In January of this year, a 28-year-old Toronto woman named Jennifer Pan was sentenced to life in prison after hiring hit men to kill her parents. This weekend, Toronto Life uncovered the bizarre, fascinating story behind Pan’s crime. She managed to conceal for years that she’d failed out of high school and wasn’t attending college; when her parents learned the truth, she began plotting for them to die.
The Toronto Life story is particularly interesting because it was written by Karen Ho, a high school friend of Pan and her former boyfriend, Daniel Wong. In it, Ho recounts the unbelievable pressures placed on Pan as a “golden child,” the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, mother Bich Ha and father Huei Hann Pan, who pressured her from birth to succeed academically and in a long list of extracurriculars:
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.
Ho reports that Pan strained under the pressure; she began self-harming in elementary school and was devastated in grade 8 when she wasn’t made valedictorian. By high school, she was earning lower-than-acceptable grades and forging better report cards to show her parents. She also hid her relationship with boyfriend Daniel Wong from them, knowing they wouldn’t approve. And when she failed a calculus class and couldn’t graduate high school, she did everything she could to keep her parents from finding out:
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.
Pan maintained this elaborate charade for two years, pretending to graduate from Ryerson and transfer to University of Toronto on schedule. Eventually, as her parents grew suspicious, she was forced to confess. Furious, they placed her on restrictions so intense she compared them on Facebook to being under “house arrest:”
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.
When Wong broke off their relationship and began seeing a new girl, Pan made up an elaborate lie about being gang-raped to try to win him back. And when she renewed a friendship with an elementary school friend, she quickly began talking to him about killing her father. She and Wong started talking again, and soon he was part of the plot too, which shifted focus to killing both of her parents:
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 November 8, Lenord Crawford, along with two accomplies, David Mylvaganam and Eric Carty, came into the house and shot both Bich and Hann. Bich died instantly; Hann was severely injured and placed in a medically-induced coma for three days.
Police initially believed that the shootings were part of a random home invasion, but quickly began to suspect Pan was involved. At trial, she claimed she’d been trying to have herself killed: “I believed I was a failure . . . I had so many lies.” She said she’d later changed her mind and tried to call off the suicide hit, but something went horribly wrong and her parents were shot instead.
In January, Pan was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. She’ll be eligible for parole when she’s 49 years old, Wong when he’s 50. All four co-defendants plan to appeal.
The gap between feeling pressured by one’s parents and trying to kill them is vast, and nothing in Pan’s case or her history explains where her capacity to dream up such a violent plot came from. Ho writes that she visited Wong as a friend in prison, where he declined to discuss the case. Pan, too, declined to talk to her. Ho writes that she struggles to understand whether Pan loved her parents, hated them, or both: “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.”
The Toronto Star reported at sentencing that Pan’s surviving family has requested she be banned from contacting them.
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Jennifer Pan. Image by York Regional Police via York Region