Solving cold cases on Instagram: How one Montreal student got deep into true crime

A Montreal student behind an Instagram account that posts photos of corpses and renderings of missing people is using the image-based platform to do two things: solve cold cases and start a conversation about death.

(Note: The images on the Instagram account might be disturbing to some.)

Nineteen-year-old Adrian Tsarevich is the founder of the account @namelessdoes, which features photos from cold cases across North America and the U.K., and includes resources to contact authorities and connect with grief support. Each post includes a photo of the John or Jane Does, and includes details from each case like their estimated age, year of death, physical description and where the body was found.

Tsarevich, who is an active member of the true crime community, says the project started after he noticed a gap when it came to cold cases that were discussed on podcasts and documentaries.

“What was striking was that their pictures were never shown,” he tells Yahoo Canada News. “There’s milk cartons in the U.S. that shows pictures of missing children. My first thought was, of course it’s dead people so their pictures are taboo. I felt that it was unfair.”

Adrian Tsarevich started the site last year by reviewing missing person archives from different countries.
Adrian Tsarevich started the site last year by reviewing missing person archives from different countries.

Tsarevich started the site last year by reviewing missing person archives from different countries, such as NamUs, to find cases that included photos of the deceased. At first it was a slow process, but things started picking up after he connected with others in the true-crime community, who were keen to share resources. He currently works with two volunteers — an anthropology student based in London, who helps with language, comments and moderation, and an American mortician, who helps with answering detailed questions about death and dying.

The project is intentionally image-driven, in an attempt to break down language barriers.

“Because the cases we find are people from diverse backgrounds, we wanted the picture to be the central focus,” he says. “Language differences can impair a case.”

It is also important to Tsarevich that the project includes an interactive element to it. He’s started “Missing Mondays,” a weekly event where missing poster submissions are collected from followers and posted on the account’s Stories features. Tsarevich also answers questions in Stories, and recently launched “Fatal Hour,” a discussion on death through Instagram Live.

“We really wanted to start a channel that opened up communication about death,” Tsarevich says. “It’s really important to talk about it.”

The intention for the project is to evolve into a website, which will include a feature that allows members of the community to post about grief or information on a missing loved one. Currently the Instagram site features a link to a basic website that includes links to grief resources, archives, and Crimestoppers.

So far, Tsarevich believes there have been five or six cases that have been identified, possibly as a result of the account, though he admits it’s hard to verify.

“The archives don’t necessarily update quickly and I have to personally search every single case to see if they’ve been updated,” he says. “It’s difficult but each week I try to check in on each case to see if there’s updates.”

Once a case has been closed, the photo will be taken off the Instagram account. When people reach out to Tsarevich after seeing a photo on the account of someone they presume to be their missing loved one, he always advises them to contact local authorities.

Tsarevich intends to further his passion in the topic of death by studying to be a mortician and funeral director in the future.

“I’ve always been interested in the past, and things that were and aren’t any more,” he says. “Maybe it’s the natural progression for that passion.”