The Billionaire Murders: The Mysterious Deaths of Barry and Honey Sherman
By Kevin Donovan
On the morning of December 15, 2017 the bodies of Barry Sherman, the billionaire founder and owner of Apotex, a generic pharmaceutical company, and his wife Honey were found in their North York (Toronto) mansion. They had been strangled in what appeared to be a double-homicide. To this date no one has been charged in the killing.
The police investigation got off to a rough start, bizarrely assuming that the deaths were the result of a murder-suicide. I can’t understand how this happened, and Kevin Donovan seems to be just as mystified. My own hunch is that, as so often, laziness was more at fault than incompetence. But in defence of the police (and regular readers will know this isn’t something I do reflexively), a couple of things about the initial timeline of the case, items that Donovan glides over to the point where they’re nearly invisible, really leapt out at me.
The bodies of the Shermans were discovered by the realtor who was showing their house to prospective buyers. She was immediately advised by the cleaning lady, who she’d asked to verify that the Shermans were dead, to call the police. She didn’t, and instead called her boss. Then she tried to get in touch with the four Sherman children. “Finally, after a delay of almost ninety minutes from the discovery of the bodies, a call was made to the Toronto Police 911 system.” Within a minute the police were on their way.
My jaw dropped at this. Given the shock of the situation – the bodies of the Shermans had been arranged in a macabre tableau by the side of the home’s underground pool – I think most people would have been phoning 911 as fast as their fingers could punch in the numbers. To have delayed making that call for so long was something I could hardly believe. Then later that evening, when a police detective came to a family gathering to speak to the children, he was questioned why “he was so late in coming to speak to them.” When the detective responded that he had to pick his kids from daycare this “admission struck family members as an indication that the police did not consider this a high priority case.”
From my own experiences dealing with the police, having someone meet with the family later the same day doesn’t indicate any great delay. Coupled with how long it took for the police to be notified of the discovery of the bodies I can’t imagine they were impressed.
The second point in the timeline I flagged was that later that same evening the family received a phone call from a friend advising them to hire private investigators to look into the killings. They were also advised to put “pressure on the police” by getting in touch with friends in high places. What’s striking about these moves is that they came before there was any public reporting of the murder-suicide theory. Only twelve hours after the discovery of the bodies, an adversarial relation to the police (and the media) seemed already well advanced, and that through no fault of the police or the media. The wagons were being circled.
Donovan found the family’s antagonism to the media beyond his understanding, something he could not fathom. My guess is that it comes from a new attitude among the very rich that if you have enough money you get to “control the narrative.” It also goes by the name of entitlement and privilege. I was shocked, again, to find that Donovan’s request to interview the Shermans’ son was rebuffed unless Donovan “agreed in writing to allow him editorial control over any portions of the book or newspaper story that concerned him.” On what planet, I had to wonder, was the son living on to even consider making such a request of a journalist? It’s no place I’ve ever visited.
As of Donovan’s writing, and indeed of my writing this review, the case remains unsolved. This is one way that cases like these hang around. They give rise to all kind of speculation. Everybody has a theory. Donovan’s penultimate chapter, “The Most Likely Scenario,” puts forward a basic outline of how the murders went down, without naming who he thought was behind them. This is understandable, since having finished the book, and followed the case irregularly the few times it’s been in the news, I don’t see any likely suspects. Barry Sherman certainly made enemies, but people who hated him enough to kill both him and his wife? Donovan does narrow things down somewhat though:
Did Barry and Honey Sherman know their killers? I believe so. After spending a year and a half delving into this case, I believe that the killer or killers had an intimate knowledge of the Shermans, including their routines. I also believe that the killer or killers were not trained professionals and that the attempt to make it look like a murder-suicide was a poor one, though it obviously worked for a while.
I’m not sure about that final point. Killing people isn’t easy, and the killer (or killers) here seem to have done a good job of it. Obviously, they didn’t get caught. Furthermore, it’s not clear to me if the aim was to make the deaths look like a murder-suicide, but if it was, working “for a while” was all that was required. I think it’s very possible, perhaps even likely, that whoever actually did the killing was a hired gun.
All of which only gets us so far. Hence the fascination with cases like this. A fascination that’s unlikely to go away, as cold as the trail becomes. I think Donovan’s book is an excellent account of what we know so far, well written and fair minded. The way it’s structured, alternating chapters for most of the way between telling the story of the Shermans and the investigation, helped make up for the fact that I wasn’t that interested in the Apotex story. I didn’t come away with any theory of my own on who was responsible, but if I were a betting man (and I’m not) I’d bet that we will find out eventually. I think more than one person, and probably more than two, know what happened and somebody will talk. But we’ll probably have to wait a while.
Noted in passing:
I remember that as home prices skyrocketed during these years I often found myself asking “Who is buying all these multimillion dollar properties?” The average price of a house in the city I live in was nearly $700,000 at the time of the Sherman murders, and continued going up over the course of the next five years. That’s the average! And my hometown is cheaper than Toronto. Was the average family able to afford housing at this price? And if not, who was feeding this frenzy?
My sense was that the high prices were being driven by big money looking for investment properties or just a place to park some cash. Not a lot of people could afford to buy an average-priced home at this time, especially in cities like Toronto. So was it a relatively few people with a lot of money who were making the market?
The Shermans weren’t average homebuyers. (The house they were killed in was listed for $6.9 million – underpriced, in Barry’s opinion – and they had plans to build a new mansion in Forest Hills that was going to cost them around $30 million all-in.) But apparently they did buy a lot of houses. For example, their youngest daughter “through a series of companies headquartered at Apotex, purchased several residential properties in Toronto (each cost between $2 million and $4 million), which she rent[ed] out to tenants. Sherman friends say Barry supported her financially in this venture as a way to provide her income she could consider her own.” Elsewhere in the book various other instances are given of his involvement in buying multi-million dollar properties in different sorts of arrangements. “Barry did so many unusual things with real estate,” one family friend tells Donovan.
The difference between being rich and being poor is that when you’re poor nobody cares if you live or die and when you’re rich people want to kill you. Most people would still prefer to be in the latter group.
8 thoughts on “TCF: The Billionaire Murders”
You always have to ask ‘who benefits from their deaths?’ for the answer, my bet is the son!
LikeLiked by 1 person
He attracted some suspicion. All the candidates seem unlikely though. It’s sort of like the JonBenet Ramsey case.
Did this story get any play where you live? I’m always curious if Canadian stories play much overseas.
LikeLiked by 2 people
I don’t recall hearing about it and I do see/hear the news regularly. I just read Barry Sherman’s Wiki page, lots of skullduggery and plenty of suspects.
LikeLiked by 1 person
It was pretty big news here. Guess they’re going to make a docuseries out of it. There are suspects, but it was a pretty weird sort of killing and a lot of them don’t make sense. Interesting to see if it ever actually gets solved.
LikeLiked by 2 people
When you talk about your own dealings with the police, are we talking about bloody tableau of victims, or something more low-key? I’d have been on the blower in less than 90 mins for sure…
I was surprised Donovan didn’t make more of a point about the time lag. It really struck me.
I’ve only dealt with the police as the guy making complaints. To say that they don’t usually respond with any sense of urgency is an understatement.
LikeLiked by 1 person
What were you complaining about?
Break-ins. Several times.