Bich Ha and Huei Hann Pan were classic examples of the Canadian immigrant success story. Hann was raised and educated in Vietnam and moved to Canada as a political refugee in 1979. Bich (pronounced “Bick”) came separately, also a refugee. They married in Toronto and lived in Scarborough. They had two kids, Jennifer, in 1986, and Felix, three years later, and found jobs at the Aurora-based auto parts manufacturer Magna International, Hann as a tool and die maker and Bich making car parts. They lived frugally. By 2004, Bich and Hann had saved enough to buy a large home with a two-car garage on a quiet residential street in Markham. He drove a Mercedes-Benz and she a Lexus ES 300, and they accumulated $200,000 in the bank.
Their expectation was that Jennifer and Felix would work as hard as they had in establishing their lives in Canada. They’d laid the groundwork, and their kids would need to improve upon it. They enrolled Jennifer in piano classes at age four, and she showed early promise. By elementary school, she’d racked up a trophy case full of awards. They put her in figure skating, and she hoped to compete at the national level, with her sights set on the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver until she tore a ligament in her knee. Some nights during elementary school, Jennifer would come home from skating practice at 10 p.m., do homework until midnight, then head to bed. The pressure was intense. She began cutting herself—little horizontal cuts on her forearms.
As graduation from Grade 8 loomed, Jennifer expected to be named valedictorian and to collect a handful of medals for her academic achievements. But she received none, and she wasn’t named valedictorian. She was stunned. What was the point in trying if no one acknowledged your efforts? And yet, instead of expressing her devastation, she told anyone who asked that she was perfectly fine—something she called her “happy mask.”
More crime stories
Murder in Muskoka: How a mysterious crate in a cottage crawl space cracked Samantha Collins’s murder
The Break-In Artist: The hunt for the cat burglar who terrorized Toronto’s wealthiest neighbourhoods
Breaking Brian Shin: Portrait of a Bay Street master and suburban drug dealer
A close observer might have noticed that Jennifer seemed off, but I never did. I was a year behind her at Mary Ward Catholic Secondary in north Scarborough. As far as Catholic schools go, it was something of an anomaly: it had the usual high academic standards and strict dress code, mixed with a decidedly bohemian vibe. It was easy to find your tribe. Bright kids and arty misfits hung out together, across subjects, grades and social groups. If you played three instruments, took advanced classes, competed on the ski team and starred in the school’s annual International Night—a showcase of various cultures around the world—you were cool. Outsiders were embraced, geekiness celebrated (anime club meetings were constantly packed) and precocious ambition supported (our most famous alumnus, Craig Kielburger, pretty much ran his charity, Free the Children, from the halls of Mary Ward).
It was the perfect community for a student like Jennifer. A social butterfly with an easy, high-pitched laugh, she mixed with guys, girls, Asians, Caucasians, jocks, nerds, people deep into the arts. Outside of school, Jennifer swam and practised the martial art of wushu.
At five foot seven, she was taller than most of the other Asian girls at the school, and pretty but plain. She rarely wore makeup; she had small, round wire-frame glasses that were neither stylish nor expensive; and she kept her hair straight and unstyled.
Jennifer and I both played the flute, though she was in the senior stage band and I was in junior. We would interact in the band room, had dozens of mutual acquaintances and were friends on Facebook. In conversation, she always seemed focused on the moment—if you had her attention, you had it completely.
I discovered later that Jennifer’s friendly, confident persona was a façade, beneath which she was tormented by feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt and shame. When she failed to win first place at skating competitions, she tried to hide her devastation from her parents, not wanting to add worry to their disappointment. Her mother, Bich, noticed something was amiss and would comfort her daughter at night, when Hann was asleep, saying, “You know all we want from you is just your best—just do what you can.”
She had been a top student in elementary school, but midway through Grade 9, she was averaging 70 per cent in all subjects with the exception of music, where she excelled. Using old report cards, scissors, glue and a photocopier, she created a new, forged report card with straight As. Since universities didn’t consider marks from Grade 9 and 10 for admission, she told herself it wasn’t a big deal.
