

In 1974, Freddie Farah was murdered while working at a grocery store. His murderer evaded capture, leaving the Farah family without answers for decades.

A partial palm print left on a box of cake mix and a can of frosting was the link between grief and justice. The evidence was retested several times to no avail until DNA technology became more advanced.

When Project Cold Case got in contact with Bobby Farah, Freddie Farah’s son, they spotlighted his father’s case on their website and received almost 15,000 hits on the post.

“The fact that they get their information out there and that they publicize it and bring attention to these cold cases—you just never know who might call in and give them that one little bit of information that leads them to an arrest,” Farrah said. “All it takes is one.”

After 43 years, the DNA was retested, this time showing a match for a man named Johnie Miller, better known in the French Quarter of New Orleans as street performer “Uncle Louie.” The family can rest more easily now that the man who so negatively affected their lives is answering for his crimes.

“It’s overwhelming. It has created some peace in our lives. It has helped especially with my mother, so it has given her answers that she’s been looking for all her life as well as all of us,” Farrah said.

Farrah said that his fathers case as caused other people to come forward to seek justice for their loved one. He also said he’s met a lot of people who have gone through something similar through Project Cold Case and has found support.

“It gives a lot of families hope,” Farrah said.

Patty Lord, victim advocate and fellow survivor, was also at the gala. She and Ryan Backmann are the only two people running the non-profit at the current moment, but they are hoping to expand in the near future.

Her job as a victim advocate with Project Cold Case is talking to those who have lost their loved one to homicide, going to court with them when they go to trials, giving moral support and getting their cases heard.

For her, going to the gala and celebrating a year of victories for the non-profit gives her hope that her own daughter’s case will be solved.

Her daughter, Carrie Singer, was brutally beaten, raped and murdered 14 years ago in the Isle of Wight. Carrie’s case has raised some eyebrows, leading to it being the subject of the current season of the series “Killing Fields,” an investigative crime show on Discovery Channel that began on Jan. 4, 2018.  

Through Project Cold Case, she said she has encountered more families than she can count affected by unsolved homicide.

Seeing such a great amount of growth in three years and a large attendance and support by local officials only demonstrates the expanding need of Project Cold Case.

“Project Cold Case means hope for me,” Lord said. “Project Cold Case gives survivors hope that there is hope to find justice for their loved ones.” 

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