March 8, 2022

Episode 4: The Crow Flies at Midnight (S3 The Disappearance of Nuseiba Hasan)

by Conviction

Background show artwork for Conviction

Habiba discovers the consequences Nuseiba faced after her call to Children's Aid. 

Where to Listen


Habiba Nosheen: A quick warning before we start the show: this episode contains disturbing discussions of abuse and violence. Please take care while listening.

Habiba: Previously on The Disappearance of Nuseiba Hasan.

Joyce Finley: She called the Children's Helpline and said that she had been abused at home. So Child Welfare Services came and picked her up from school and took her away. And then the family came looking for her.

George Robbins: I said to the secretary, "I'm going to take Nuseiba, we're going into the girls phys-ed office." I said, "I won't come out until I know that it's you and the police at the door for us."

Sara Hasan: I remember going to court. They had the SWAT team there. In a courtroom!

Habiba: Because of your family? Like, what?

Sara Hasan: Because of the family being Palestinian? Yeah. 'Cause the lawyer was like, "Your Honor, what's all this for?" Like, what is this?

Peter Moon: I was just amazed. I'd never seen anything like it in a Canadian courtroom before.

Habiba: In Amman, Jordan, my colleague Rawan Nakhleh is getting into an Uber. She's on a search for a particular building this morning—a school called the Qordoba International School. The school is a spare, serious and modern-looking building. Rawan walks in and says that she's here for an appointment.

Habiba: The school administrator hands Rawan a legal-sized paper with lots of rows and columns and impeccably handwritten Arabic. It's a document from 1994. There are 23 names on the right side of the page. Included in those names, Nuseiba Musa Hasan Hasan—Nuseiba's official name in Jordan.

Habiba: This document lists Nuseiba as a student at the Qordoba School. Her start date was fall of 1994. That's right after the court case that followed Nuseiba's call to Children's Aid alleging abuse at home. Which means almost immediately after that case ended, and Nuseiba was returned home to her family's care, they sent her 6,000 miles away to a school in Jordan—far outside the reach of the Canadian authorities.

Habiba: Perhaps Nuseiba's family saw this as a way to rein her in, attending a Muslim school in a Muslim country, maybe connect her more firmly with her religion and her culture. But that's not what ended up happening. Moving to Jordan did not rein Nuseiba in, nor did it set her on a religious path that her parents wanted. Instead, it kicked off a years-long cat and mouse game between Nuseiba and her family, a cycle of Nuseiba escaping and her family trying to keep her in line. A cycle which continued—with escalating stakes—until the day Nuseiba disappeared.

Habiba: From Spotify and Gimlet Media, I'm Habiba Nosheen, and this is The Disappearance of Nuseiba Hasan.

Habiba: I try to imagine how Nuseiba might have felt when she first arrived in Jordan, plucked away from her Milton school where she had been with some of her peers for years, to this, a school mostly taught in Arabic. Arabic, the language course she failed on her first try, according to her school transcript. This transcript is one of the few footprints she left behind. Her teachers say they don't remember much about Nuseiba. But the school helps us get in touch with someone who does. One of the 23 students on that list, Nuseiba's classmate Tareq Al-Qhaiwi.

[Tareq Al-Qhaiwi speaking Arabic]

Habiba: "Nuseiba! I remember Nuseiba vividly," he says. "It's strange, but I never forgot her." Tareq is now a dentist in Jordan.

[Tareq Al-Qhaiwi speaking Arabic]

Habiba: He says she was always talking about Canada, like, "We did this in Canada and that in Canada. For example, cows. We don't have anything like that here. And we would ask her, 'Did you go fishing?"

Habiba: I try to think about why Nuseiba was always talking about Canada. Was she trying to impress her new classmates by talking about this cool other life she had lived? Or did she just miss home?

[Tareq Al-Qhaiwi speaking Arabic]

Habiba: "We didn't know anything personal about her," he says. "Her father, her mother, how many siblings she had." Tareq says one thing that stood out to him is the ease with which Nuseiba would hang out with Tareq and his friends—all boys. And he says, "We used to talk to her like she was one of us."

[Tareq Al-Qhaiwi speaking Arabic]

Habiba: She was special, he says.

Habiba: Just as abruptly as Nuseiba arrived at the school, she also left abruptly after two semesters in June of 1995. And no one in Tareq's class seemed to know where she had gone.

Habiba: Up until this point, I had been able to follow a trail of documents and people's accounts to reconstruct Nuseiba's life. After her stint at the Qordoba school though, the trail goes cold. Where had Nuseiba gone? And how had this year in Jordan changed her? Did it do what her parents might have wanted: bring her closer to their idea of what her life should be?

Habiba: For a while, I struggled to figure out what happened next. Did Nuseiba stay in Jordan? Did she return to Canada? And if so, did she stay with her family? I couldn't figure it out. But then a breakthrough, a clue that Nuseiba's daughter Yasmin discovered in her adoption file that put me back on the path of retracing Nuseiba's life.

Habiba: Remember at the time of Yasmin's adoption, her adoptive family was given a bunch of things in her adoption file, documents and records. And in the adoption file it notes that a lot of information about Nuseiba and Yasmin actually came from an interview that the social worker did with someone who was described as "A close friend of Nuseiba's." But there was no name mentioned for this friend, no address either. So really, no way to find her. Until Yasmin found a clue: a clue hid in a baby photo of her that had been given to her adoptive family. It was a tiny detail that could have easily been missed.

Yasmin: There was only a couple of pictures of me when I was younger than a year old, so when I was living with Nuseiba, there was—one of them was when I was with a mall Santa. And there's another picture of me with another girl.

Habiba: The picture shows Yasmin on the floor of what looks like an apartment playing with another girl. Next to the picture was this girl's first name. Yasmin started to wonder, could this little girl in the picture be the daughter of Nuseiba's friend who spoke to the social worker? So Yasmin put on her detective hat and got to work.

Habiba: So you—let me get this straight. There was this picture of you with another baby.

Yasmin: Yes.

Habiba: And the baby, all you had was the first name of this baby.

Yasmin: Mm-hmm. And I just looked up her name, Hamilton, Ontario, on Facebook.

Habiba: And you then ...

Yasmin: It was a very unique name. And she was about the same age as me.

Habiba: And then you tracked down this baby who's now older?

Yasmin: Yes.

Habiba: Yasmin wasn't sure that the girl she had found on Facebook is the kid in her childhood photo. But then she sees something else: the girl had posted a photo from when she was a baby, and she happened to be wearing the exact same jumpsuit as the one she had been wearing in the photo with Yasmin. And there's a comment on the girl's photo from a woman who Yasmin concludes has got to be this girl's mother.

Yasmin: So I messaged the mom saying, "Hi, did you know Nuseiba Hasan?" And she replied, "Yes, I did. May I ask why?" She was like, "Oh my God, are you her daughter?" And yeah, that's how we connected. It was very lucky. [laughs] Very lucky.

Habiba: Hello?

Mindy: Hello?

Habiba: Hi, is this Mindy?

Mindy: Yes, this is. How did you find me? [laughs]

Habiba: Her name is Mindy, and she asked us not to disclose her last name because she says she doesn't want whoever may have harmed Nuseiba to come after her for speaking to me. And it turns out she was the friend who talked to Children's Aid about Nuseiba.

Mindy: When you emailed me, when I read that email, my heart actually, like, halted for a minute there. And I'm like "Okay, this is someone who is going to be able to tell me something.

Habiba: You responded within like 30 seconds of me sending you that email.

Mindy: Yeah, exactly. I was hoping you were able to say, like, we found her.

Habiba: I break the news to Mindy: I don't know where Nuseiba is, but I'm trying to find out what happened to her. Mindy is in her 40s now. She works as a data analyst. She's a mom of two girls in their 20s. It's from Mindy that I'm able to piece together what happened to Nuseiba after her school year in Jordan.

Habiba: Today is January 27, 2021. Mindy is going to be taking us on a tour. She's going to visit all these places that remind her of Nuseiba.

Mindy: So I am gonna actually put the mic down now on the seat next to me.

Habiba: It's a cold and wintery day at the height of the COVID lockdown in Canada, so we've rigged up a virtual set up. I shipped Mindy a recorder which is on the seat next to her, and she's using her cell phone to stream live as I talk to her on the other end.

Mindy: Okay, you're gonna take a drive with me? All right. So the next stop—the next stop I would like to go to is over to Inasmuch.

Habiba: Inasmuch is the name of a women's shelter in the city of Hamilton, and that's where Mindy's world intersects with Nuseiba's in March of 1996.

Mindy: Okay, so I am now here. Just quickly park.

Habiba: It's a shelter described as "A safe place for women and their children who have experienced violence and abuse."

Mindy: I've just arrived at what used to be the old Inasmuch House in Hamilton. And Inasmuch was one of the few shelters that we had in Hamilton, and it's actually specifically for women.

Habiba: You had to be a 16-year-old female to stay at the shelter without a parent. Mindy knew this, so the day she turned 16, this is where she showed up, trying to get a fresh start in life, desperate to leave behind her old life. It's probably not a coincidence that Nuseiba also arrived here soon after her 16th birthday, about six months after she finished at the school in Jordan. Nuseiba never told Mindy why she ended up at the shelter, but Mindy says she just assumed that Nuseiba was also running away from a troubled family situation.

Mindy: The first time I recall seeing her was there is or was a little back smoking room to the place. So that's where I remember seeing Nuseiba for the first time. She had a bandana on, she was tough. Like, she just was trying to come across very tough. And she was smoking as well. I believe she spit on the floor a couple times when we were there. And I don't know if that again was just to kind of appear a lot harder than she was, but yeah, that's my first memory of her here.

Habiba: What was her demeanor?

Mindy: Cross-armed, standoffish sort of personality. Rough around the edges. Looked like that she was able to jump on you and knock you into tomorrow type personality.

Habiba: But what did it feel like to be around Nuseiba here in this place? Can you give me a sense of that for someone who never met her?

Mindy: She did come across with that more—the tougher exterior, and I don't think at that time she was very forthcoming or trying to make connections. She was still reserved, and kind of held her cards close to her chest and didn't say very much or share very much.

Habiba: Up until talking to Mindy, no matter how much I learned about Nuseiba's life, Nuseiba herself felt out of focus for me. Mindy was the first person who helped bring Nuseiba into focus. I could finally picture her. And that brought back my own memories.

Habiba: An hour away from the shelter a teenage Nuseiba stayed at is another shelter, with brown exteriors and white trims. No sign out at the front. And that's where I found myself living as a teenager.

Habiba: I left home for very similar reasons that Nuseiba did. I was born in Pakistan. We moved to Canada when I was nine. I was brought up in a strict Muslim family. As I hit my teen years, I started to see the world differently. I don't know how the teenage me would have described it, but looking back, living my life as someone who I wasn't just felt too suffocating. So one night—like many other nights—there was shouting, screaming and banging when my father found a photo of me and realized I had gone to my prom.

Habiba: My champagne-colored dress that revealed my bare arms was too much for him. This is not how he thought a good Muslim woman was supposed to behave and dress. He looked defeated, sad and angry all at once. He believed he that he was failing his duty as a Muslim father to raise the kind of daughters his mosque, his community expected.

Habiba: And the more he felt like he was failing, the more violent he got. No straight As, or student of the year awards would ever make up for my perceived failing as a Muslim woman. He knew this—and so did I. There was really only one way out of this mess, so that night, with $110 to my name, I left home for good. And that's when I found myself living in a shelter.

Habiba: I can count on one hand the number of people who know this about me. As a Muslim woman, talking about the abuse you face is just fraught with problems. A white woman can choose to talk about her abuse without having to worry about standing in for all white people. But I don't have that luxury. I've always worried that if I say something, would it be used to justify people's racist views of Muslims? And when your community is always under siege, you feel guilty saying anything that could make your community look bad. So I stayed quiet.

Habiba: And then as I started working on this story, I found myself thinking about the past constantly. How do you talk about the ways your community monitors and regulates the behavior of women without feeding into the racism and Islamophobia? I'm not going to pretend I know the answer to that, because I don't. But staying quiet about it can't be the solution.

Habiba: Here is what I do know: I chose homelessness over a life that felt unbearable to me, a decision that I've never regretted. I was going to fight to live my life my way, no matter the consequences. I share this because I've been wondering, is this how Nuseiba felt at this point in her life? Did she have the same conviction?

Habiba: After the break, a teenage Nuseiba tries to make it on her own.


Mindy: So right now on a very snow-covered day, I am beside Nuseiba's first apartment that was her own. She stayed here after she left the shelter. I think this was the first time that she would have felt like a real sense of freedom.

Habiba: Back on the streets of Hamilton, my tour continues with Mindy. After a short stay at the shelter, Nuseiba moved into her first place. And that's the next stop. When Nuseiba moved here, she lived with other women who had also passed through the shelter system, in rent-subsidized housing with mostly donated furniture.

Mindy: We had our own space. We had our independence, and we just started our lives of just being who we wanted to be. And we spent some time definitely drinking and partying and smoking pot. It all kind of began at this moment. The—the other fond memory that I will forever carry with me is just her singing voice. She had a very beautiful singing voice. She was constantly singing along to a cassette that I must have played 600 times over. She loved Lauryn Hill, particularly "No Woman, No Cry" was definitely the song that's still—I can almost feel chills when I hear it. It's directly connected to her for all of an eternity.

Habiba: Mindy still has a physical reminder of this time in her life. She and Nuseiba and another friends of theirs got it in their minds that they were going to try to steal a stop sign. So that spring, a couple of times the girls smoked weed and wandering the streets looking for a stop sign to steal.

Mindy: We didn't even have any tools. And somebody was trying to get on somebody's shoulders. One of us was on lookout. There was a code phrase. It was very important to have a code. If a car came down the street, it was either Trish or Nuseiba who were supposed to say, "The crow flies at midnight," and then we would stop what we were doing, whatever that was.

Habiba: They never did manage to steal a stop sign, but with Nuseiba's help, Mindy did score another sign on one of their walks.

Mindy: I have one of those "Clean up after your dog goes to the bathroom" signs on my wall that Nuseiba and I collected that day.

Habiba: Nuseiba and Mindy spent several months enjoying their newfound freedom and being silly.

Mindy: Silly. Silly and ridiculous would describe us both. And there was a lot of it. I'm just grateful for it. Out of all the—the tragedy and the sorrow and the hard times that she experienced, that she was able to have a spot where she was happy. If this was one of the only places in her life where she felt secure and happy, it's a pretty big gift that I—I got to be there for that, and that I got to be a part of that.

Habiba: Nuseiba was starting to build a new life in her new apartment, but with one fateful decision, she loses it all.

Mindy: All of a sudden I get a call one day, and it's a panicked call from Nuseiba. And she's at the airport.

Habiba: It had been about three months since Nuseiba first arrived at the shelter. And despite her newfound freedom, loneliness started creeping in.

Mindy: I remember her missing her family and her brothers and sisters so much. So one of her older siblings had requested that she come and have dinner. And she had agreed, but that older sibling I guess set her up, you could say, because when Nusieba arrived at the home, her dad was there at least, and ready to pick her up and take her to Jordan.

Mindy: I just remember the panic in her voice when she called me from the airport that day, and just that—oh, that utterly helpless feeling of not being able to do anything. I think she was just calling to say goodbye, and to tell me what had happened so we weren't sitting and just wondering what happened to her.

Habiba: The call was short. Nuseiba had been whispering on the other end. As soon as Nuseiba hung up the phone, Mindy started panicking. She had to do something to stop her friend from being taken.

Mindy: I called 911 just, you know, out of sheer panic and explained that this is my friend and her parents have her, and—and she was at the shelter. And so I probably gave them everything I knew just in the hopes that somebody would—would act on it, somebody would feel the seriousness of it. But they wouldn't or they couldn't, or for whatever reason nothing was done. And that would be the day that Nuseiba disappeared. I still to this day use the term "kidnapped" because they took her against her will.