Hann was the classic tiger dad, and Bich his reluctant accomplice. They picked Jennifer up from school at the end of the day, monitored her extracurricular activities and forbade her from attending dances, which Hann considered unproductive. Parties were off limits and boyfriends verboten until after university. When Jennifer was permitted to attend a sleepover at a friend’s house, Bich and Hann dropped her off late at night and picked her up early the following morning. By age 22, she had never gone to a club, been drunk, visited a friend’s cottage or gone on vacation without her family.
Presumably, their overprotectiveness was born of love and concern. To Jennifer and her friends, however, it was tyranny. “They were absolutely controlling,” said one former classmate, who asked not to be named. “They treated her like shit for such a long time.”
The more I learned about Jennifer’s strict upbringing, the more I could relate to her. I grew up with immigrant parents who also came to Canada from Asia (in their case Hong Kong) with almost nothing, and a father who demanded a lot from me. My dad expected me to be at the top of my class, especially in math and science, to always be obedient, and to be exemplary in every other way. He wanted a child who was like a trophy—something he could brag about. I suspected the achievements of his siblings and their children made him feel insecure, and he wanted my accomplishments to match theirs. I felt like a hamster on a wheel, sprinting to meet some sort of expectation, solely determined by him, that was always just out of reach. Hugs were a rarity in my house, and birthday parties and gifts from Santa ceased around age 9. I was talented at math and figure skating, though my father almost never complimented me, even when I excelled. He played down my educational achievements, just like his parents had done with him—the prevailing theory in our culture being that flattery spoils ambition.
Jennifer met Daniel Wong in Grade 11. He was a year older, goofy and gregarious, with a big laugh, a wide smile and a little paunch around his waistline. He played trumpet in the school band and in a marching band outside of school. Their relationship was platonic until a band trip to Europe in 2003. After a performance in a concert hall filled with smokers, Jennifer suffered an asthma attack. She started panicking, was led outside to the tour bus and almost blacked out. Daniel calmed her down, coaching her breathing. “He pretty much saved my life,” she later said. “It meant everything.” That summer, they started dating.
Of Jennifer’s friends, I knew Daniel best. We met in my Grade 9 year at Mary Ward, and he would come over to my house nearly every day after school to watch TV and play Halo on my Xbox. He would often stick around and eat dinner with my family. Dan spoke to my parents in Cantonese, and my dad would regularly buy him Zesty Cheese Doritos—his favourite. When Daniel was in his final year at Mary Ward, we drifted apart, and midway through the year, he transferred to Cardinal Carter Academy, an arts school in North York. He was falling behind at Mary Ward, and, unbeknownst to me, he had been charged with trafficking after cops found half a pound of weed in his car.
Jennifer’s parents assumed their daughter was an A student; in truth, she earned mostly Bs—respectable for most kids but unacceptable in her strict household. So Jennifer continued to doctor her report cards throughout high school. She received early acceptance to Ryerson, but then failed calculus in her final year and wasn’t able to graduate. The university withdrew its offer. Desperate to keep her parents from digging into her high school records, she lied and said she’d be starting at Ryerson in the fall. She said her plan was to do two years of science, then transfer over to U of T’s pharmacology program, which was her father’s hope. Hann was delighted and bought her a laptop. Jennifer collected used biology and physics textbooks and bought school supplies. In September, she pretended to attend frosh week. When it came to tuition, she doctored papers stating she was receiving an OSAP loan and convinced her dad she’d won a $3,000 scholarship.
She would pack up her book bag and take public transit downtown. Her parents assumed she was headed to class. Instead, Jennifer would go to public libraries, where she would research on the Web what she figured were relevant scientific topics and fill her books with copious notes. She’d spend her free time at cafés or visiting Daniel at York University, where he was taking classes. She picked up a few day shifts as a server at East Side Mario’s in Markham, taught piano lessons and later tended bar at a Boston Pizza where Daniel worked as a kitchen manager. At home, Hann often asked Jennifer about her studies, but Bich told him not to interfere. “Let her be herself,” she’d say.
In order to keep the charade from unravelling, Jennifer lied to her friends, too. She even amplified her dad’s meddling ways, telling one friend, falsely, that her father had hired a private investigator to follow her.
