On Dec. 15, 2017, Barry and Honey Sherman were found dead in their Toronto home on Old Colony Road. This, the second of two excerpts from a new book by Star investigative reporter Kevin Donovan, looks at the first 48 hours of the much-criticized police investigation.
The security control room at Apotex headquarters in Toronto was a repurposed closet — long, narrow and windowless. Five surveillance monitors were attached to a white cinderblock wall, with cables feeding into the main computer. The view on the monitors changed frequently, recording on a computer hard drive movements in hallways, rooms where scientific studies were being carried out, the manufacturing section, where millions of doses of various drugs were made, and the executive suite from which Barry Sherman, Jack Kay and others ran the multi-billion-dollar business. It’s a 13-building complex. Outdoors, cameras were trained on the parking lots and the streets around Apotex.
Andrew Dawson’s job was to watch all the monitors in the control room and look for anything odd or unusual.
Dawson was a part-time security guard working his way through university, with plans for a big career in computer science. He and other shift security workers were also under instruction to conduct hourly “wellness checks” whenever a senior executive was working late in the evening or on the weekend, dropping by the executive’s office and saying a quick hello. That was usually either Sherman on the first floor or the company president, Jeremy Desai, on the second.
Security is important in the drug manufacturing field. There are always concerns about theft of intellectual property and the theft of products that would yield a high price on the street.
At any given time, for example, Apotex has storage drums filled with $1.3 billion worth of active pharmaceutical ingredients to make painkillers — hydromorphone and other opioids — locked behind concrete-and-steel walls more than half a metre thick in the highest-security facility of its kind in Canada. The door to the main storage facility weighs 4,500 kilograms and has a fingerprint lock that only two people can open.
There are also concerns of a more minor nature. Dawson had been helpful several years earlier in capturing the “fruit thief,” an Apotex employee from the pill production line who had briefly dated the Shermans’ youngest daughter and, after they broke up, was believed to have been stealing sandwiches and fruit from the executive suite refrigerator. It seemed the man had become used to using the refrigerator when he was close to the family. He was caught on a security camera and was fired.
Like many others in the 11,000-employee company, Dawson was shaken by the news two days before of Barry Sherman’s death. He had read all the media stories, particularly the reporting that stated “police sources” believed it was a murder-suicide.
Dawson refused to believe that. He did not know Barry Sherman well, but he’d often had interactions with him at Apotex. All had been positive, though he did recall that while some days Sherman would be chatty, on other days the Apotex boss would pass him in the hall, head down, some papers in his hand, clearly preoccupied and not prepared to stop and talk.
They did have one inside “joke” together. Both liked tomato juice. When Sherman found out that one of his security guards liked the same beverage he did, he brought in extra and told him to help himself. “You’ve got good taste,” Sherman told him.
It was the security camera footage at Apotex that was of interest to a very tired-looking Toronto police detective on the morning of Sunday, Dec. 17.
She had been buzzed into the building after she showed her identification badge and had begun to explain to Dawson and his supervisor what she was after.
Dawson was surprised the police had not come sooner. It had been two days since the bodies were discovered. Though security and policing were not his true calling, he had watched enough crime dramas to know the drill. Two prominent billionaires found dead in their home under very suspicious circumstances, according to the papers. That is what’s known in the police world as a “red ball” or a “media case,” two terms used to describe a high-profile investigation that will develop under the critical eye of the public, the media, politicians and the family — in this case, a very wealthy and well-connected family.
Dawson had also heard, and he was pretty sure this was common knowledge, that the first 48 hours in a murder investigation were key. Now the papers were saying that police believed it was a murder-suicide. But still, in case it was a double murder, and, judging from what he had read, quite a violent one, why were the police only now coming to look at security footage?
The movements of people leading up to their death were quite important, Dawson thought. Then again, if it was a murder-suicide, maybe their movements were not a big deal. These were just some of the thoughts going through the young security guard’s head as he helped the detective understand what viewpoints and coverage were available from the cameras.
“I have been up three days straight,” the detective told Dawson. She had been working on the case since the bodies were discovered on Friday just before noon. Now it was Sunday. She had brought a mass data storage device with her so she could take away a digital copy of the last four days of footage.
Dawson offered to go through the video and make printouts of a few key sightings if that would help, and the detective agreed. Dawson had been on a daily shift since the previous Thursday. He knew from chatter around Apotex that the Shermans had last been seen on the Wednesday. Apparently, the couple was building a mansion, and early on the Wednesday evening they had met in an Apotex boardroom with the team of architects that was designing the home.
Out of a sense of duty — he thought somebody should do this — Dawson had checked many of the video feeds since he came on shift. He wanted to see when the Shermans left on Wednesday and whether anyone followed them.
With the detective sitting in the control room, Dawson set the computer to the time codes he had noted, then he displayed the video for those time codes. Sherman had been working in his office at Apotex since late morning on the Wednesday. Shortly before 5 p.m., Honey Sherman and a group of men, presumably the architects, entered the Apotex reception area. Dawson could tell from an exterior camera that they had come in separate vehicles.
Barry Sherman met them and they went into a boardroom. At about 6:30 p.m. the meeting concluded and Barry Sherman walked his wife and the architects out. He was apparently staying later, which was normal. Honey Sherman left in her gold Lexus SUV, driving south on Signet Drive, the road that fronted the main Apotex building. The architects left in their own vehicle.
