Justice Leslie Pringle of the Ontario Court of Justice has released redacted versions of the first four of 12 search warrant and production order applications in the Barry and Honey Sherman murder investigation. This story is drawn from police and civilian witness statements contained in these applications. The Star has been fighting the sealing order for almost three years.
Even as friends and associates of Barry and Honey Sherman insisted they were murdered, Toronto police continued to pursue the theory that Barry killed Honey, then himself, newly released police documents reveal.
Was Barry cheating on Honey? Was one of them terminally ill and deciding to end it all with a batch of Apotex drugs? Were the financial pressures of Apotex and Barry’s generic pharmaceutical battles — he had just lost $500 million and layoffs were looming — finally too much? These were all theories police actively pursued for almost two months.
“Since suicide by one or both deceased is a possibility, I think it is important to check for a ‘goodbye letter’ or suicide note that might have been drafted in the recent past,” Det. Constable Kristy Devine of the Toronto police homicide squad stated in support of a request for the Shermans’ cellular phones and other records. None was ever found.
In an exclusive look at the first stage of the high profile case, the Toronto Star has gained access to police statements and interviews after a nearly three-year long court battle. Still sealed by judge’s order is the current “theory” of the case, along with police interviews with all but one member of the Sherman family. The Star is continuing to push for more information to be released, arguing that a spotlight needs to be shone on police activities, and that court documents in Canada are presumptively public.
Barry Sherman was the eccentric, billionaire founder of Apotex, Canada’s largest generic drug firm. His wife Honey was a fellow philanthropist who sat on numerous charitable committees. They left behind four children: Lauren, Jonathon, Alex and Kaelen.
For the Toronto police, the high profile case started with a 911 call at 11:44 a.m. on Friday Dec. 15 2017 that brought them to 50 Old Colony Road., near Bayview Avenue and the 401.
“Someone has killed my clients,” Toronto realtor Elise Stern shouted. “They are dead.”
That Friday morning had begun in a normal fashion, following a routine schedule Honey had confirmed by email earlier in the week.
At 8:25 a.m., housekeeper Nelia Macatangay arrived to tidy the house and help make potato latkes. Honey and Barry were planning to take them and some gifts to daughter Alex’s house that evening for a Hannukah dinner arranged earlier in the week.
Megan Young arrived at the same time. Young was one of several personal trainers the Shermans employed. At 70, Honey had numerous joint replacements over the years, but loved to push herself with exercise. Barry, 75, tolerated it because Honey wanted him to work out.
The newspaper was sitting on the front doorstep. That was odd, the trainer and housekeeper recalled thinking. By that time on all previous Fridays, Barry had opened the front door, taken in the paper and was reading it in the kitchen, waiting for Young. It was always the same on Fridays. Young would train Barry with some light exercises for an hour in a small upstairs gym area off their bedroom; Honey would do a more vigorous workout for the next two hours while Barry went to work.
Macatangay collected the paper, and the mail, and she and the trainer walked to the side door. It was locked. Macatangay used her key and was surprised to find the alarm system was off. As she later told police, it was always armed when she arrived. Honey’s aging gold Lexus SUV was in its regular spot by the side door.
Around the same time, a white van from a furnace company showed up. It was a regular service call by Allan Caruk. The 12,000-square-foot house had four furnaces. Caruk followed the housekeeper and trainer inside. He took his tools and went down to the furnace room in the cavernous basement.
The house was dark inside. No lights were on and it was a gloomy day; snow had fallen overnight. Trainer Young wondered if the Shermans had left early for Florida, though Honey was not scheduled to leave until the Monday. Housekeeper Macatangay went upstairs to see if the Shermans were in bed.
“The bed was made but a bit untidy and the sink, which Honey uses in the morning, was dry,” Macatangay later told police. The bed was not made in the way Honey would normally make it and Macatangay wondered “if the Shermans went to sleep” the previous night. Regardless, there was no sign of them.