After Jennifer had pretended to be enrolled at Ryerson for two years, Hann asked her if she was still planning to switch to U of T. She said yes, she’d been accepted into the pharmacology program. Her parents were thrilled. She suggested moving in with her friend Topaz downtown for three nights a week. Bich sympathized with Jennifer’s long commute each day and convinced Hann that it was a good idea.
Jennifer never stayed with Topaz. Monday through Wednesday, she stayed with Daniel and his family at their home in Ajax, a large house on a quiet, tree-lined street. Jennifer lied to Daniel’s parents as well, telling them her parents were okay with the arrangement and brushing off their repeated requests to meet Hann and Bich over dim sum.
After two more years, it was theoretically time to graduate from U of T. Jennifer and Daniel hired someone they found online to create a fake transcript, full of As. When it came to the ceremony, Jennifer told her parents that the extra-large class size meant there weren’t enough seats—graduating students were allowed only one guest each, and she didn’t want one of her parents to feel left out, so she gave her ticket to a friend.
Jennifer developed a mental strategy to deal with her lies. “I tried looking at myself in the third person, and I didn’t like who I saw,” she later said, “but rationalizations in my head said I had to keep going—otherwise I would lose everything that ever meant anything to me.”
Eventually, Jennifer’s fictional academic career began to collapse. While supposedly studying at U of T, she had told her parents about an exciting new development: she was volunteering at the blood-testing lab at SickKids. The gig sometimes required late-night shifts on Fridays and weekends. Perhaps, she suggested, she should spend more of the week at Topaz’s. But Hann noticed something odd: Jennifer had no uniform or key card from SickKids. So the next day, he insisted that they drop her off at the hospital. As soon as the car stopped, she sprinted inside, and Hann instructed Bich to follow her. Realizing she was being tailed by her mom, Jennifer hid in the waiting area of the ER for a few hours until they left. Early the next morning, they called Topaz, who groggily told the truth: Jennifer wasn’t there. When Jennifer finally came home, Hann confronted her. She confessed that she didn’t volunteer at SickKids, had never been in U of T’s pharmacology program and had indeed been staying at Daniel’s—though she neglected to tell them that she’d never graduated high school and that her time at Ryerson was also complete fiction.
Bich wept. Hann was apoplectic. He told Jennifer to get out and never come back, but Bich convinced him to let their daughter stay. They took away her cellphone and laptop for two weeks, after which she was only permitted to use them in her parents’ presence and had to endure surprise checks of her messages. They forbade her from seeing Daniel. They ordered her to quit all of her jobs except for teaching piano and began tracking the odometer on the car.
Jennifer was madly in love with Daniel, and lonely, too. For two weeks, she was housebound, her mother by her side nearly constantly—though Bich told Jennifer where her dad had hidden her phone, so she could periodically check her messages. In February 2009, she wrote on her Facebook page: “Living in my house is like living under house arrest.” She also posted a note: “No one person knows everything about me, and no two people put together knows everything about me…I like being a mystery.” Over the spring and summer, she snuck calls with Daniel on her cellphone at night, whispering in the dark.
Eventually, she was allowed some measure of freedom, and she enrolled in a calculus course to get her final high school credit. Still, in defiance of her parents’ orders, she visited Daniel in between piano lessons. One night, she arranged her blankets to look like she was asleep, then snuck out to Daniel’s house. But she forgot that she had her mother’s wallet. In the morning, Bich went into the room to get it and discovered Jennifer was gone. Bich and Hann ordered Jennifer to come home immediately. They demanded that she apply to college—she could still be a pharmacy lab technician or nurse—and told her that she had to cut off all contact with Daniel.
Jennifer resisted, but Daniel had grown weary of their secret romance. She was 24 and still sneaking around, terrified of her parents’ tirades but not willing to leave home. He told her to figure out her life, and he broke off their relationship. Jennifer was heartbroken. Shortly thereafter, she learned that Daniel was seeing a girl named Christine. In an attempt to win back his attention and discredit Christine, she concocted a bizarre tale. She told him a man had knocked on her door and flashed what looked like a police badge. When she opened the door, a group of men rushed in, overpowered her and gang-raped her in the foyer of her house. Then a few days later, she said, she received a bullet in an envelope in her mailbox. Both instances, she alleged, were warnings from Christine to leave Daniel alone.
