Skip to main content
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track on the Olympic Games
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track onthe Olympics Games
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Ani Ashekian who is presently missing in Hong Kong

In the closed-circuit video, Ani Ashekian looks unhurried as she withdraws money from a bank machine on Hong Kong Island shortly after midnight. There's a man withdrawing money at the machine beside her, but otherwise she's alone. She returns a few minutes later to make another withdrawal, taking out about $470 between the two visits.

That CCTV footage of Ms. Ashekian using the bank machine in the Causeway Bay metro station early last Nov. 11 is the last time anyone saw the 31-year-old native of Windsor, Ont. About the same time, she sent a text message to her niece in Canada wishing her a happy birthday. Then, nothing.

For a full year now, there have been no phone calls, no e-mails, no more bank withdrawals - not a trace. Hong Kong immigration officials say Ms. Ashekian never formally left the tiny territory. Even her bags haven't been found.

Story continues below advertisement

All of this has turned Ms. Ashekian into an unfortunate celebrity in Hong Kong. Her disappearance has shocked the city of seven million, challenging its reputation as one of the safest big cities on the planet.

It has also created a cottage industry of people - most of whom never met Ms. Ashekian - offering sometimes unsolicited advice. Private investigators, volunteers, psychics and a crime novelist who sees a bizarre parallel between Ms. Ashekian's case and his book have all contributed theories.

That's in addition to the 12 officers Hong Kong Island's crime unit has reportedly assigned to the case, down from 150 officers at the peak of the search last winter. A Facebook group dedicated to the case has attracted more than 16,000 members worldwide.

While the professionals have avoided speculating about what might have happened to Ms. Ashekian, myriad theories have been floated. The South China Morning Post has reported that she could have left Hong Kong on a small boat, since she didn't leave through the airport or any of its formal border crossings with China, "fallen in with the wrong crowd" or suffered a hiking accident. Psychics have claimed to have seen Ms. Ashekian in locations as diverse as teaching an English class and floating in water.

Two people have come forward to say they may have seen Ms. Ashekian shortly after the CCTV video was made, but neither was positive that it was her they saw. A reward of nearly $30,000 hasn't led to any solid leads, either.

Ms. Ashekian was wearing a grey sweatshirt, black shorts and a backpack in the CCTV video, her dark hair tucked up in a ponytail. She arrived in Hong Kong on Nov. 9 last year after spending just over a week in Beijing and central China. She told friends and family that she wanted to continue on to India, where she planned to go on a yoga retreat, and she was booked on a flight from New Delhi to Toronto on Dec. 15.

Kinzie, a Canadian woman living in Hong Kong who is one of several volunteers who have devoted substantial time to the search for Ms. Ashekian, said the case has captured imaginations for the simple reason that it's so unusual. "This just doesn't happen here. Tourists don't just disappear in Hong Kong. Anyone who's lived here for any length of time is shocked," said Kinzie, who uses only one name.

Story continues below advertisement

Michael Connelly, whose bestselling novel Nine Dragons is about a father's search for a daughter gone missing in Hong Kong, feels a particularly awkward connection to the case. The missing woman in his book is last seen at Chungking Mansions, a budget hostel where Ms. Ashekian was spotted shortly before she made her bank withdrawals.

Mr. Connelly visited the Chungking Mansions as part of his research, arriving just two days after Ms. Ashekian was spotted in the same place. In a blog he recently wrote for CNN about the experience, he called the connection between his book - which recently hit No. 3 on the New York Times bestsellers list - and Ms. Ashekian's real-life disappearance "eerie."

"Ani has vanished without anything to go on. And that's where this gets to me. In crime fiction, there is always something to go on," he wrote. "But in real life it doesn't always happen that way... . Sometimes there is no direction and no answers and families and other loved ones are left with an unabated dread that hollows out their lives."

The Hong Kong police have upgraded the case from a missing-person file to a criminal investigation. Even so, one scenario friends and family say they aren't willing to contemplate is that Ms. Ashekian is dead. There were just 36 murders in Hong Kong last year - roughly half the number committed in Toronto - and missing-persons cases are so rare that the police set up a hotline specifically for Ms. Ashekian's case.

"I don't think she's dead. I don't have an answer for why. I just don't," said Kinzie.

Ms. Ashekian's family feels the same way. Her sister, Sossy, told the South China Morning Post that she believes Ms. Ashekian will eventually come home safe. "I won't let that hope go," she said.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies