Children of murdered Canadian billionaire couple announce C$10 million reward for leads in grisly case

Barry and Honey Sherman were discovered side by side at the edge of the basement lap pool in their home, they had belts looped around their necks

By Penny MacRae in Toronto
  • Published 13.11.18, 2:10 PM
  • Updated 14.11.18, 4:37 PM
  • 5 mins read
Barry and Honey Sherman

It was a gruesomely staged murder scene in one of Toronto’s wealthiest districts. The victims were Barry Sherman, billionaire founder of Canada’s largest drug company, and his wife Honey.

The pair were discovered side-by-side at the edge of the basement lap pool in their multi-million-dollar home. They were seated with belts, attached to a low railing by belts looped around their necks. They had been strangled.

The case quickly turned into the country’s biggest armchair who-dunnit and now the four children of Barry and Honey Sherman, frustrated at lack of progress in the police investigation, have offered a C$10 million reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the killer or killers.

The lawyer hired by the family, Brian Greenspan, said the reward is a bid to “light the fire” under the police probe into the double homicide. The children, who range in age from their early 20s to 40s, have also set up a 24-hour tip line and Greenspan said this week it has been “flooded by calls”.

The violent deaths nearly a year ago of one of Canada’s richest couples shook the country’s closely intertwined networks of business, politics and charity. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the premier of Ontario and leading business figures were among the 6,000 mourners who packed the memorial service held in a Toronto stadium for the couple that was live-streamed.

Barry, 75, who held a doctorate in astrophysics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was a socially awkward workaholic who shunned the trappings of wealth, driving a beat-up Ford Mustang and dressing in crumpled suits. Honey was the social face of the couple --- a smiling blonde who looked younger than her 70 years and was queen bee on Toronto’s gala charity circuit.

They were in the midst of selling their C$7-million, 12,000 square-foot home to move into even larger premises which Honey wanted in order to host more charity events and have extra space for their grown-up family. Their deaths were discovered on December 15 when a real-estate agent was escorting clients around the house and stumbled across the grotesque tableau.

The estate agent quickly told the clients that part of the house was “off-limits” and police arrived on the scene. A post-mortem examination found the couple, who'd last been seen two days earlier and were wearing coats, had died of “ligature neck compression” -- a form of strangulation in which a cord or rope is used to exert fatal pressure on a person’s neck.

Barry, whose net fortune was estimated at C$4.6 billion by Canadian Business Magazine, turned his closely held company Apotex into a generic drug manufacturing powerhouse by challenging patents held by global pharmaceutical giants. He and Honey, a child of Holocaust survivors, also donated tens of millions of dollars to hospitals and universities and were big supporters of the ruling Liberal Party. The children called their father a “real-life superhero” and their mother “the magnet and glue” that bound the family together.

But Barry had another side. He was an aggressive businessman who’d made many enemies. It was in building up Apotex -- expanding it from two employees at its founding in 1974 into a global player with an 11,000-person workforce -- that he showed his pitbull business qualities. He was notoriously litigious in his business dealings as he demolished patent after patent held by global pharmaceutical firms. Canadian news magazine Maclean's described Barry as “man who used the courts as readily as others use the subway.” An obituary in Toronto's Globe and Mail newspaper described him as a “ruthless fighter capable of waging as many as 100 lawsuits at a time against business rivals”.

Barry, who loved working in the company’s labs reverse-engineering patented drugs to create knock-offs, also knew how much of a thorn he was in the side of Big Pharma. “The branded drug companies hate us. They have hired private investigators on us all the time,” Sherman told author Jeffrey Robinson in a 2001 book titled Prescription Games, an expose about the inner workings of the global pharmaceutical industry. “The thought once came to my mind, why didn’t they just hire someone to knock me off? For a thousand bucks paid to the right person you can probably get someone killed,” he said.

In addition, Barry had been engaged in a decade-long acrimonious court battle with his "orphaned cousins" who were claiming as much as a 20 per cent slice of Apotex. They asserted Barry had reneged on an agreement with their late father whose drug company he had bought and sold and then gone on to establish Apotex. Just weeks before his death, the relatives to whom Barry earlier had paid millions of dollars to support them, lost the court suit. The judge called the cousins’ claims “wishful thinking” and ordered them to pay $300,000 in court costs to Barry. One of the cousins, Kerry Winter, later told Canada’s CTV network he sometimes had fantasised about killing Barry but insisted he had nothing to do with the couple's deaths.

Bizarrely, the initial police hypothesis was murder-suicide. They believed that Barry had strangled Honey and then killed himself. This idea was fiercely rejected by the couple’s children who said their father had everything to live for -- he had a new grandchild and was going to be inducted into the Order of Canada, one of the country’s top civilian honours.

The police pursued the murder-suicide theory for six weeks, losing what family lawyer Greenspan, a star Canadian defence advocate, says was precious time in solving the case. The police also missed palm prints and other vital clues, Greenspan said. “The manner in which the Toronto Police Service conducted itself fell well below that… certain professional standard (expected),” Greenspan told reporters in announcing the C$10-million reward for solving the murder.

Just after their parents' deaths, unhappy over the police's murder-suicide theory, the children hired the province of Ontario’s former chief forensic pathologist Dr David Chiasson and private investigators -- who were retired Toronto homicide cops ---- to probe the deaths. Among the points noted by Chiasson was that Barry was found with his glasses neatly in place on his nose and his legs decorously crossed at the ankles in a fashion totally at variance with the thrashing that would have been one of the hallmarks of a suicide. He also found signs the couple’s wrists had been tied.

After meeting with Chiasson in late January, the police lead investigator into the murders, Detective Sergeant Susan Gomes, told reporters, “Barry and Honey Sherman were in fact targeted” by one or more killers. But there were no evident signs of forced entry into the house. Barry, though, had been notoriously lackadaisical about security and the only security camera in the house, which was in the basement area, was broken.

Aside from his combative court dealings, Barry also had done business with shady individuals who had served jail time, some of whom Maclean's magazine said “were straight out of a Coen brothers movie”. He had an extraordinarily diverse portfolio of investments from real-estate holdings, a gold mine to a jewellery company that dealt in “loose diamonds” and he bankrolled a couple of B movies. He conducted these business dealings through a Byzantine array of private companies and trusts that he once admitted even he had difficulty keeping track of.

Maclean’s reported that in the last few months before his death there had been a flurry of events that for Barry were more challenging than usual. Apotex sued an ex-employee, accusing him of stealing drug formulations to use at a factory he was building in Pakistan. He denied the charge. Then, a company rival accused a top Apotex executive of espionage. And also Apotex was one of a raft of drugmakers accused of price-fixing in the US.

There’s speculation that one of Barry’s dealings went sour and the person or persons were seeking revenge. Canada’s CBC network reported that the private investigators hired by the family believe the Shermans were slain by “multiple killers”.

Investigators are combing Barry’s labyrinthine business dealings to seek clues. But some say his operations were so multi-layered that -- barring some lucky tip from an informant -- the killer or killers may never be found and that the C$10-million reward may never be claimed.

Penny MacRae is a former Delhi-based correspondent for Reuters and AFP and writes on India, Canada and other corners of the globe.