Sherman went back to his office to continue working. At around 8:30 p.m., Sherman left the Apotex building and got into his rusting 1997 two-door silver Mustang GT convertible. Sherman’s parking spot was the closest to the front door, beside the space, empty at this hour, belonging to his longtime second-in-command, Jack Kay. As his wife had done earlier, Sherman drove out and turned south on Signet Drive.
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Due to the media coverage of their deaths, Dawson now knew where the late boss of Apotex lived, at 50 Old Colony Rd. That would be a typical route for someone who had to get onto the southbound lanes of the nearby expressway before turning east to get to his home.
Dawson gave the detective the printouts of screen captures showing time codes and the arrival and departure of both Barry and Honey Sherman. Dawson also copied the four days of video footage the detective requested onto her mass storage device. Police, he figured, would have the resources to efficiently comb through all of it in great detail and quite quickly, looking for any clues in the comings and goings at Apotex that might shed light on the mysterious deaths of his employer and his wife.
[That first weekend after the deaths] Dawson noticed people he had never seen before in the parking lot around the Apotex headquarters. They were men, some scruffy-looking, in teams of two, sometimes leaning on a car in the parking lot. Whenever a senior executive left the building, the men would get in their car and follow.
The men were part of a large security team employed by an Israeli company recommended by Bank Hapoalim, the Israeli bank Apotex used. With the Shermans dead, the four trustees Barry Sherman had left in charge of his estate decided that there was a risk of violence and had hired a team of men who at one time had guarded Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
They were not armed but had experience in self-defence and martial arts and used a sophisticated communication system to keep in touch. Beginning that weekend, the four heirs — Lauren, Jonathon, Alex and Kaelen — and others, including trustees and senior Apotex executives, had an application called Octopus installed on their phones. If any of them needed help, they only had to touch the app, which would alert a quick-response team, in addition to the bodyguards assigned to them.
When he turned over the video of the four days leading up to and including the day the Shermans were last seen alive, Dawson did not realize that due to a security function, the footage from the Apotex cameras could only be viewed on the Apotex system. More than a month later, in January 2018, Toronto police detectives on the Sherman case contacted Apotex again. “We just got around to looking at the footage, and we can’t read it on our system,” the detective said. “Can you help?”
Dawson and others at Apotex were again surprised. Given the high-profile nature of the case, they expected police would have immediately combed through the footage. Dawson and his boss got to work, converted the file, and provided police with footage they could view.
A similar situation occurred with the video from the home across the street from 50 Old Colony Rd. The homeowners had approached police on the Friday the bodies were discovered. Time was of the essence, as the homeowners’ system kept only seven days of video. Each day, another day of video was overwritten.
A uniformed officer guarding the house had promised to send an officer over. Saturday, the homeowners asked another officer, who again promised someone would be sent across the street. Still no officer came. Sunday, the couple was leaving for a ski trip. They asked again, this time calling a number they were given for a detective working on the case.
Finally, a detective arrived to take a copy of the previous seven days of video just before the couple left on their trip. The couple had viewed some of the video and had noticed that on the Thursday, the day before the bodies were discovered and one day after the Shermans were last seen alive, a dark, four-door car drove west on Old Colony Road at 9:11 a.m., and parked on the street out front of the Sherman residence. They watched the grainy footage as a man got out of the car, and walked back and forth to the Sherman front door.
The couple recorded the time codes and in total the man appeared to enter the house three times, for a total of 29 minutes inside the house. Finally, he returned to his car and drove off west. The couple could not make out the man’s face or the licence and style of car.
It is possible, say others who later saw the video, that the man only stood outside the door, not entering the Sherman house. The couple never thought to look at the Wednesday video, which presumably shows when the Shermans arrived home and if anyone was following them. Still, they thought the Thursday video was important. As news reports had revealed to them, the Shermans were dead in the basement at that time.
Six weeks after the couple had handed over the video, a police detective arrived at their home to show them blurry photos of a man and a woman captured by another video camera on the street. No explanation was given by the detective. The homeowners said they had seen a couple walking on the street on the Monday, but the photo appeared to show a different couple.
“What about the man who went into the house on the Thursday?” one of the homeowners asked the detective.
“What man?” the detective asked. She went on to explain that she had been working non-stop, had significant daycare issues to deal with in her family, and that she had to “rely on my team” to scan the video and tell her what was on it.
The mystery of that Thursday deepened a year later when a neighbour down the street told me that at the exact time when that man was standing at the Sherman door, a police officer came to her door in response to what he described as a “911 call” that police believed had come from her house. She had not made a 911 call and both her telephone and home security alarm provider confirmed that. The officer did not say when the call was received or whether it came from a landline or cellular telephone.
This fuelled speculation by members of the Sherman family that the call may have come from the Sherman house roughly 10 doors away and that it was somehow linked to the murders. Was it possible that the man in the dark sedan parked in front of the Sherman house was a plainclothes police officer following up on the 911 call? Or was it something as routine as a person trying to deliver a package, or see a house listed for sale? As with so many things in the Sherman case, one revelation led to another mystery.