Who murdered Barry and Honey Sherman? Will we ever know?
Four years after the billionaire Apotex pharmaceutical giant founder and his philanthropist wife were found strangled in the swimming pool room in the basement of their home in North York, Toronto police think they’ve found a break in the cold case.
On December 14, one day removed from the fourth anniversary of the deaths of the couple, Toronto police called a news conference to release video of someone that is being described as a suspect in the case.
The 22-second clip—culled from about 2,000 hours of security camera footage collected from homes in the area of the Shermans’ former residence on Old Colony Road—shows someone in boots and a dark hooded coat walking on the sidewalk some 1.5 kilometres from the Sherman residence on the night of the murders.
But outside of what is being described by police as an unusual “gait”, there is little in the video to help identify the individual. Police, for example, are unable to determine the make of boots or coat the person is wearing. At this point, police are unwilling to say if the person in the video is male or female.
Kevin Donovan, the Toronto Star’s chief investigative reporter who has been following the case and written a book on the murders, suggested in a recent article this week that the Toronto police’s case is beginning to resemble the search for the one-armed man in the popular 1960s television drama The Fugitive.
The Toronto police investigation into the Sherman murders has been marked by a number of missteps and tarnished by political interference. To be sure, the workings of Toronto police’s homicide squad in general has been the subject of intense scrutiny in recent years after a reorganization of the unit and its highly publicized mishandling of the Bruce McArthur serial killings in the Gay Village. There, a lucky break led cops to the killer.
In the case of the Shermans, some reporters at Tuesday’s presser were left scratching their heads over this latest turn in a probe that, by most accounts, has been largely inactive for the better part of two years. There is reportedly one officer currently assigned to the case.
Toronto police detective sergeant Brandon Price acknowledged during the December 14 news conference that it’s unknown if the person in the video even entered the Sherman property. The Sherman residence was not equipped with surveillance cameras and the one camera in the swimming pool room where the bodies were found was reportedly not working. There was no sign of forced entry.
Price says that police have been able to ascertain that the person in the video is between 5-foot-6 and 5-foot-9 inches tall. But he would not provide specific details on what it is about this person’s movements that make police think he is a suspect (as opposed to a person of interest) outside of the fact the individual entered an area “tight within the vicinity of the Sherman residence” and then left in the same direction they came in.
Police seem to be running out of leads. Price revealed that the individual in question is “pretty much” the only person left who was in the vicinity around the time of the murders who has yet to be identified or excluded by police using surveillance video and phone data from area cell towers.
The elephant in the room for reporters covering December 14 news conference was the timing of the release of the video. What took so long?
Price provided a vague response to that question, saying “The cost to the investigation by releasing this early on would have outweighed the benefit.”
When one reporter characterized the release of the video as a “Hail Mary"—the term used in football to describe a desperate, last-ditch attempt at the end of a game to score a touchdown – Price denied the search for the killer (or killers) has hit a dead end. Indeed, he described the video evidence as “valuable… but not the biggest lead in the case.”
But whether the killer (or killers) will ever be found seems increasingly doubtful.
A source close to the investigation who spoke to NOW suggests the perpetrator (or perpetrators) may not even be in Canada. This source theorizes that the murders were contract killings carried out by a foreign actor, perhaps from an Eastern European or Middle Eastern country, who was likely part of a criminal organization.
On a possible motive behind the murders, the suggestion in numerous media reports is that Barry Sherman had made enough enemies in his many legal and business dealings around the world to provide a motive for any number of people to want to kill him.
The source close to the investigation characterizes that as “pure speculation”. But there’s little doubt that the killings were intended to make a statement.
The Shermans were found in the swimming pool room in the basement of their North York mansion on December 15, 2017, with belts tightened around their necks and tied to a nearby railing in a semiseated, almost posed, position.
An initial autopsy on the bodies listed the cause of death as “ligature neck compression” but did not conclude it was murder.
Toronto police were operating early on in the investigation on the assumption that the deaths were either a murder-suicide or a double suicide. Only, there was no note found and the Shermans were in the middle of plans to build a new home.
It was Mayor John Tory, a family friend of the Shermans, who raised the family’s concerns with Toronto police brass about its initial theories. That posed conflict questions for the mayor as a member of the Police Services Board as well as concerns about undue influence on the police investigation.
It was only after a second autopsy ordered by the Sherman family concluded the deaths were homicide that Toronto police began to pursue the case as “targeted” killings.
Price ran down the Toronto police efforts to date at Tuesday’s press conference: 41 judicial authorizations (for search warrants), 250 witness interviews, 1,255 tips, and 992 “investigative actions”. He says the force remains “steadfast” in bringing closure to the case.
But by some accounts the investigation hasn’t really been active since 2019.
The Sherman family put up a $10 million reward for information and hired prominent defence lawyer Brian Greenspan to lead a parallel investigation into the murders using former Toronto police officers. But Greenspan is no longer acting for the family and its investigation essentially ended in December 2019.
Information continues to trickle in, says the source close to the investigation, from individuals claiming to know who did it “but they’re mostly crystal ball types”.
Contract killings are the most difficult to solve because they’re carried out by professionals and usually rely on the person who carried out the hit to turn in the person who hired them. This source says “that’s unlikely to happen in this case”. Meanwhile, an attempt by the Star to unseal police documents related to the case was denied by a court last spring.
Price said Tuesday that “It is our hope that someone will come forward with a name when they recognize the individual’s walk,” but at this point, police could just as easily be chasing a ghost.