Habiba: To this day, Mindy's kept the calendar for that year—1996. And in black ink on the square for June 18 it reads: "Nuseiba left." It might seem hard to understand how Nuseiba could miss her family, even after she worked so hard to get away from them. This is actually a feeling I know well. Six months before I left home, my older sister had done the same—for similar reasons. And we'd often mused about writing a "How to Survive" guidebook for runaway Muslim girls. And we had often joked that our first piece of advice would be don't fall for the "Come home for a visit" trap, something we had dubbed "The rookie mistake."

Habiba: The first year I left home I did not let my parents know where I was living. I would call only from pay phones or blocked numbers. If I was determined to hide, I knew my dad was even more determined to find me. Because he truly believed he needed to save me from myself. And when I missed my siblings—which would happen often—I would just remind myself that if I went back now, there would be a one-way plane ticket with my name on it straight to Pakistan.

Habiba: I don't know what a 16-year-old Nuseiba did in June of 1996 when she got taken to Jordan again. What I do know is that this trip started to cement Nuseiba's reputation in the eyes of her parents as someone who was constantly running away and dodging them. And that's because of what happened next.

Habiba: By now, Nuseiba was no rookie. Even if her slip up had landed her back in Jordan, she was determined to be on her own. A few months after Nuseiba gets taken to Jordan this time, the Hasans have to go to the Canadian embassy in Amman to renew their passports. Nuseiba's name is called, and she finds herself alone with the embassy employee and convinces them to get her out of there. Here's how the two detectives investigating Nuseiba's case described what happened next:

Detective Peter Thom: She advised them that she did not want to be there, and her parents were keeping her there.

Habiba: Nuseiba's parents were waiting outside as Nuseiba went in to speak to the consulate staff. But instead of Nuseiba coming out, a staff member came to tell her family that Nuseiba wouldn't be joining them.

Sergeant Daryl Reid: The consulate in Jordan acted quickly. Once they started to deal with Nuseiba, it went very quickly from her disclosing her wishes to come back to Canada to her actually being flown back to Canada.

Mindy: It was surreal being able to talk to her and see her again. I was just under the impression that she was gone forever.

Habiba: Mindy has another calendar from 1997. And under the date February 7 is a note in blue ink. "Nuseiba came back."

Habiba: When Nuseiba comes back to Canada she steps up her game, thinking of new and creative ways to stay away from her family. She starts a new life at a new school with a new identity. But as police records show, in an attempt to escape the threat she felt at home, Nuseiba ran straight into the arms of a new threat.

Habiba: On the next episode of The Disappearance of Nuseiba Hasan ...

Maria Martin: It was a white van, and there was two people. And she saw the van and she just said, "Oh my God," and then she just went flying. Like, bolted.

Mindy: Two male police officers show up. So of course, I told them too, that my theory is that if she's missing, it could be Delroy. Please look into that.

Habiba: Conviction: The Disappearance of Nuseiba Hasan is a Spotify original podcast and Gimlet production. The show is hosted and reported by me, Habiba Nosheen.

Habiba: Additional reporting by Kelly Bennett. Our producers are Alyssa Edes, Hannah Harris Green, Chris Neary and Anya Shultz. Our supervising producer is Matthew Nelson. Our editors are Alex Blumberg, Collin Campbell and Heather Evans. Fact-checking by Kelly Bennett and Marsha McLeod. Additional reporting in Jordan by Rawan Nakhleh, Tala El Issa, Ranya Kadri and the team at Sowt podcast. Our translation was done by Salim Essaid.

Habiba: Original music, scoring, sound design and mixing by Catherine Anderson. Music supervision by Liz Fulton. Special thanks to Azmat Khan.

Habiba: If you have any information about Nuseiba or this case, I would love to hear from you. You can reach me at habiba.nosheen (@) That's H-A-B-I-B-A dot N-O-S-H-E-E-N at

Habiba: Thank you for listening.