In the past 24 hours, the number of Western news agencies reporting details and speculations about Diana O’Brien’s death have multiplied. Shanghai police have stayed quiet on the death though, refusing to report details to foreign press. The result is a series of conflicting stories, most of which point to the model’s death occurring in her own Shanghai apartment building, not on Chongming Island, as we reported yesterday. Some sources say that she was killed in a botched break and enter. Her boyfriend reports her body was found by her roommate, fellow Canadian model Charlotte Wood, and that Chinese authorities told him all valuables were stolen from the pair’s apartment.
Not helping the confusing situation is the fact that JH Model Agency, the company O’Brien was working for in Shanghai, has disappeared from the city. Reporters were met with empty, ramshackle buildings when they checked the two street addresses given by the company, and our own investigations have yielded a nonexistent website and disconnected phone number, though the agency is listed in this database. O’Brien, who had previously enjoyed modeling in Milan, complained of her work at the agency in Shanghai to friends back home in the days before her death. She was getting lousy jobs, including work as a dancer, and she planned to return home after just one month into her three-month contract. The Canadian group that led her to JH, the Barbara Coultish Agency, said they did not have any details on the situation and that JH had always been a professional partner in the past.
The publication most successful in tracking down a JH representative as of yet is the Canadian news source The Globe and Mail, which found an untalkative recruiter and a tarnished reputation for the company:
The Globe and Mail tracked down a man named Jiang Jiawei in Shanghai, a recruiter for the JH agency. His phone number is provided in the agency’s recruitment advertisements.
In an interview, Mr. Jiang refused to say anything about his connection to the JH agency. And he would not comment on Ms. O’Brien or her death. “You should just ask the police,” he said.
Johnny Zheng, director of Esee Model Management, a well-known agency in Shanghai, said he first became aware of the JH agency when one of his staff alerted him that the JH website was a direct copy of the format and style of Esee’s website. But he took no action because the JH agency was so small and unknown that it was not a competitor to his agency, he said.
“We had never heard of them, and I’ve never heard our bookers mentioning
them as a competitor,” Mr. Zheng said in an interview Tuesday.
“There are a lot of small agencies in China. Some of them are just one person with a computer, like a dealer. Some of them don’t treat their models professionally. If a girl can’t earn back her money, the agency doesn’t pay the commission, or doesn’t pay the model. It leads to unprofessional activities. Sometimes their passports are taken away.”
All of this doesn’t bode well for the multitude of small modeling agencies in the city and worldwide, which are being accused of exploitation. For Canada, a nation that one Vancouver agency-owner says sends about 1,000 hopeful models overseas, the news is hard to stomach, especially on O’Brien’s own tiny home, Saltspring Island in British Columbia.