The trainer left. The furnace repair man came upstairs after an hour and also left. As is often the case in search warrant documents made public, some of his statements are redacted with large black lines. As the man walked to his van he spotted frozen footprints on the partially heated ramp to the underground garage. They looked old, he thought.
Macatangay began her tidying routine, including laundry and sweeping some leaves that had blown in the door, wondering where the Shermans were. As she would later relate to the Shermans realtor, she “felt something heavy in the air.”
A realtor and two clients arrived, then Sherman realtor Elise Stern. It was 10:45 a.m., according to the police documents. The house was listed for $6.9 million. Property taxes were almost $28,000. As others told police, Barry did not want to move but Honey did and they were designing a mansion in Forest Hill.
(The search warrant documents record summaries of police interviews with everyone present that day — each story is slightly different, showing both the different perspective of individuals and in some cases, different note-taking abilities of the individual detective. These documents are filed in support of requests by police to search places or to access banking or other records,)
Stern toured the clients and agent through the first floor, and then moved to the basement. Entering the pool room she and the clients saw something odd at the far end. It appeared to be two figures, or bodies. She later told police she was not sure what she saw.
“They were far away and their heads were elevated and hanging on the railing leading into the pool,” Stern recalled in her interview with police. “(I) thought it was some sort of weird meditation or yoga, there was no blood.”
In another interview, a detective summed up Stern’s comments this way. “The clients noticed it first and when Elise looked she saw Honey and Barry sitting on the floor with their heads hanging from some kind of rope and thought they were doing a ‘weird yoga thing’.”
Stern turned and quickly ushered the clients and agents upstairs. Once they left, she locked the door behind them. She asked the housekeeper to go downstairs and check, but Macatangay said she was too scared.
Claire Banks arrived while they were discussing what to do. Banks is a gardener who came on Fridays to tend to the indoor plants. The housekeeper let her in. According to Banks’ interview with police, she said she told Stern she would go to the basement. She said she was not scared. She was, however, wondering if there was a carbon monoxide problem that might explain whatever had happened.
In the pool room, Banks walked the length of the pool to within two metres of the bodies. She did not touch them.
“(The Shermans’) mouths were purple and it appeared that they were hung against a railing side by side,” Banks later told detectives.
A second interview from a detective yielded this from Banks: “The bodies were hanging from a pool railing, sitting in almost the exact same way, facing the same direction (away from the water) and their faces were blue.”
Stern told police that while Banks was downstairs she telephoned Mary Shechtman in Florida. Shechtman was Honey’s sister and best friend. Shechtman had just left for Florida the day before. She had last spoken to Honey on the Wednesday, a quick chat on the phone. The plan was for Honey to join her the following week, and Barry the next week, according to Shechtman’s later interviews with police.
Detectives said Stern told them she first called Mary in Florida to “ask where Honey was because something weird was going on.”
Banks came back upstairs at this point “shaking and said that the Shermans were blue and clearly dead.” In a statement that was passed on to Shechtman that morning, Banks told Stern, “They were murdered.”
Shechtman told Stern to call police. Banks also called 911, as did a cousin of Honey’s in Toronto who was apparently alerted by Shechtman. Banks told a 911 dispatcher the two people in the pool room were certainly dead and “she would not be performing CPR.”
Toronto Fire Department arrived first after the 11:44 a.m. call. A firefighter noted “they were blue in colour with obvious signs of rigour mortis.” Police arrived a little later, at 11:54 a.m.
Within a few hours roughly 10 forensic identification officers were in the home snapping photos, coroner Dr. David Giddens had arrived, along with Dr. Michael Pickup, the forensic pathologist who would do the first two autopsies. Giddens pronounced the Shermans dead. Outside, forensic officers in white coveralls inspected Honey’s SUV. Barry’s car was in the basement garage.
