Just as exploring the minds and motivations of dark characters may be disturbing for crime fiction writers, journalists covering cases of violent crime may find listening to court testimony unsettling.
The 10 months he spent covering the Jennifer Pan murder trial for YorkRegion.com and other news outlets, and the subsequent year writing A Daughter’s Deadly Deception: The Jennifer Pan Story (Dundurn Press) were intense and stressful times for Jeremy Grimaldi. “I stopped sleeping well, I stopped doing yoga. It was tough being in this young woman’s world,” Grimaldi told Sisters in Crime Toronto this week.
“But I had to write about it. It was such a crazy, powerful story, and there was no one else to write it.”
In 2015, Pan was convicted of first-degree murder for hiring hit men to kill her parents four years earlier. The attack was intended to look like a home invasion gone wrong. Pan’s father survived.
Grimaldi talked about the pressure to succeed that the children of immigrants are frequently under. Pan went from being a straight-A elementary school student in Markham, Ont., to doctoring marks on her report cards. She dropped out of her final year of high school, and pretended to attend and graduate from university. When her parents discovered her lies, she was confined to their home.
“At what point did she turn from being a dutiful daughter into a sociopath, and why?” Grimaldi asked. “And what role did her parents play in it?”
He said the Jennifer Pan case was the most complex and layered that he has come across. He wonders if Pan, “in her twisted way, thought that by killing her parents she was saving them from further disappointment in her.”
Many women who commit violent crimes have a man behind them, but Grimaldi noted that Pan planned the murders herself. “If her father had died and she had got rid of her cell phone, she might have got away with it.”
Pan is now 31, and is serving a life sentence with no chance of parole until she turns 53 in 2040.
Grimaldi still thinks a lot about the case, and about the possible fallout from covering a crime beat. “Every time I drive down my street I wonder who may be out there. I make sure that nothing online leads to my address.”
Why does he continue? “These are often great stories filled with raw emotion. It’s a chance to shine some light on these people’s lives.”
A Daughter’s Deadly Deception won Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award for Best Nonfiction Crime Book in 2017.