On a cold winter night, three armed men disguised as police arrived at a suburban home in a small Canadian resort town and knocked on the door, claiming they had an arrest warrant for a 37-year-old woman who was staying there.
After overcoming the owner of the apartment, they grabbed the Iranian-born woman Elnaz Haytamiri, dragged her barefoot through the snow in a vehicle and set off in the dark.
Nearly three months later, police admitted they were no closer to finding Haytamiri in a case that puzzled investigators.
“I’ve never, ever come across a case like this,” Ontario Police Inspector Martin Graham told reporters this week, adding that investigators had not identified a motive or received ransom demands. They also did not find the white Lexus jeep used in the January 12 abduction, nor did they identify its owner.
“My greatest hope is that Elnaz is alive,” Graham said. “My biggest fear is that she isn’t.”
Police have taken the “extraordinary” step of contacting the Iranian community in Toronto and Montreal as they expand their search and consider removing her from the country. Investigators also said this week that they believed the brutal attack on Haytamiri in December was linked to her abduction.
Two weeks before the abduction, Haytamiri was attacked in the garage of her apartment in Richmond Hill, a city north of Toronto. The attackers beat her with a frying pan and left her with serious wounds on her head, which required 40 stitches. Police say they later pulled out a tracking device. Two other tracking devices were found in her car when she put the car into service in November.
Map of the southern region of Ontario, Canada, including Toronto and Hamilton. Wasaga Beach is on the opposite beach and north of Toronto.
After the December attack, Haytamiri feared for his safety and moved with his family to the town of Wasaga Beach, 145 km (90 miles) north of Toronto. The only time she left the coastal community was on January 10 to pick up her car, computer and mobile phone from police. Two days later, she was abducted.
No one was arrested in the garage attack, but police said they did not believe the same men were involved.
“We have at least five different people directly responsible for these crimes,” Graham said. “Despite the number of people involved, we have not received any information that would give us a definite link as to where the investigation should go.
In late January, police arrested her ex-boyfriend Mohammad Lilo on charges of criminal harassment. The two separated in October, but he tried to contact her the following month and police intervened. Officials would not say if he was a suspect in her abduction, but said they were investigating the relationship, which they said was both personal and professional.
Haytamiri, also of the Tamiri family, emigrated to Canada less than four years after losing her husband. She had recently set up her own cake company after leaving the import and export business.
In their latest pressure for new information, police released a video of Fariba Haytamiri, Elnaz’s mother, begging for her daughter’s release. Fariba, who still lives in Iran, said the family’s life has become “desperate” as they hope for Elnaz’s release.
“We desperately need your help,” she told Farsi. “Please, as a mother, guide us and tell us everything you know. Please, I beg you. ”