In the spring of 2010, Jennifer reconnected with Andrew Montemayor, a friend from elementary school. According to Jennifer’s later evidence in court, he had boasted about robbing people at knifepoint in the park near his home (a claim he denies). When Jennifer told him about her torturous relationship with her dad, Montemayor confessed that he’d once considered killing his own father. The notion intrigued Jennifer, who began imagining how much better her life would be without her father around. Montemayor introduced Jennifer to his roommate, Ricardo Duncan, a goth kid with black nail polish. Over bubble tea in between her piano lessons, according to Jennifer, they hatched a plan for Duncan to murder her father in a parking lot at his work, a tool and die company called Kobay Enstel, near Finch and McCowan. She says she gave Duncan $1,500, earnings from her piano classes, and they agreed to connect later by phone to arrange the date and time of the hit. But Duncan stopped answering her calls, and by early July, Jennifer realized she had been ripped off. (Duncan says she called him in early July, hysterical, requesting that he come and kill her parents. He said he felt offended and said no, and that the only money she gave him was $200 for a night out, which he promptly returned.)
According to the police, it was at this point that Daniel and Jennifer, who were back in contact and exchanging daily flirty texts, devised an even more sinister plan: they’d hire a hit on Bich and Hann, collect the estate—Jennifer’s portion totalling about $500,000—and live together, unencumbered by her meddling parents. Daniel gave Jennifer a spare iPhone and SIM card, and connected her with an acquaintance named Lenford Crawford, whom he called Homeboy. Jennifer asked what the going rate was for a contract killing. Crawford said it was $20,000, but for a friend of Daniel’s it could be done for $10,000. Jennifer was careful to use her iPhone for crime-related conversations and her Samsung phone for everything else. On Halloween night, Crawford visited the Pans’ neighbourhood—probably to scout the site. Kids in costume streaming up and down the street provided the perfect cover.
On the afternoon of November 2, the plan took an unexpected turn. Daniel texted Jennifer, saying that he felt as strongly about Christine as she did about him. Suddenly everything was thrown into question. She texted Daniel: “So you feel for her what I feel for you, then call it off with Homeboy.” Daniel responded, “I thought you wanted this for you?” Jennifer replied to Daniel, “I do, but I have nowhere to go.” Daniel wrote back: “Call it off with Homeboy? You said you wanted this with or without me.” Jennifer: “I want it for me.” The next day, Daniel texted, “I did everything and lined it all up for you.” It seemed Daniel wanted out of the arrangement. But within hours, they’d reverted to their old ways, texting and flirting. Later that day, Crawford texted Jennifer, “I need the time of completion, think about it.” Jennifer wrote back, “Today is a no go. Dinner plans out so won’t be home in time.” Over the following week, there was a flurry of text and phone conversations between Jennifer, Daniel and Crawford. On the morning of November 8, Crawford texted Jennifer: “After work ok will be game time.”
That evening, Jennifer watched Gossip Girl and Jon and Kate Plus Eight in her bedroom while Hann read the Vietnamese news down the hall before heading to bed around 8:30 p.m. Bich was out line dancing with a friend and cousin. Felix, who was studying engineering at McMaster University, wasn’t home. At approximately 9:30 p.m., Bich came home from her line dancing class, changed into her pyjamas and soaked her feet in front of the TV on the main floor. At 9:35 p.m., a man named David Mylvaganam, a friend of Crawford’s, called Jennifer, and they spoke for nearly two minutes. Jennifer went downstairs to say good night to Bich and, as Jennifer later admitted, unlock the front door (a statement she eventually retracted). At 10:02 p.m., the light in the upstairs study switched on—allegedly a signal to the intruders—and a minute later, it switched off. At 10:05 p.m., Mylvaganam called again, and he and Jennifer spoke for three and a half minutes. Moments later, Crawford, Mylvaganam and a third man named Eric Carty walked through the front door, all three carrying guns. One pointed his gun at Bich while another ran upstairs, shoved a gun at Hann’s face and directed him out of bed, down the stairs and into the living room.
