'Impossible' to believe Barry and Honey Sherman died in murder-suicide, friend says

A long-time friend of Barry and Honey Sherman says the prospect that the couple died in a murder-suicide is “impossible,” saying the pair was very much in love and celebrating a new grandchild and the coming wedding of one of their children.

A funeral for the couple is scheduled for Thursday at 11 a.m.

Apotex founder Barry Sherman and his wife, Honey, are seen in this undated photograph. (United Jewish Appeal/Canadian Press)

 A long-time friend of Barry and Honey Sherman says the prospect that the couple died in a murder-suicide is "impossible," saying the pair was very much in love and celebrating a new grandchild and the coming wedding of one of their children.

The Shermans were found dead in their North York home on Friday. Autopsies revealed the cause of death to be "ligature neck compression," meaning strangulation.

While police have remained tight-lipped about the case, the family of the Shermans released a statement over the weekend slamming media reports, citing sources, that police are probing the theory that the pair died in a murder-suicide. CBC News has not independently confirmed details about what led to the Shermans' deaths. 

On Monday, Fred Waks, a long-time family friend who regularly socialized, dined and travelled with the Shermans, said the theory does not make sense to him.

'I think it's impossible'

"I don't believe [it] for a second, I think it's impossible," Waks told CBC Toronto. "I don't believe it, and none of us believe it."

Waks, president and CEO of Trinity Development Group, became close with the couple 14 years ago, when he and his wife took their youngest daughter to Israel and they were "babysat" by the Shermans on the trip.

From that point, the families participated in charity work together, raising money for hospitals, educational institutions, emergency campaigns and other projects. The Shermans gave millions themselves and raised millions more for these and other causes.

While on the one hand they were rich beyond anybody's wildest dreams, they were always rooted in community.- Bernie Farber, friend of the Shermans

Waks said his wife even followed Honey into a "Dancing with the Stars"-style event to raise money for the Baycrest hospital. At the time, Honey Sherman was not far removed from back surgery.

"My wife said, 'If Honey can do this through back surgery, I'm going to step up and get out of my comfort zone and do it,'" Waks said.

The two of them raised $1.5 million on that campaign alone, he said.

"By the way: Honey won. When she put her mind to something, she was able to do anything that was put in front of her. And of course, Barry was there beside her the whole time."

A funeral for Barry and Honey Sherman is scheduled for Thursday morning, according to an online listing at the Benjamin Park Memorial Chapel.

'Always rooted in community'

Barry Sherman founded Apotex, the generic drug giant, in 1974 and amassed a fortune that Canadian Business magazine recently pegged at $4.77 billion.

As a producer of more than 300 generic pharmaceutical products, Apotex has seen a fair number of litigation issues, as companies have pushed back on its efforts to sell cheaper no-name options. 

One of the most high-profile of those clashes occurred when pharma giant Bristol-Myers Squibb sued Apotex in 2006 to try and stop it from selling the first generic form of the heart-disease treatment Plavix.

Over the years, the Shermans have also faced legal action from family members, who alleged they had been cut out of the company.

The lawsuits didn't seem to dampen the Shermans' philanthropic spirit, according to those who knew the couple. 

Honey Sherman was a tireless volunteer who sat on several boards, including the Baycrest Foundation and the York University Foundation, as well as the Mount Sinai Women's Auxiliary and the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Toronto police say there are no signs of forced entry to the Sherman home and they aren't looking for any outstanding suspects. (CBC)

York University in particular benefited from Honey's altruism. The Shermans recently donated $5 million to the Sherman Health Science Research Centre, named after the family in tribute to their generosity. 

"She was bubbly, effusive," said York University president Rhonda Lenton, describing Honey as a social connector, the kind of person who would pull her around a party to meet total strangers. "Everybody knows Honey and Barry, and they know everybody."

"While on the one hand they were rich beyond anybody's wildest dreams, they were always rooted in community," echoed Bernie Farber, a friend and former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress. 

That community spread beyond Canadian borders. Farber remembers asking Barry to help him get simple drugs like painkillers into Cuba. Because of an embargo at the time, Cubans "were really bereft of even simple things like Tylenol and Aspirin and inhalators and...you name it," Farber recalls. "They didn't have it." 

Farber says Barry, in response, sent him "hundreds of pounds" of medicine, which Farber and his relatives packed into suitcases to deliver to a synagogue in Havana. "They never, ever said no. There were 1,500 people in Havana who [needed] pharmaceuticals. Not only did they say yes, they said yes with enthusiasm."

Homicide detectives take lead

On Sunday, detectives with the Toronto police homicide squad took the lead on the investigation into the Shermans' deaths.

Toronto homicide Det. Brandon Price told reporters outside the couple's home on Friday that police "cannot say 100 per cent with certainty" whether or not foul play was involved. Police have said there were no signs of forced entry into the home, and that police were not searching for any outstanding suspects.

The home of Canadian billionaire couple Barry and Honey Sherman was photographed on Dec. 18, 2017, while police forensics conduct an investigation into the causes of their deaths. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

On Monday, former Toronto police homicide detective Mark Mendelson said detectives will be looking to answer a number of questions, including who was in the Shermans' house at 50 Old Colony Road, and when the Shermans were last out and when they returned home.

"You have to get a timeline as to when they were last seen, who were the last people to speak to them, when was the date and time of that?" Mendelson told CBC Toronto. "All of these things have to be identified."

'I feel lost'

For his part, Waks spoke of the "terrible, terrible feeling" that accompanied learning the news of his friends' deaths.

"I feel lost. I feel disappointed. I feel hurt," Waks said. "I'm at a loss and the only thing I can think about is how we're going to continue their legacy and what they would want us to do at a time like this."

Fred Waks, friend of Barry and Honey Sherman, said he feels "lost" after the deaths of his close friends. (John Grierson/CBC)

He said the couple's friends and family are still "trying to understand" what happened in their home last week.

"But there was no question in anybody's mind who knew them was that they were madly in love with each other," Waks said. "They still walked hand-in-hand. They had everything in life to be looking forward to."

One daughter was to be married soon, Waks said, while another had a new baby just a few weeks ago.

Honey had recently emailed friends, including Waks, to make plans for dinners and other social events in Florida, where she was headed this week. Waks was supposed to travel to Florida this Wednesday, but has postponed that trip to attend the funeral.

He said everyone who knew and loved the Shermans felt it hard to say no to the couple because no one wanted to let them down, a sentiment that continues even after their deaths.

"What was important to them was love and giving," Waks said. "And that's what we have to make sure continues." 

With files from The Canadian Press