Det. Sgt. Susan Gomes of the Homicide Squad stepped up to the podium in Toronto Police Headquarters on Friday afternoon in a white blouse and a black suit jacket, at once unadorned and elegant, in the way of actual fact.
Gomes was there to present careful and considered conclusions after six weeks of unconfirmed reports and impatient rumblings such as plague all diligent investigators, whether they are examining Russian meddling in an American presidential election or a sensational murder in Canada.
“At 11:44 am on Friday, December 15 2017, we responded to a 911 call at 50 Old Colony Road,” Gomes began. “Officers attended that address and located Barry Sherman and Honey Sherman deceased.”
Barry Sherman, aged 75, was the wily and aggressively brilliant billionaire founder of Apotex, Canada’s biggest generic pharmaceutical company. His wife, Honey Sherman, aged 70, was a socially prominent and widely admired philanthropist.
“Honey and Barry Sherman were found deceased in the lower level pool area hanging by belts from a poolside railing in a semi-seated position on the pool deck,” Gomes reported. “They were wearing their clothing.”
The bodies were removed to the coroner's office for autopsy.
“The cause of death for both Shermans was ligature neck compression,” Gomes now continued. “The manner was undetermined.”
Gomes said the squad had been presented with three possibilities.
“Double suicide, homicide-suicide or double homicide.”
As always, the squad sought the answer by gathering evidence and interviewing witnesses.
“Facts guide our focus,” she said. “Conjecture and speculation have no place.”
More than 6,000 people—Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau among them—had attended the Sherman funeral. The investigators kept working, the very dimensions of the couple’s 12,000 square foot residence making it a daunting crime scene.
“A size warranting six weeks of searching and forensic review,” Gomes said.
They also searched a second residence, at least two vehicles, a sewer and, of course, Sherman’s office.
“Legal complexities on some searches have been challenging given the litigious nature of Barry Sherman’s business, in particular the search and seizure of electronics at Barry Sherman’s workplace at Apotex,” Gomes said.
The investigators had vouchered 150 pieces of evidence. They had compiled 127 witness statements.
“And that number continues to grow every day,” Gomes said.
They had also gathered four terabytes of video from numerous surveillance cameras.
“Approximately 500 hours each,” Gomes observed of the terabytes.
Gomes said the squad had also made a complete list of the people who had used the realtor’s “lock box” that had allowed prospective buyers to gain entrance to the house after the Shermans put it up for sale some months ago. Gomes confirmed that there had been no signs of forced entry in the house, something that had been cited in an anonymously sourced news report the day after the bodies were discovered. The report had suggested that police believed it was a murder suicide.
The couple’s four grown children had emphatically dismissed the possibility and arranged for a second, private autopsy. The family also hired Toronto’s two top private detectives, who were said to have concluded that it was a double murder carried out by multiple perpetrators. The private detectives were said in news reports to have noted that the bodies had marks indicating the Shermans had been bound and that Honey was wearing the same clothes she had on when she was last seen alive, two days before her body was found.
Gomes did not get so specific as to confirm or deny what the private detectives were said to have noted, but she did offer much the same timeline.
“Honey and Harry Sherman were last seen alive in the evening hours of Wednesday, December 13,” Gomes said. “Neither she nor her husband had been seen nor heard from by any family members or friends since.”
Gomes emphasized that the Shermans’ children had been cooperative despite their ire over the early reports suggesting Barry Sherman had killed his wife and then himself.
“For them it’s been difficult to balance their patience with their frustration with us and our investigation—not unlike any other family who have suffered such a sudden and profound loss,” Gomes said. “They have been understanding, cooperative and hopeful that this investigation can give them some answers.”
Gomes announced that after thousands of investigative hours over six weeks, the squad had reached a conclusion.
“We have sufficient evidence to describe this as a double homicide investigation, and that both Honey and Barry Sherman were, in fact, targeted,” she said.
That suggests that this was not some home invasion gone wrong. The killer or killer seem to have arrived at the house with the intent of murdering the couple.
“I’m saying that the Shermans were targeted,” Gomes said again.
Gomes indicated that the squad did not yet have any suspects, but common sense dictates it is taking interest in a lawsuit the litigious Barry Sherman had brought against a convicted con man named Shaun Rootenberg.
As reported by CBC News, Sherman was seeking to recover $150,000 he’d invested in Rootenberg’s “Trivia For Good,” a startup app that billed itself as “the free social video quiz game that pays huge cash prizes while raising funds for charities worldwide!”