Upstairs, Carty confronted Jennifer outside her bedroom door. According to Jennifer, Carty tied her arms behind her using a shoelace. He directed her back inside, where she handed over approximately $2,500 in cash, then to her parents’ bedroom, where he located $1,100 in U.S. funds in her mother’s nightstand, and then finally to the kitchen to search for her mother’s wallet.
“How could they enter the house?” Bich asked Hann in Cantonese. “I don’t know, I was sleeping,” Hann replied. “Shut up! You talk too much!” one of the intruders yelled at Hann. “Where’s the fucking money?” Hann had just $60 in his wallet and said as much. “Liar!” one man replied, and pistol-whipped him on the back of the head. Bich began weeping, pleading with the men not to hurt their daughter. One of the intruders replied, “Rest assured, she is nice and will not be hurt.”
Carty led Jennifer back upstairs and tied her arms to the banister, while Mylvaganam and Crawford took Bich and Hann to the basement and covered their heads with blankets. They shot Hann twice, once in the shoulder and then in the face. He crumpled to the floor. They shot Bich three times in the head, killing her instantly, then fled through the front door.
Jennifer somehow managed to reach her phone, tucked into the waistband of her pants, and dial 911 (despite, as she later claimed, having her hands tied behind her back). “Help me, please! I need help!” she cried. “I don’t know where my parents are! … Please hurry!” At the 34-second mark of the call, the unexpected happens: Hann can be heard moaning in the background. He had awoken, covered in blood, with his dead wife’s body next to him, and crawled up the stairs to the main floor. Jennifer yelled down that she was calling 911. Hann stumbled outside, screaming wildly, and encountered his startled neighbour, who was about to leave for work, in the driveway next door. The neighbour called 911. Police and an ambulance arrived at the scene minutes later, and Hann was rushed to a nearby hospital, then airlifted to Sunnybrook.
York Regional Police interviewed Jennifer just before 3 a.m. She told them that the men had entered the house looking for money, tied her to the banister, and taken her parents to the basement and shot them. Two days later, the police brought her in again to give a second statement. At their request, she showed how she contorted her body to get her phone—a flip phone—out of her waistband to place a call while tied to a banister.
Holes began to emerge in Jennifer’s story. For instance, the keys to Hann’s Lexus were in plain view by the front door. If it were indeed a home invasion, why did the intruders not take the car? And why didn’t they have a crowbar to get in, or a backpack to carry the loot, or zip ties to restrain the residents? And most important: why would they shoot two witnesses but leave one unharmed? The police assigned a surveillance team to monitor Jennifer’s movements.
By November 12, Hann had woken up from his three-day induced coma. He had a broken bone near his eye, bullet fragments lodged in his face that doctors couldn’t remove and a shattered neck bone—the bullet had grazed the carotid artery. Remarkably, he remembered everything, including two troubling details: he recalled seeing his daughter chatting softly—“like a friend,” he said—with one of the intruders, and that her arms were not tied behind her back while she was being led around the house.
On November 22, the police brought Jennifer in for a third interview. This one developed a different tone: the detective, William Goetz, said that he knew she was involved in the crime. He knew that she had lied to him, and said it was in her best interest to fess up. Jennifer, hunched over and sobbing, asked repeatedly, “But what happens to me?”
Over nearly four hours, Jennifer spun out an absurd explanation. She said the attack had been an elaborate plan to commit suicide gone horribly wrong. She had given up on life but couldn’t manage to kill herself, so she hired Homeboy, whose real name she claimed not to know, to do it for her. In September, however, her relationship with her father had suddenly improved, and she decided to call off the hit. But somehow wires got crossed, and the men ended up killing her parents instead of her. Police arrested Jennifer on the spot. In the spring of 2011, relying on analysis of cellphone calls and texts, they nabbed Daniel, Mylvaganam, Carty and Crawford, and charged all five with first-degree murder, attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
The trial began on March 19, 2014, in Newmarket. It was expected to last six months but stretched for nearly 10. More than 50 witnesses testified and more than 200 exhibits were filed. Jennifer was on the stand for seven days, bobbing and weaving in a futile attempt to explain away the damning text messages with Crawford and Daniel and the calls with Mylvaganam, and desperately trying to convince the jury that while she had indeed ordered a hit on her father in August 2010, three months later she had wanted nothing of the sort.
