Toronto police said they believe a billionaire couple found dead in their mansion last month were murdered.
Police Detective Sgt. Susan Gomes made the announcement at a news conference Friday, six weeks into the investigation into the “suspicious” deaths of Honey and Barry Sherman — and just days after private investigators said the Shermans were likely killed by multiple people in an apparent hit job.
Authorities declined to identify potential suspects in the high-profile killings that have sent shock waves across Canada, but said they intend to interview an “extensive list” of people, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported. Authorities said they have not arrested anyone in the case.
The bodies of the Shermans were discovered Dec. 15 in the lowest level of their $7 million home, reportedly by a real estate agent who was preparing the mansion for an open house.
Police said the Shermans were found strangled, their bodies tied to a railing around their basement lap pool. A coroner determined the cause of death to be “ligature neck compression,” according to police.
Police say there were no signs of forced entry at the home in Toronto’s affluent North York neighborhood.
The deaths stunned the Shermans’ neighbors, who called the couple “lovely people.”
Well known in Canada, the Shermans made billions in the pharmaceutical industry, then gave a significant chunk of their fortune to charity. Barry Sherman, 75, was the founder of the Canadian pharmaceutical giant Apotex and one of the richest people in the world. Forbes estimated his net worth at $3.2 billion, earning him the 12th spot on the list of the wealthiest Canadians. His name appeared on the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires for 15 years.
Before Friday’s news conference, police had released scant new information about the case, although local media outlets reported seeing officers guarding the Shermans’ home around the clock.
The week after his parents were found dead, Jonathan Sherman said the family had been trying to navigate “a terrifying maze of non-information.” The family vehemently rejected an early report by the Toronto Star that said police were investigating the possibility of a murder-suicide.
In late December, attorney Brian Greenspan said the family had hired private investigators “to provide a second lens and to ensure that no stone is left unturned.”
On Friday morning, the Star reported, the mansion on Old Colony Road was released back to the Sherman family. “At 11 a.m . . . officers began removing the police tape that had stretched around the property since Dec. 15,” the Star said. “Shortly after, at 11:06 a.m., a police car that had been parked in the front of the house left the scene.”
Private security officers arrived as police left, the newspaper noted, “then put up their own caution tape around the property, replacing the police tape that the officers just removed.”
In a statement issued after the police news conference and reported by the CBC, the Sherman family said that the investigators’ “conclusion was expressed by the family from the outset and is consistent with the findings of the independent autopsy and investigation. The family continues to support the Toronto Police Service in their efforts to seek justice for their parents and pursue those responsible for these unspeakable crimes.”
A CBC report over the weekend said a source had given the news site details from the family’s private investigation, including that Honey and Barry Sherman were seated upright when they were found dead near their lap pool:
The team of private investigators believes that the Shermans were, in fact, killed on Dec. 13, two days before they were found. This conclusion is based on the fact that Honey was wearing the same clothes she was last seen in, on Dec. 13, according to the source.
Private investigators also believe that Honey struggled with her killer or killers. She had cuts on her lip and nose, and was sitting in a pool of her own blood when she was discovered. However, there was comparatively little blood apparent on her upper-body clothing, suggesting that she had been face down on the tile, bleeding, for some time before being bound to the handrail in an upright position, the source said.
The source also told the CBC that private investigators believed the couple had been bound together at some point and showed evidence that the Shermans’ necks had been tied to a handrail near the pool with leather belts. But the Shermans were limp and not bound together when their bodies were found, the source told the news site.
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. Honey Sherman was a board member at York University, the Baycrest Foundation, Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto and other institutions. She had been chair of the Jewish Foundation of Greater Toronto and the Holocaust Education Centre.
They are survived by four children, including one who had just given them a grandchild.
Their deaths brought condolences from the highest rungs of Canadian society and government, including from the organizations they had spent years supporting. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was among those expressing grief.
Barry Sherman’s rise had not been without conflict.
Apotex, according to the Globe and Mail, “revolutionized the pharmaceutical industry in Canada.” Sherman started the company in 1974 after using his mother’s life savings to buy out a similar business started by his uncle. Apotex manufactures and exports generic drugs to more than 115 countries.
His 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 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 CBC.
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 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 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.
It was unclear what Sherman’s death would mean for the lawsuit — or for his company, which has been shaken by management changes unrelated to the Shermans’ deaths. On Friday, Jeremy Desai resigned as president and CEO of Apotex, amid allegations that he received trade secrets while romantically involved with an employee of a rival pharmaceutical company, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported.
Sherman stepped down as chief executive in 2014, but he remained chairman, according to Forbes.
Before they died, the couple had been planning to head south to their winter home in Palm Beach, Fla. Honey Sherman was scheduled to arrive the Monday after she was found dead; her husband was to follow a week later, according to the Globe and Mail, which talked to some of the Shermans’ Toronto friends slated to attend a dinner party.
“Looking forward to getting together in Florida,” Honey Sherman wrote in an email to friends. “Please let me know your dates south ASAP so I can place in my calendar. . . . Looking forward to hearing back ASAP. Xoxo Honey.”