Mystery swirls around sudden disappearance of Toronto-area lawyer

·5 min read
A photo of Isabella Dan shared by her friend Julie from WeChat. Julie describes her Dan as 'outgoing' and 'full of life.' (Submitted by Julie - image credit)
A photo of Isabella Dan shared by her friend Julie from WeChat. Julie describes her Dan as 'outgoing' and 'full of life.' (Submitted by Julie - image credit)

Multimillion-dollar lawsuits, an abandoned luxury SUV and a sudden lack of communication are all parts of a mystery police are trying to unravel in the disappearance of a Toronto-area lawyer.

Isabella Dan, the 53-year-old owner of a law office in Markham, Ont., hasn't been seen in almost three weeks, leaving her friends and police concerned about her whereabouts.

Police have called the circumstances of Dan's disappearance suspicious and have now turned the case over to York Regional Police's Homicide and Missing Person Unit, CBC Toronto has learned.

"Some information has been brought to the attention of the investigators that led them to believe the circumstances for this particular case is unusual and out of character," York Regional Police Const. Maniva Amrstrong told CBC Toronto.

"And the concern is that there is suspicion or the possibility of foul play," she added. Investigators wouldn't share further details.

As the search for Dan continues, CBC Toronto has turned to publicly available financial and court documents that appear to shed some light on her life in the months before she vanished.

Meanwhile, police are once again appealing to the public for help and believe some who knew Dan have not yet come forward.

SUV found outside Markham condo

The last time Dan was seen was the night of March 3 at a condo building in Water Walk Drive and Verclaire Gate close to Highway 7 and Warden Avenue in Markham.  The area is humming with construction activity amid a handful of existing highrise condos.

Police believe Dan lived at the building but it's unclear if she was last spotted inside or outside the building

Investigators have also not said where Dan was believed to be going that evening — only that she was wearing a beige coat with fur on the collar and black pants, carrying a red gym bag.

"We know through our investigation that she was an active member at an LA Fitness Gym Club that's also located near the residence," said Armstrong.

The gym is roughly three kilometres from the condo where she was last seen. Investigators are urging anyone who may have known her from the gym to get in touch, Armstrong added.

Farrah Merali/CBC
Farrah Merali/CBC

Armstrong says Dan was reported missing by her colleagues after she failed to show up for meetings and to work.

"As a result of that unusual behaviour it caused a lot of concern for the colleagues," she said.

CBC Toronto reached out to Dan's law office by phone and email, and attempted to reach some of her staff. No response was received.

Police told CBC Toronto a vehicle associated with Dan — a grey Land Rover — was found near the Markham condo but wasn't parked in her building's underground garage. Instead, it was on the street outside the building.

Lien records show Dan signed a four-year lease for the $95,000 vehicle last summer. It's unclear what, if anything, police were able to obtain from the vehicle as part of their investigation.

'It's very concerning'

Dan's disappearance is also raising alarm bells for others who knew her, including one of Dan's friends, who CBC Toronto agreed to identify only by her first name, Julie.

Julie says she first met Dan through her work as a real estate lawyer in 2017 and that the two became friends over the years.

"She is full of life. She's very outgoing ... a very big person in life. I don't think she'd go missing or just pack her stuff and leave like that," said Julie.

The last time she saw Dan was in the fall, she added. "She looked perfectly happy and healthy."

Farrah Merali/CBC
Farrah Merali/CBC

Julie told CBC Toronto Dan's parents live in China and says she's not aware of any other family here. Dan is also unmarried and has no children, she said.

As more time passes, Julie says she's becoming increasingly worried about her friend's wellbeing.

"It's very concerning because it's been more than two weeks, as her friend ... I'm just very concerned for her,'' said Julie.

"I feel like people who are very close to her need to be investigated."

Facing multiple lawsuits at time of disappearance

Public land registry records don't appear to list an Isabella Dan as owning a property in the condo complex where she was last seen.

The records do show Dan sold a $2.75-million home she owned in North York in August of 2022.

Dan is also listed as the current owner of another North York home, which she purchased in September 2020 for $1.06 million. A year later, a second mortgage of $600,000  was placed on the property. The second mortgage appears to be with a private lender.

In all, property records show $1.448M in mortgages are owing on the home.

Property records also show the home has been used as a rental income property.

Dan was facing multiple civil court battles at the time of her disappearance.

She's named in four ongoing cases at Ontario's Superior Court involving allegations of fraudulent mortgages taken out on properties in the Greater Toronto Area. The most recent was filed in December 2022.

"The lawsuits for my client do not allege Dan facilitated, initiated or benefited from the alleged fraud," said Glenn Cohen, a lawyer representing the plaintiff in two of the cases against Dan.

"They plead claims of lawyer's negligence and breach of contract, in that she failed to comply with the terms of the mortgage commitment, in particular regarding title insurance, and failed to advise the client about aspects of the transactions."

None of the claims have been proven in court.

Through her lawyers, Dan has filed statements of defence denying the allegations. The most recent of those statements was filed in October 2022.

Her lawyers told CBC Toronto they could not comment on the ongoing proceedings as the matters are before the courts.

Anyone with any information about Dan's disappearance is being asked to contact York Regional Police

"We do feel there are more people out in our community that know more things about her," said Armstrong.