Before the jury delivered the verdict, Jennifer appeared almost upbeat, playfully picking lint off her lawyer’s robes. When the guilty verdict was delivered, she showed no emotion, but once the press had left the courtroom, she wept, shaking uncontrollably. For the charge of first-degree murder, Jennifer received an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years; for the attempted murder of her father, she received another sentence of life, to be served concurrently. Daniel, Mylvaganam and Crawford each received the same sentence. Carty’s lawyer fell ill during the trial, and his trial was postponed to early 2016. The judge granted two non-communication orders, one banning communication among the five defendants until Carty’s trial is complete, and a second between Jennifer and her family, at the latter’s request, effectively preventing Jennifer from speaking to her father or brother ever again. Her lawyer addressed the order in court. “Jennifer is open to communicating with her family if they wanted to,” he said.
Hann and Felix both wrote victim impact statements. “When I lost my wife, I lost my daughter at the same time,” Hann wrote. “I don’t feel like I have a family anymore. […] Some say I should feel lucky to be alive but I feel like I am dead too.” He is now unable to work due to his injuries. He suffers anxiety attacks, insomnia and, when he can sleep, nightmares. He is in constant pain and has given up gardening, working on his cars and listening to music, since none of those activities bring him joy anymore. He can’t bear to be in his house, so he lives with relatives nearby. Felix moved to the East Coast to find work with a private technology company and escape the stigma of being a member of the Pan family. He suffers from depression and has become closed off. Hann is desperate to sell the family home, but no one will buy it. At the end of his statement, Hann addressed Jennifer. “I hope my daughter Jennifer thinks about what has happened to her family and can become a good honest person someday.”
This was a difficult story for me to write. It’s complicated to report on a murder when you were once friends with the people involved. Late last year, I drove up to the correctional facility in Lindsay a few times to see Daniel. In the harsh, white, empty halls of the massive building, even separated from me by a large pane of Plexiglas, he still seemed so familiar—a little pudgy, happy, cracking jokes. His favourite colour was always orange, but he tugged on his bright pumpkin jumpsuit and said he’d cooled on the colour lately, then broke into a big laugh. He asked how I was doing, and I told him my parents had recently separated, and how it had been tough on me. He said that if he ever got out, he would give my dad relationship advice. I asked him if he ever wonders whether, if even little things had gone just slightly differently, he wouldn’t be in prison. He shook his head and said thinking like that could drive a person mad. He said the best thing for him was to focus on reality: that he was in jail, and he had to make the best of it. Daniel said he’d bonded with the Cantonese speakers in his block and was helping them adjust to life inside. When I asked him about the case, he clammed up, citing limitations set by his lawyer. He intends to appeal, as do Jennifer, Mylvaganam and Crawford. Presuming they lose, they’ll be eligible for parole in 2035. Jennifer will be 49, Daniel 50.
A number of questions linger. Was Jennifer mentally ill? A chemical imbalance would certainly make the ordeal easier to understand. But her lawyers didn’t attempt to present her as unfit to stand trial. That leaves a harder conclusion: that Jennifer was in complete control of her faculties. That she wanted Bich and Hann dead and put a plan into action to make it happen. That the guilt of years of her snowballing lies and the shame when it all came out drove her to murder.
It’s not that simple, though. I believe that on some level, Jennifer loved her parents. “I needed my family to be around me. I wanted them to accept me; I didn’t want to live alone […] I didn’t want them to abandon me either,” she said on the stand. She was hysterical on the phone when she called 911 and teared up in the courthouse while describing the sound of her parents being shot. Yet how do you believe a liar? Jennifer lied in all three statements she gave to police. Under oath, she was repeatedly caught in tiny half-truths.
Some think her parents were to blame. “I think they pushed her to that point,” a friend of Jennifer’s told me. “I honestly don’t think Jennifer is evil. This is just two people she hated.” In February, I submitted separate formal requests to interview Jennifer and Daniel. They declined. The result is the purgatory of not knowing what my former schoolmates were thinking, feeling and hoping for. And it’s likely I never will.