Episode 042: Elnaz Hajtamiri

May 30, 2022

After a violent attack, a woman leaves town only to be abducted by three strange men. Her family is desperately seeking answers. What happened to Elnaz?

Episode Media
Elnaz Hajtamiri
Elnaz Hajtamiri
Mohamad Lilo (Facebook)
Surveillance footage from the December 21 attack (Ontario Provincial Police)
Harshdeep Binner and Riyasat Singh (York Regional Police)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week I’m bringing you a recent case from Canada, a brazen abduction that could have – and should have – been prevented. This episode discusses sensitive topics, so listener discretion is advised.

Elnaz Hajtamiri was born and raised in the country of Iran. In 2018, she immigrated to Canada and settled near family in Toronto, where she found a job in the import-export shipping industry. She worked there for several years, but in 2021, 37-year-old Elnaz left her job to pursue her dream of starting her own cake bakery.

But even though her professional life was moving in a positive direction, Elnaz was facing an altogether different scenario in her personal life. In October of 2021, Elnaz ended her relationship with her boyfriend, 34-year-old Mohamad Lilo. But Mohamad refused to let her go. He began harassing her, showing up at her condo in Richmond Hill without warning and without invitation. After about a month of this harassment, Elnaz had finally had enough; when Mohamad showed up at her condo on November 19th, she contacted the York Regional Police. Officers responded and informed Mohamad that he was not welcome at the condo and should not return. Elnaz hoped that would be the end of it.

But unfortunately, things only got scarier. In December, Elnaz took her car in for maintenance and was shocked to learn that the mechanics had discovered two tracking devices underneath the vehicle. Terrified, Elnaz once again contacted the police, turning over the tracking devices for inspection.

Not long after that discovery, the situation escalated yet again. On December 21st, Elnaz was attacked in the parking garage of her condo. Before she even knew what was happening, two men wearing winter parkas, gloves, and surgical masks came up behind her and pulled her out of her vehicle, hitting her in the head with a frying pan. Thankfully, a witness intervened, and the men took off in a dark-colored compact car.

Elnaz was taken to the hospital, where she received 40 stitches before being released. Police who responded to the scene asked Elnaz to temporarily turn over her car, computer, and cell phone to help with the investigation, and she did so willingly. But she was still surprised when investigators uncovered a third tracking device under her car.

Police advised Elnaz to find a safe place to stay while they investigated the attack. She immediately packed her things and headed north to stay with relatives in Wasaga Beach, just a few hours away from Toronto. The only time she left was on January 10th, when she returned to Toronto to pick up her belongings from the police station. Other than that, Elnaz kept a low profile in the small beach community.

But this newfound peace was not to last.

Around 8:30 on the evening of Wednesday, January 12, Elnaz and her relatives heard a knock on the door. When the homeowner answered, he encountered three men dressed in police gear. They claimed to have an arrest warrant for Elnaz Hajtamiri. Suspicious, Elnaz’s relative tried to call 911, but the men quickly overpowered him, rushing into the house and grabbing Elnaz. As she struggled, they dragged her barefoot through the snow and threw her into the back of a white SUV. Then, they were gone.

Elnaz’s family immediately called the Ontario Provincial Police to report the abduction. The quiet neighborhood was soon swarming with officers. They spoke with neighbors and gathered footage from security cameras. They released what few details they had to the public – 37-year-old Elnaz Hajtamiri had been abducted from her home by three black men in a white SUV. The suspects were considered armed and dangerous.

A spokesperson for the family released a statement, appealing directly to the public. “Look at her photos, look at her face. See if you recognize her. If you have any leads or tips on suspicious activity on seeing anything at the scene. If you’ve got camera footage at home that might have captured even a glimpse of this activity. Please, please share that with police; call the tip line, call OPP, share whatever information you have.”

Investigators in Wasaga Beach began looking into Elnaz and those around her. She didn’t have a criminal record, and police noted that she didn’t seem to have a connection to any “nefarious activity”.

The family spokesperson agreed. “Elnaz was a kind, warm, peaceful person, there’s no evidence for us to believe that she would even know or affiliate herself with anybody that would be involved in criminal activity. And we can say for certain that she certainly was not.”

The Ontario Provincial Police told reporters that it was an active investigation and that they were putting all of their resources towards finding Elnaz. Acting Sergeant Terri-Ann Pencarinha posted on Twitter, “Our goal is to ensure Elnaz is safe and to bring her home.”

Investigators quickly connected the dots between the December attack and the January abduction. They released images of the vehicles involved in both incidents and surveillance images of the men from the parking garage. They circulated flyers with Elnaz’s picture. But there was still no sign of her.

