Book Reviews

The Jennifer Pan Story: A Daughter’s Deadly Deception

“The story of Jennifer Pan is one of all-consuming love and devious betrayal that led to a cold-hearted plan hatched by a group of youths who thought they could pull off the perfect crime.”

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On 8 November 2010 three masked men broke into 24-year-old Jennifer Pan’s family home in Ontario, Canada. They tied her up at the top of the stairs, took her parents into the basement and shot them in cold blood.  Felix Pan, Jennifer’s younger brother, was not in the home that night. Bich-Ha Pan died quickly from a gunshot to her head. Hann Pan was shot twice but survived and managed to get outside the house to scream for help once the intruders had fled.  Jennifer, still tied to the staircase banister, managed to get her cell phone out of her pocket and call 911, desperately screaming for help.

This was no random home invasion and as investigators pore over mobile phone data, texts and calls made leading up to that night, on the night itself and after the shooting, they uncover a complex web of planning, messages, and signals with Jennifer Pan at the core.

In 2014, Jennifer Pan stood trial alongside her boyfriend, Daniel Wong, and three associates, Lenford Crawford, Eric Carty and David Mylvaganam, charged with murder, attempted murder and conspiracy to murder.

“Nine-one-one. Do you require —?” Before the operator can get the all the words out of her mouth she hears a young woman’s frenzied cries for assistance: “Help me, please! I need help … I don’t know where my parents are …” “Ma’am, ma’am, calm down. What’s going on?” asks the operator. “Some people just broke into our house and they just stole all our money!” the girl screams. “I just heard shots, pops. I’m tied upstairs. I had my hands tied behind my back. I had my cellphone in my pocket. Please come … help!”

A Double Life

Jennifer lived in a self-created delusional world where all that was wrong, all the areas she had failed to meet her parents high expectations and achieve, could magically be made right. As the lies got bigger there was no going back.  The more she got away with it, the more confidence she gained in her deceit, giving her encouragement to continue.

Journalist and court reporter Jeremy Grimaldi followed this case from the moment the news broke to the end of a complex trial lasting 10 months. His book, A Daughters Deadly Deception: The Jennifer Pan Story is a hair-raising and revealing account of this harrowing case, hammering home the horror of this crime and the level of betrayal it entailed. In opening chapters, he recounts the night of the invasion, the police interviews with Jennifer and the ensuing pursuit of truth in a fast-paced exchange that keeps pages turning.

Jennifer Pan, it was discovered, had built herself a life based on deceit. One where her parents, Vietnamese immigrants who had worked hard to build their lives in Canada, buy their own home and raise their family, believed she had her high school diploma and was attending University studying to become a pharmacist.  None of this was true.

“Instead of facing up to the consequences of her tumbling grades, she decided to show her parents the image they’d deem acceptable.” – Jeremy Grimaldi

Her parents thought she was living most of the week with a friend to be closer to University.  She faked her certificates and her degree to fool her parents and meet the high expectations they had of her.

In reality, she had met a boy, Daniel Wong, and was living with him in the week and working in a local pizza parlour.  When her father discovered their relationship and uncovered some of her lies, he demanded she stop seeing him and move back home full time.  He gave her an ultimatum; the family or Daniel Wong.  Jennifer chose her family but this promise it seems, was impossible for her to keep.

“…first you stay at home and go to school.  The second choice is to go with Danny Wong and never come back.  If not, you’ll have to wait until I’m dead.”

In writing this book, Jeremy Grimaldi has interviewed Jennifer’s school friends and teachers and studied the research on Vietnamese culture, parenting styles, norms and social structures to uncover how all the pieces of this young girl’s complicated life fitted together.

Related: Murderous Children: The Youthful Killer

How Could A Daughter Plot To Kill Her Own Parents?

At the core of this book is the question of why.  Why a daughter from a loving home would plan and carry out parricide; the murder of her own parents?  Where most true crime books would end after detailing the case, the trial, and the verdicts, Jeremy Grimaldi’s book takes on a different pace and begins to examine the areas of Jennifer’s life, her relationships and her state of mind in order to investigate these questions.