At 7:20 p.m. the morgue wagon showed up. Honey Sherman was placed in a black body bag containing the sealing number 2052607. Barry Sherman was put in a body bag numbered 2052608. The bodies of the two billionaires were taken on gurneys out the front door and driven away. A police constable was assigned to go with the bodies to the provincial building where the autopsies would be done — Barry’s autopsy Saturday, Honey’s on Sunday.
One of the first officers to arrive at the scene that Friday was Const. Felice Buccieri. In his notes, he reports that the two bodies were “located at the furthest end of the pool, facing away from the pool and toward the wall. Both bodies had what appeared to be a black belt tied around their necks. The other end of each belt was tied around the pool railing.”
Justice Pringle has maintained the sealing order on numerous pages of more detailed descriptions of the crime scene in the documents. The Toronto police say this information must remain sealed because it deals with sensitive “holdback information” that only a few people would know.
What has been unsealed provides a partial explanation of the thinking of the police as they approached a case. They had discovered two people in a seated position tied to a low railing by belts — not hanging from a high point with legs above the floor. They were conducting interviews and the people they were speaking to said they believed the Shermans were murdered.
Joel Ulster was Barry Sherman’s best friend; they met at age 16 at Forest Hill Collegiate in Toronto. He told police “Someone was hired to do this to Barry and Honey.”
Ulster said his friend was never depressed and was “the most rational person I have ever met.”
Jack Kay, Barry’s longtime second in command at Apotex, told police “Barry is a man of his word, intelligent, intense, focused, fair and caring towards the community.”
He would never take his own life, Kay told detectives. Yes, Kay said, Apotex had some financial struggles and was in the middle of layoffs, but Barry would not “be fazed by Apotex’s financial situation.”
The warrant material the court has released (the documents are called Informations to Obtain or ITOs and are used as grounds to obtain search warrants and production orders) has numerous similar statements by friends and colleagues of both Shermans.
The ITOs also include numerous examples of detectives stating in their applications to Justice Pringle (who authorized all the searches and production orders) that they are pursuing a murder suicide or double suicide theory.
In one, a detective states the reason for requiring a production order to access the search history of Barry Sherman’s computer.
“For the internet history, suicide by one or both of the deceased is a significant possibility in this case. If that is what happened, I would expect to find internet search history suggestive of suicidal thoughts or plans in the short time preceding their deaths.”
Also, the police documents record attempts to learn if Barry was cheating on Honey. One person police interviewed was a woman hired to “declutter” the Old Colony house in advance of it going on the market. The woman was assisting Honey one day in November of 2017 (a month before the murders) and a gift bag arrived.
“Honey made a loud comment about it, saying it was from one of Barry’s affairs,” the woman told police. The detective then writes that the woman “also thinks she heard Honey say that it was the hotel sending her a thank you for another one of Barry’s affairs … thought it meant that Barry fooled around.”
According to the police documents, that was followed by specific questions to other potential witnesses. Sheila Stanley, Honey’s personal assistant, told police “infidelity was impossible in Barry and Honey’s relationship because of how busy they were.”
Detectives even asked the architects designing the new Sherman home about infidelity. Joe Brennan, possibly the last person to see the Shermans alive together on the Wednesday evening before they were murdered (a house design meeting at Apotex) also told police he “never sensed any concerns about infidelity.”
At that meeting, the architects recalled how Barry and Honey were getting along well, and that Barry, not normally interested in such matters, was weighing in on his preference for sliding doors in the mansion — not French doors.
One of the architects present said “he also heard Barry making comments about how it was such a large home and why were they making such a large place when he probably only had another 10 or so years left to live.”
Within the first few weeks of investigation, police documents show that they determined that Honey was murdered. In fact, according to one police statement, she was the victim of premeditated “first degree murder.” While most of this area of a police statement is redacted, the detective writes that certain “injuries” to Honey (the Star has reported they were facial injuries) lead them to rule out suicide in her case. “I do not believe with these injuries that she would have taken her own life.”
