“I find no inconsistency in holding intellectually that life has no meaning, while at the same time being highly motivated to survive and to achieve.”
—Barry Sherman, A Legacy of Thoughts (Unfinished, 1996)
Barry Sherman. Image Credit: The Globe and Mail.
On December 15, 2017, the bodies of Barry Sherman, seventy-five-year-old billionaire pharmaceutical magnate, and his wife, Honey, age seventy, were discovered in the basement pool room of their mansion in the North York district of Toronto, Ontario. The crime scene was peculiar; the bodies were next to each other in what was described as a “macabre tableau,”1 with black belts around their necks suspending them from the pool’s safety railing, holding them both in awkward seated positions on the floor. The initial autopsy was inconclusive as to the manner of death, although police determined both had died thirty-six hours prior to being discovered. The cause of death in both cases was ruled “ligature neck compression”—forensic pathology lingo for strangulation.2
In the days and weeks that followed, news media, as per police sources, framed the case as a murder-suicide investigation.3 On the night of the day the bodies were discovered, a detective outside the Shermans’ home at 50 Old Colony Road stumbled into a media scrum and stated that police had not observed any signs of forced entry, indicating they had “no outstanding suspect to be going after.”4 In hindsight, it was a fateful mistake, but one the police zealously defended at the time. The North York area where the Shermans lived had experienced several break-ins leading up to the murders. In a fevered press conference, Toronto’s chief of police later suggested that the detective on scene, who has since been promoted and is still involved in the case, was merely trying to reassure the community.5
Barry Sherman was facing mounting financial pressures in the days leading up to the murders. He had been securing liquidity to pay a pending $580 million judgment against his multi-billion-dollar generic drug firm, Apotex. He had doggedly requested repayment of $50–60 million in loans from his son and his son’s business partner in the weeks before the murders.6 Other funds were being sought from failing or underperforming investments and business partners. Recent speculation has also surfaced suggesting that the couple had been revising their wills and succession plans in the days, and possibly even hours, before their deaths.7
The chaos was not limited to merely financial affairs, however. One early drama involved the public inquiry into the Sherman estate files—files police say are “embedded” in the complex investigation.8
Kevin Donovan, the Toronto Star’s chief investigative reporter, has emerged as the preeminent authority on the case. Known for his scrupulous nature, he has jockeyed into position as one of Canada’s leading investigative journalists. Stepping beyond the boundaries of journalism, Donovan has taken on the relatively lively and rare role of reporter-as-lawyer, personally arguing before the courts for documents to be unsealed in the Sherman probe. He is a straight shooter, and, despite his extensive knowledge of this sensational story, he has remained relatively restrained and measured in his editorials.
When it came to the estate files, Donovan strongly advocated for access, while the family argued in favor of sealing the files to ensure their safety and the safety of the estate’s trustees. The case garnered intense public interest from the outset, which raised privacy concerns. Donovan’s legal challenge made its way through the court system in Canada, ultimately reaching the Supreme Court in 2020. Donovan stepped back from the formal legal proceedings, at that point relying on expert counsel to argue the case before the high court.9 The stakes were significant, for hanging in the balance was Canada’s cherished open-court principle, predicated on the idea that the integrity of the justice system rests largely on its public accessibility, regardless of the sensitivity of the issues or personalities before the court. There were fears that a ruling in favor of the family would lead to a return of the Court of Star Chamber.
Star Chamber in Bolsover Castle, Derbyshire, United Kingdom. Image Credit: David Merrett- Flickr
A relic of English law, the Court of Star Chamber was initially established as an offshoot of the medieval king’s council as a way for the judicial system to mitigate corruption and favoritism with the powerful and influential by keeping potentially volatile cases involving public figures out of the public eye. Over time, it became the very thing it was meant to avoid, exercising power and punishment in arbitrary and secretive ways and expanding its influence and tactics without proper oversight. Acts of torture, mutilation, and imprisonment were administered liberally.10
In one harrowing case, lawyer, author, and zealot puritan William Prynne was tried before the court on charges of libel and sedition against the government and the Church of England. Among Prynne’s offenses was the publication of his book Histrio-Mastix: The Player’s Scourge, in which he argued that theatrical plays should be outlawed, believing theatre was a practice that encouraged immorality. He also drew attention to himself by criticizing Queen Henrietta Maria for her patronage of the performing arts.