Sherman had decided that Rootenberg’s real purpose was what the suit terms “a fraudulent scheme” to raise funds he could siphon off to finance his high-end lifestyle. CBC News has further reported that on the very day he was last seen, Sherman had filed papers seeking to accelerate the Rootenberg suit toward trial.
A person who has examined the “Trivia for Good” books told The Daily Beast on Sunday night that Sherman’s investment appears to have been diverted directly into a Rootenberg private holding company. Money from other sources was actually recorded as an investment in the app but Rootenberg appears to have spent much of it on himself at an alarming rate.
Sherman filed a civil suit against Rootenberg in May of 2017. The next month, Rootenberg was arrested for allegedly bilking several women he had met through the eHarmony dating app.
“He carried on intimate relationships with his victims while convincing them to trust him with funds that he was to invest for their benefit,” police alleged in a statement after the arrest in June of 2017. “This was a ruse used to get money from his victims. The funds were never invested, but were used to fund the man’s lifestyle.”
He was said by police to have spent as much as $500,000 in a week living large.
Back in 2009, Rootenberg had been sentenced to three and a half years in prison for a series of frauds totaling $2.5 million. The victims included his onetime best friend, his ex-girlfriend and his older brother, Jonathan Rootenberg, a prominent forensic psychiatrist.
Shaun Rootenberg been granted early release, but had then been returned to prison, reportedly after he tried to pull a con on his parole officers. He was released in 2012.
In 2014, Rootenberg slightly altered the spelling of his surname and talked his way into becoming the chief financial officer of the health program for the Algoma district in Ontario. He lost that job when his identity and record became known. He proceeded to use the dating app to hustle women while fundraising for his own app, Trivia For Good.
As 2017 neared an end, Rootenberg was facing the criminal fraud case along with Sherman’s civil suit. And Sherman upped the pressure all the more on December 13 by pressing for a quick trial.
As this was also the last day Sherman was seen alive, the police are no doubt taking an interest.
But that is not the only instance of curious timing. The very day the case was declared a murder, the top executive of Sherman’s pharmaceutical company resigned “to seek other opportunities.”
Jeremy Desai had become CEO of Apotex after Sherman withdrew from day to day operations five years ago. Desai and Apotex had been sued last July in Pennsylvania federal court by an Israeli rival, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., for allegedly stealing trade secrets. Teva charged that Desai had been in a “romantic relationship” with one of its senior executives and that she had provided him with confidential information via email, USBs and a data cloud. Desai and Apotex denied the allegations, but the evidence seemed considerable.
The homicide squad will likely also take a look at a law suit that was filed against Sherman by four cousins, the sons of his deceased uncle, Louis Winter. The uncle had given Sherman his start in the pharmaceutical business and the cousins argued that they should receive 20 per cent of Apotex. A judge found that Sherman had started Apotex on his own and dismissed the case at the end of September.
“The claimed interest in Apotex was wishful thinking, and beyond fanciful,” the judge ruled. “Nothing can now change these findings of fact.”
As of Sunday night, the homicide squad had given no indication that Rootenberg or Desai or the cousins are suspects. Barry Sherman had himself suggested one possibility, while speaking in 2001 with the author Jeffrey Robinson for his book on Big Pharma, “Prescription Games.”
"The branded drug companies hate us,” Sherman told Robinson. “They have hired private investigators on us all the time. 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. Perhaps I'm surprised that hasn't happened."
The same book reports that an operative with a major pharmaceutical company wondered aloud about putting Sherman ”out of the game” with a sex sting involving “little girls or maybe even underage boys.” The operative was told that Sherman had no interest in such things. The operative reportedly imagined planting dealer-weight cocaine in Sherman’s car.
In 2006, Sherman talked two major rival companies into a deal that allowed him to market generically a legal drug five years before its patent expired. An executive in one of the firms was convicted of making false statements after he tried to lie his way out of it.
“They couldn’t see that maybe certain things were going to end them up in prison,” Sherman told the New York Times.
But that was a white-collar crime and the executive was sentenced only to write his autobiography, receiving not a day behind bars. The court-assigned writing task was not likely embittering enough for the man to turn violent.
Somebody did. The one certainty at this point is that Sgt. Gomes and the homicide squad will continue as all great investigators do, as Robert Mueller is south of the border in down in Washington, D.C. They focus on actual fact, unadorned, elegant and maybe damning.