On January 21st, the Ontario Provincial Police arrested Mohamad Lilo on charges of criminal harassment, citing his aggressive behavior towards Elnaz back in November and the tracking devices placed on her vehicle. He was released on bail a few days later and barred from visiting Wasaga Beach.

Over the following weeks, Elnaz’s family began putting together their own investigative team, including Toronto attorney Devin Bains and well-known forensic investigator Tom Klatt. Bains told CTV News that they were “actively involved in heading a concurrent investigation in cooperation with the OPP.”

But Bains was also critical of the OPP’s handling of the case. “Elnaz did everything right. She contacted the authorities every time she should have, she had faith in them as she should have to protect her, and to look into things effectively. I do not know if the police acted as they should have.”

Bains expressed concerns about how the investigation had unfolded and why the police had suggested that Elnaz go stay with family in Wasaga Beach – a place that she could easily be connected to – without any sort of police surveillance. “If Elnaz’s imminent danger was being recognized and seen — and seen the way it should have been — it is challenging to see how her relocating to a relatively remote town in Ontario increased her safety. I’m hopeful that there was a plan in place that simply failed. There was a glitch, there was a changing of shifts, there was an inadvertent dropping of a ball. That’s what I would like to think. I don’t want to think that Elnaz’s abduction was as a result of not only evil intention toward her by her assailants, but also neglect by the system of which I am a part.”

On April 12th, three months after Elnaz was taken, her mother issued a desperate plea from her home in Iran. In the emotional video released by the OPP, Fariba Hajtamiri says, “We have no news about her. We don’t know if she is alive or not. We desperately need your help. Please guide us and share your information with us. If you have any information, please share it with the police. I beg of you as a mother to guide us and tell us everything you know.”

Two days later, police announced an arrest.

Twenty-three-year-old Riyasat Singh was taken into custody and charged with attempted murder and attempted kidnapping for the December 21st attack of Elnaz Hajtamiri. A nationwide arrest warrant was also issued for 23-year-old Harshdeep Binner, who is currently out on bail for an unrelated crime. Police believe that Singh and Binner were involved in Elnaz’s attack and may have information about her abduction.

On April 25th, CBC News reported that they had learned more information about Mohamad Lilo’s harassment of Elnaz. According to the report, in the days and weeks before her attack and abduction, Mohamad had hired a private investigation firm to follow her. The owner of the firm, Gabriel Cojocaru, told CBC News that Mohamad had hired him in early December, claiming that Elnaz had stolen $100,000 from him and that he wanted to find her so he could serve her with court papers. But then Mohamad’s story had changed – he claimed that his brother had been shot and he thought Elnaz might have had something to do with it.

Cojocaru said that his team of investigators had followed Elnaz for weeks, but they hadn’t seen any signs of criminal activity. So when he learned that she had been abducted, he was shocked. “When I heard the story, like, I didn’t feel good at all… I was very depressed and very upset about the whole thing, because we don’t associate with criminals. I don’t support criminals. I hope and I wish and I pray that this girl, she’s alive.”

As it happened, no one was watching Elnaz’s house on the night she was abducted. There was no police presence, and the private investigator on shift had gone home around 6pm. If someone had been there, perhaps something could have been done to prevent the abduction; at the very least, there would have been one more witness.

At the time of this recording, Elnaz has been missing for nearly five months. Her family believes that she is alive, that she is being held somewhere against her will.

Police are still looking for Harshdeep Binner in connection with the December 21st attack. He may be in the Edmonton area of Alberta, where he was released on bail back in March. You can see a picture of him on the podcast website.

Police are also looking for the three men who abducted Elnaz from her home on January 12th. They were dressed in police gear and driving a white SUV.

Elnaz Hajtamiri is 37 years old with shoulder-length black hair. She is 5’3” tall with a slim build. At the time of her abduction, she was wearing gray and black leggings and a long-sleeved shirt.

If you have any information about the abduction of Elnaz Hajtamiri, please call the dedicated tip line at 1-888-728-3415. If you are outside of Canada, you can submit a tip online at canadiancrimestoppers.org.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please reach out for help. In Canada, visit sheltersafe.ca for a list of toll free numbers in your province. In the US, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Elnaz’s family is determined to bring her home safe and sound. Please share her story on social media using the hashtag #BringElnazHome.

Case Updates

Updated February 2024 – Fugitive Harshdeep Binner was captured in September of 2022. In November of 2023, Mohamad Lilo was officially charged with first-degree murder in Elnaz’s case. He is currently awaiting trial in Ontario, and authorities continue to search for Elnaz. Ontario police have charged at least seven individuals in connection with the December parking garage attack and the January abduction.

If you have any information about the abduction of Elnaz Hajtamiri, please call the dedicated tip line at 1-888-728-3415. If you are outside of Canada, you can submit a tip online at canadiancrimestoppers.org. There is a $100,000 reward for information leading to her recovery.