The text was noted for its “strangeness and heinousness” by officials and sparked a new age of state-organized book burning. The chancellor of the exchequer, Lord Cottington, sentenced the book to be burned and justified a “strange manner” of burning given the “strangeness” of the book itself. The Court of Star Chamber would also sentence Prynne to be pilloried—a series of humiliations meant to be a deterrent against the sort of propensity he had for free expression. Both of his ears were cut off, he was forced to pay a large fine, and he was sentenced to life in prison. In a subsequent episode, Prynne was punished by having the letters S.L. branded on his face, an inscription for “seditious libel.”12 Public intellectuals of the day spoke out against the court’s practices, and, because of these criticisms and others, the judicial body was abolished in 1641 during the English Civil War, ending its seventy-five-year reign.13
Donovan’s fear of a return to the Court of Star Chamber was quelled when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in his favor in Sherman Estate v. Donovan (2021).14 “Court openness is protected by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression and is essential to the proper functioning of Canadian democracy,” wrote the court in its judgment. “Reporting on court proceedings by a free press is often said to be inseparable from the principle of open justice. The open court principle is engaged by all judicial proceedings, whatever their nature.” In its validation of the open-court principle, the court also acknowledged the inherent value in fostering a healthy and engaged free press built upon a foundation of free inquiry.
Despite Donovan’s many victories, many of the most important and revealing parts of the investigative files remain sealed today. Donovan periodically appears in court to get more of them unsealed. To maintain some degree of secrecy, police must establish that the investigation is active and that disclosure would harm the integrity of the investigation itself. Donovan isn’t the only one facing an uphill battle when it comes to accessing information, as police investigators themselves have faced significant roadblocks in reviewing electronic devices, emails, and other evidence. The information is caught up in a longstanding legal agreement between Apotex and the Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario. The deal was designed to protect Apotex’s private research and development secrets and gave company lawyers the right to decide what material could be reviewed by police.15 According to Donovan and on review of warrant documents, police have yet to review all material relevant to the probe.
Underlying Donovan’s dogged persistence in keeping the case active is a childlike enthusiasm. In a new documentary on the case, told through his perspective, he reflects on the various legal hurdles. “When someone tells me I can’t see something,” he says, “it’s usually one of the best days of my life because I know I’m going to try and see whatever they don’t want me to see.” In a note of symmetry, Donovan’s appetite for life and achievement, as well as his effective utilization of the courts, resembles that of the central character in this story, the late Barry Sherman. In a more sinister note of symmetry, it’s the beleaguered Toronto Police Service who have perhaps taken on elements of the Court of Star Chamber, at least as it relates to caprice and a breathtaking lack of oversight and accountability processes.
Blunders and Double Takes
In addition to the drama and legal complexity of this whirlwind of a case, Barry Sherman in his own right offered much for investigators to contemplate. In a surprising and maddening turn of events, it took Toronto police six weeks to officially declare the deaths a targeted double homicide. The conclusion was reluctantly reached after a second autopsy, conducted by a private investigative team hired by the family due to their outrage over the suggestion of the murder-suicide theory. Although the private team’s involvement may have complicated the police investigation, many believe it was justified considering the breadth of the initial missteps and incompetence.
The second autopsy, an astounding measure to have taken, was conducted by a more experienced forensic pathologist and showed evidence of wrist bindings and the use of a thin ligature around the victims’ necks, as opposed to the belts used to hold their bodies upright. These findings, and other forensic interpretive analysis, led to the conclusion that someone had bound the Shermans, strangled them, staged the bodies, and left the home with the restraints and ligatures they used.16
The leaked findings from the private team’s probe, published by Donovan,17 prompted the police to change their original stance.18 A reporter close to the investigation noted that the police announcement of the targeted double homicide theory fell on a “stunned” media gallery.19
The murder-suicide theory was incomprehensible to friends and family of the Shermans from the outset. Those close to the wealthy businessman highlighted his recent determination in business matters, including plans for expansion and the retention of key employees. On the night of the murders, the couple had even met with architects to discuss plans for a new $30 million mansion they were building to be closer to Toronto’s downtown core and their children and grandchildren. Their actions leading up to their deaths seemed wildly at odds with the police theory according to nearly every relevant party close to the couple. Any theory involving suicide was hard to take seriously.20
The timing of the murders also factored into the poor quality of the investigation early on. Toronto police were under immense pressure at the time, as they were closing in on notorious serial killer Bruce MacArthur. MacArthur, a landscaper, had terrorized the city’s gay village, killed at least eight men, and deposited their remains in plant pots. By early 2018, Toronto police had hundreds of officers involved in the unprecedented investigation, which included a detailed search of thirty properties.21 The homicide unit was strained, with junior officers assigned to the Sherman case in its first weeks. It took the lead detective four days to visit the crime scene, and best practices were not always followed. (According to the private team, police did not vacuum the crime scene, missed evidence showing the front door lock had been tampered with, and missed twenty-five palm and fingerprints at the scene.) Nearly a year after the murders, the private investigative team held its own press conference, highlighting these and other blunders, and offered a tip line and a cash reward of up to $10 million to anyone with information leading to a prosecution. The Shermans’ eldest son has since increased the reward to $35 million.22
Despite contradictory police statements and the initial chaos, there is little doubt now that the police were aimlessly pursuing a murder-suicide theory for far too long. In court documents related to the estate, reference is made to the initial theory of murder-suicide, and early sworn affidavits and warrant applications focused solely on Honey Sherman as having been murdered. Investigators searched for evidence of terminal and mental illness in the couple’s medical records. They even explored allegations of infidelity within the marriage, despite reports from friends and family that the couple had been getting along much better as of late. All this in an effort to support a broken theory that said the elder pharmaceutical mogul strangled his wife before killing himself. As forensic data began to emerge, the truth became clear. Police attempts to further the suicide theory so persistently spoke to a lurking bias and an irrational kind of tunnel vision.