The detail of Bich-Ha and Hann’s journey to Canada as immigrants are given. Their culture of education and striving to improve yourself and your prospects in Vietnam is explored.  The importance of authoritarianism within this culture, and the importance of education and how this influenced their parenting with both their son and daughter.

Success is expected and praise is an inhibitor which can lead to mediocrity; the underlying aspects of tiger-parenting according to Yale Law Professor Amy Chua.  It is a “tough love method of child-rearing” and it is a method which it appears was being practiced in the Pan household.

“In many homes of Asian heritage, the tender emotion the disciplinarian shows is often restrained.  When children misbehave, a parent might show deep disappointment; when they achieve, praise can be muted.” – Jeremy Grimaldi

Jeremy Grimaldi explores Asian culture and teens experiences and highlights that deception in the family is not uncommon. The high standards expected need to be met and many teens growing up in this environment learn quickly that lying, forging their report cards and faking their grades can buy them some time and take the pressure off. It is clear that Jennifer Pan did not organize this murder for financial gain despite knowing about a substantial life insurance policies in place for her parents and for her as the eldest child.

She saw her father’s strict response to the discovery of her lies, the restrictions placed on her movements in leaving the house and being forbidden to see Daniel Wong as a form of abuse, with her father as the abuser.  His treatment of her, his rules and regulations had her trapped, feeling unloved, worthless and being kept a prisoner, she claimed.

An impressive level of research and thought has been dedicated to this case from Jeremy Grimaldi.  Research which has then been expertly organized and presented in a gripping book that looks behind the scenes, rather than simply stating the facts of the case from beginning to end.

Grimaldi examines the different relationships that developed between Jennifer and these four men and follows the sequence of events in Jennifer’s life that led to this horrific murder plan. While this does cause some repetition of events mentioned in earlier chapters, these events are explored and probed from a different angle, ensuring no stone is left unturned.

There are a number of possible explanations quietly presented in A Daughters Deadly Deception as to why Jennifer took the actions she did. The tiger-parenting approach from her parents, especially her father, suffocated her with the level of mounting pressure to achieve overwhelming her.  This caused self-doubt that she wasn’t good enough and a feeling of being unloved.

Her love for Daniel Wong.  An accepting, non-pressured emotional connection to a boy who pushed the boundaries and provided her with excitement and a glimpse of life out with the constraints of her parent’s expectations.  His connections with unsavoury people gave her an opportunity to be free with an old-fashioned romantic notion of true love.

Her web of lies was so big and so intense she almost believed them herself.  She lived in a fantasy world that she had created while being exhausted in trying to maintain it.  The line between fantasy and reality had become blurred while at the same time she knew she could not get away with these lies for much longer.  Maintaining the pretence, keeping up with her own deceit had become too much for her and she needed a way out.

In such a chilling and emotive case there are various opinions as to Jennifer Pan’s motivations. Barbara Greenberg, an American clinical psychologist believes Jennifer was selfish and manipulative showing behaviour consistent with a sociopath, rather than someone who was depressed and suicidal as she claimed.  Greenberg believes her behaviour and decisions were not simply because of the culture she grew up in.  Her behaviour was “calculated, very planned and deliberate” she points out.

This is rare behaviour for a female and it is even rarer for a female to plot such a plan to kill her parents.  Greenberg believes Jennifer is at the high end of the anti-social personality disorder scale and this was the core motivation behind her decisions and what landed her inside the courtroom facing charges of murder.

A Daughter’s Deadly Deception is an in-depth look at a shocking true crime case.  Jeremy Grimaldi has provided a compelling read delving into the life and the mind of Jennifer Pan in an attempt to understand and illuminate just what caused this young girl to orchestrate the murder of her own parents. This book goes beyond the limits of most, providing an intelligent, thoughtful and well-researched study of the case.  For true crime fans this book will not disappoint. Furthermore, for those with a deeper curiosity and a desire to understand the path to this shuddersome crime, this is an excellent and enlightening read.

You can purchase a copy of A Daughter’s Deadly Deception: The Jennifer Pan Story by Jeremy Grimaldi at Amazon.

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  • In the second paragraph the word POUR should be spelled PORE. One pours a glass of milk, and one pores over information. Interesting review, though.

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