Netflix documentary reignites interest in Jennifer Pan’s murder-for-hire case

The most popular movie on Netflix Canada resurrects a dramatic murder-for-hire plot that shook an Ontario town in 2010.

The documentary What Jennifer did explores the life of Jennifer Pan and the complicated events that led to the death of her mother and the serious injury of her father in a case in Markham, Ontario, which was granted a new trial last year.

Pan was sentenced in 2015, at the age of 28, to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years for the first-degree murder of her mother and the attempted murder of her father. A new trial was later ordered on the first degree murder charge.

“The fact that it’s true, I would say it’s wilder than fiction. It’s a Hollywood scenario,” Jeremy Grimaldi, executive producer of the documentary, told CBC Toronto’s Dwight Drummond. “But we must always remember that this is a tragedy.”

Pan had a difficult relationship with his strict and demanding parents, who had extremely high expectations of him and closely monitored his extracurricular activities. She and her friends thought they were controlling and restrictive.

Eventually, they caught her lying about getting her high school diploma, her pharmacology degree and volunteering at a children’s hospital. Secretly, she was also spending time with her then-boyfriend Daniel Wong.

Jennifer Pan is shown carrying incense at her mother’s funeral earlier in November. His brother is shown to his right. She is the subject of a new Netflix documentary that explores her life and the complex series of events that led a hitman to kill her mother and seriously injure her father in Markham, Ontario, in a case that obtained a new trial last year. (Chant Tao daily)

During the trial, the Crown said Pan began plotting her parents’ murder after they forced her to choose between them and Wong. He was also involved in the murder plot.

Pan explains that she had a bad relationship with her father, who was the “rule maker”, but was closer to her mother.

One night in November 2010, three men entered the house where she lived with her parents and shot them several times, killing her mother and seriously injuring her father, who fled to a neighbor’s house with gunshot wounds. in the face and shoulder. he later testifies against his daughter.

Pan was initially believed to be the victim of a home invasion, but police quickly named her as a suspect, and a series of text messages and phone calls between her and Wong appeared to reveal a plot to have the men kill his parents for $10,000.

“The wrong message to take away”

The documentary is not for everyone.

Karen K. Ho, a New York business and arts crime reporter who attended school with Pan and Wong, wrote: an article for Toronto Life in 2015 which detailed the complexities of Pan’s case and family dynamics, highlighting the pressures placed on Pan and other children of immigrant families.

Pan and his family are of Chinese descent, but his parents came to Canada as refugees from Vietnam.

Ho’s article was picked up on true crime podcasts and received a new wave of attention since the documentary’s release on Wednesday.

She says she’s uncomfortable with the “true crime industrial complex” and what she calls the American public’s “devouring and endless” appetite for content about murder.

“I don’t watch it and I choose not to watch it, because I don’t want to encourage the continued production of this stuff, without at least some really thoughtful consideration.”

She says the primary audience for true crime is white Americans and that documentaries are primarily produced through a white lens. She says she wasn’t surprised that Pan and her father refused to speak on camera, or that the documentary relied largely on interviews and police footage.

Ho says she’d like to see money earmarked for true-crime documentaries go toward work that focuses on systemic issues rather than personal stories, and she particularly applauds the work of Cree journalist Connie Walker, of First Okanese Nation in Saskatchewan, and its reporting on missing and murdered indigenous women.

“The overemphasis on personal responsibility, over systemic issues, is not the right message to send,” Ho said.

Although Ho says her 2015 article was intended to cover the affair in a nuanced, non-exploitative way, she recalls receiving backlash at the time and accusations that she was “capitalizing on the worst day of her life.” ‘a family “.

Hopes for healing, understanding

Co-producer Paul Nguyen says director Jenny Popplewell contacted him two years ago to help connect with members of Markham’s Vietnamese community to What Jennifer did.

“I can understand, being a second generation Vietnamese and being pressured by my own parents. And sometimes it hurts and upsets me a lot, but I wouldn’t resort to something like that,” he said. Nguyen told CBC Toronto.

A court sketch depicting a man, left, with glasses and long hair tied in a ponytail, and a woman, right, with long black hair, half up, half down.
A legal sketch of Jennifer Pan, right, in March 2014. (Alex Tavshunsky/CBC)

He says mental health issues are “a very taboo subject in Asian communities.”

“I just hope that dialogue can happen and there will be more healing and people can come to an understanding and avoid these kinds of situations.”

When Pan was sentenced in 2015, her three co-defendants – Wong, Lenford Crawford and David Mylvaganam – received the same sentence.

However, in May 2023, the Ontario Court of Appeal ordered a new trial for the four accused on the charge of first degree murder. Their lawyers argued in part that it was unfair for the judge to present the jury with only two options: either the attack was planned and deliberate, with the intent to murder both parents, or the attack was part of a home invasion and the robbery gone wrong.

Grimaldi, also a crime journalist who covered Pan’s trial and wrote a book about the case, says he hopes the documentary will make people reconsider any judgments they may have made about Pan at the time.

“She was really billed as the girl from hell. In fact, it was the front page of the Toronto Sun, ‘Girl from Hell,'” he said.

“Now, with a little time, we can look back and see that maybe it’s a little more nuanced story and it’s more complex.”

Lonnie Kimmons

"Internet fanatic. Evil organizer. Tv fanatic. Explorer. Hipster-friendly social media junkie. Certified food expert."

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