Their bodies were found in the basement of their $7 million home in Toronto’s affluent North York neighborhood by a real estate agent preparing the mansion for an open house.
But as word of Honey and Barry Sherman’s deaths spread, neighbors, family members and people who had been touched by the billionaire couple’s philanthropy found themselves poring over the final weeks of the Shermans’ lives — trying to figure out why investigators had described their deaths as “suspicious.”
“The circumstances of their death appear suspicious, and we are treating it that way,” Constable David Hopkinson told the Associated Press at a news conference held outside the couple’s home.
Police released few details about the case or what aroused their suspicions. Hopkinson said there had been no sign of forced entry at the Shermans’ home, but authorities have been otherwise tight-lipped.
On Saturday afternoon, the Toronto Star reported that police are investigating the possibility of a murder-suicide, but the family is dismissing that theory. They released a statement, which read, in part:
“We are shocked and think it’s irresponsible that police sources have reportedly advised the media of a theory which neither their family, their friends nor their colleagues believe to be true.
“We urge the Toronto Police Service to conduct a thorough, intensive and objective criminal investigation, and urge the media to refrain from further reporting as to the cause of these tragic deaths until the investigation is completed.”
Barry Sherman, 75, the founder of Canadian pharmaceutical giant Apotex, was one of the richest people in the world. Forbes estimated his net worth at $3.2 billion, good for the 12th spot on the list of the richest Canadians. He’d appeared on the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires for 15 years.
And the Shermans were known for their largesse, doling out tens of millions of dollars to universities, hospitals and the United Jewish Appeal, according to the Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper. Honey Sherman was a board member at several institutions: York University, the Baycrest Foundation and Mount Sinai Hospital. She had been chair of the Jewish Foundation of Greater Toronto and the Holocaust Education Centre.
They are survived by their four children, including one who just gave them a grandchild.
The Shermans’ sudden death brought condolences from the highest rungs of Canadian society and government, including from the organizations they had spent years supporting and from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
We’ve been informed of the tragic news that Barry and Honey Sherman have unexpectedly passed away. All of us at Apotex are deeply shocked and saddened by this news and our thoughts and prayers are with the family at this time.
— Apotex (@Apotex) December 15, 2017
Deeply shocked & saddened to hear of the deaths of Barry & Honey Sherman. Philanthropists and entrepreneurs who made our province a better place to live.
— Brad Duguid (@BradDuguid) December 15, 2017
Two weeks ago it gave me immense joy to present a Senate medal to one of the kindest and most beloved members of Canada’s Jewish community. Today I am gutted by the loss of Honey and Barry Sherman. Our community is steeped in grief. I am heartbroken. pic.twitter.com/B8VANUiNbW
— Senator Linda Frum (@LindaFrum) December 15, 2017
Sophie and I are saddened by news of the sudden passing of Barry and Honey Sherman. Our condolences to their family & friends, and to everyone touched by their vision & spirit.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) December 16, 2017
Even people who weren’t touched by the couple’s philanthropic endeavors, such as their neighbors, said the Shermans were “lovely people.”
But Barry Sherman’s rise had not been without conflict.
Apotex, according to Sherman’s biography in the Globe and Mail, “revolutionized the pharmaceutical industry in Canada.” The company — Sherman started it in 1974 after using his mother’s life savings to buy out a similar business started by his uncle — manufactures and exports generic drugs to more than 115 countries.
But Sherman’s gains came at the expense of larger pharmaceutical companies. The Globe and Mail obituary described him as a “ruthless fighter capable of waging as many as many as 100 lawsuits at a time against business rivals.”
“He was the bane of the existence of the branded drug companies in Canada. He was not their favorite person, but he was respected,” Paul Grootendorst, associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
Some of the conflicts over the years were familial. For more than a decade, Barry Sherman had been involved in an acrimonious legal battle with three cousins and the widow of a fourth — sons of the uncle who instructed him in the generic-drug business that preceded Apotex. That uncle, Louis Winter, died suddenly in 1965, 17 days before his wife died.
At the legal fight’s lowest point, Winter’s sons accused their now-billionaire cousin of plotting to kill Winter, according to the Globe and Mail. They said that he used handouts to silence them and that they deserved a stake in Apotex.
“Barry’s father died when he was young, and my dad took him under his wing and taught him the family business,” Kerry Winter, one of the cousins, said in filing the lawsuit. “It’s disappointing that we’re fighting this way now.”
The original suit was dismissed in 2015 but reinstated a year later, according to Forbes. A judge ruled in favor of Sherman in September, but the cousins have appealed.
On Saturday, it was unclear what Sherman’s death would mean for the suit — or for his company. Sherman stepped down as chief executive in 2014, but he remained chairman, according to Forbes.
Authorities are awaiting the results of his autopsy and trying to decide whether homicide investigators need to be brought in.