Complicating the job of the police, the documents show, was the fact that the forensic pathologist had not determined the manner of death. Yes, Dr. Pickup told police, the medical reason they died was “ligature neck compression” but he said it could be caused by double suicide, murder suicide, or double murder.
Detectives continued to investigate into January and February of 2018. The documents show that they learned that neither of the Shermans had criminal records, and that there was no sign of any domestic violence.
One person interviewed (his or her name is blacked out) said to police, “Barry and Honey were close, they did everything together, they would hold hands walking to the car, they seemed like they relied on each other. … never witnessed arguments or physical fighting.”
Another person (name also redacted) tells a detective that the family “begged” Barry to install cameras in the home but Barry refused. “Barry was never afraid of anything.” The individual adds, “The kids won’t say much but Honey and Barry didn’t always like each other but they loved each other.”
Under a heading called “Family” in one of the search warrant packets released there are eight lengthy interviews. Seven of them are completely redacted, including the name, the contents of the interview, and even the date of the interview. The eighth interview is largely unredacted — the interview with Honey’s sister Mary. Mary speaks highly of Honey and Barry, but allows that they do squabble from time to time.
“Mary says that when Barry and Honey would fight, they would both call Mary. They would fight, however they could not live without each other as Honey and Barry were married for 40 years,” Shechtman told police “Barry and Honey would have fights about Barry not being home and working. Honey would complain about Barry not showing her enough attention and Honey always being the one making plans as Barry was not social.”
Shechtman also pointed out to the detectives that the Shermans never locked their doors and also that “everyone wanted to get near Barry and Honey because of their wealth.”
Detectives also went after the Shermans’ medical records, looking for evidence of “any undisclosed terminal illness or any substantial pain which could alter their outlook on life.”
There is no indication they found evidence of an undisclosed illness, or anything else to support a suicide-related theory.
Given that Barry ran Apotex, which made drugs, the police mused that they would need to determine what kind of “medications and chemicals” Barry had access to, including in the small test lab he had in a small area between his own office and Jack Kay’s office. Police say they want to compare any drugs found there with toxicology results from the autopsy.
(As with many things in the police documents, it is clear what they are searching for but the police do not often report in a later document what, if anything, they found. Separately, the Star has reported that following the second set of autopsies organized by the Sherman family, no unusual or life threatening drugs were found in their bodies.)
The documents describe how access to Barry’s office was delayed due to Apotex and Goodmans LLP, its law firm, raising concerns about “privileged” material. Ultimately, weeks after the murders, a system was set up where Apotex lawyers would stand beside police while items were seized. Police were to do their best not to look at anything until the lawyers had done a review to determine whether the documents contained sensitive Apotex information.
By late January, the documents show police are moving away from the murder suicide theory. Though not referenced in these documents, police in late January had interviewed the Sherman family pathologist Dr. David Chiasson, who determined it was a double murder. Police interviewed him after a Star story revealed his findings.
In the newly released documents, police note the “many statements from close family and friends that Bernard Sherman and Honey Sherman have never expressed any notions of harming themselves or each other.”
There were upcoming trips and dinners arranged, even a special one on Sun. Dec. 17 (two days after the bodies were discovered) with Joel Ulster and his family, and Ulster, Barry’s best friend, was flying in for the dinner. There were plans for a trip to Japan in March and Israel in April.
Det. Const. Dennis Yim, who is the only full time officer on the case to this day, writes in one document that it appears “they were both living a happy life with no financial difficulties and no known mental illnesses.”
In the final warrant material that has been unsealed to the Star (dated Feb. 15, 2018, exactly two months after the murder), detective constable Yim writes:
“In a previous application I had stated that I believed that Honey Sherman was murdered and Bernard (Barry) Sherman was either murdered or committed suicide. In this application I state that I have reasonable grounds to believe that Bernard Sherman was murdered as well and my grounds to believe are as follows.”
The five “grounds” listed are blacked out.
The Star is continuing its court challenge.