It is possible, however, that there is more to these errors than sloppy practices by an overextended police force. It seems that the police’s interpretation of events in the investigation’s first few weeks may have been complicated by Sherman himself.
‘If They Are Going to Get You, They Are Going to Get You.’
Barry Sherman was a man of complexity, his life defined by intricate family and business dealings. I reached a trio of Sherman’s close friends to get a better sense of what made him tick beyond what had been reported in the press. One such friend, Murray Rubin, ninety-two, who first met Sherman in the 1960s, told me of how clearly he remembers meeting him on the steps of Empire Laboratories, having been introduced by Sherman’s uncle, Lou Winter. He points to the fond relationship Sherman had with his employees over the years, saying that he “never acted the boss.” This is a sentiment shared by others who knew him. He also noted that while Sherman was certainly an atheist, his murder was a tremendous loss to Toronto’s close-knit Jewish community, first and foremost.
Jack Kay, a longtime friend and business partner, worked side-by-side with Sherman for over thirty-five years. I spoke to Kay from his condominium in Toronto, and in short order he declared that he and Sherman were of the same “vintage”—both products of a quasi-Jewish upbringing and both staunch atheists. Kay had agreed to join the pharmaceutical endeavor after hosting Sherman in his Montreal apartment for about an hour in the early 1980s. Kay recounts walking away from an all but certain promotion, telling his boss at the time, pharmaceutical magnate Morris Goodman, “Morris, I’m going to leave.” It took six months, as Kay reports, for the logistics of their partnership to solidify. Sherman’s sole focus would be on drug formulation and patent strategy, tasks that Kay says permeated his existence. As for dealing with the human side of a business as big as Apotex was and would become, “He left that to me,” says Kay. As would be reported in the press and confirmed to me by some of Sherman’s friends, he dealt with business conflict in a direct way, but life at home and his relationships with his family were more complicated and troubled.
I asked Kay if he’d be willing to field some questions about Deferiprone, a blood disorder medication that Sherman, Kay, and Apotex had worked on and taken to market. The subject had been eating at me for months before our conversation. The development of the drug was roiled in controversy in the 1990s after Apotex had collaborated with a prominent Canadian academic hematologist in Toronto on the initial clinical trial. As data came in, the researcher saw what she considered safety issues and lobbied to have the study design specifics changed, which Apotex resisted. The saga wore on for years, with the public jockeying in the press growing increasingly nasty.
As Kay tells it, Sherman was not the initial lead on drug development in this case—a rare exception—and was originally convinced of the drug’s merit by another researcher. Sherman took stock of the data and confidently asserted that the original researcher’s interpretation of the results was mistaken. Kay told of how Sherman had communicated with the parents of children who benefited from the medication and whose plights drove him to fight on. Shortly before the murders, both Kay and Sherman were lauded for their work on the drug at an event held by Cooley’s Anemia Foundation24 in New York. One of two physician awardees at the event commented, “It is humbling to have this honor bestowed on us, but the impact that this drug has had on so many lives would not have been possible without the unwavering support of Dr. Barry Sherman, the Founder of Apotex.” The physician went on to recount the many personal stories they had received highlighting the drug’s positive impact.
Reflecting on the case and the history, I remembered a story one of Sherman’s closest friends had told me in relation to his finding a mistake in a physics textbook they studied in school so many decades prior. Sherman’s teacher took issue with his bold assertion, but just like the Deferiprone story, Sherman would eventually be vindicated, in this case by the textbook’s publisher.
As we shifted direction, Kay shed light on Sherman’s oft-reported “litigious nature.” Like Rubin, he explained that in Sherman’s view, if you could make a drug in an original way, you should be free to sell it. This would form the very basis for his greatest business success, and while he wore both the chief lawyer and chief scientist hats, Kay says Sherman’s real brilliance was in drug formulation because it is an “exact science.” However, much of the success would also be the result of risky and consequential drug patent disputes, contributing to the development of a pharmaceutical arms race between the brand name giants and pesky but relevant generic firms such as Sherman’s Apotex. The brand name companies have since become more careful dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s, Kay tells me, hinting at the novelty of Sherman’s clever approach at the time. The fierce legal strategizing was not confined within Apotex’s concrete walls either, with Sherman successfully wielding the court process to his advantage many times over the years. Press at the time would refer to him as “absolutely singular” when it came to initiating lawsuits.25 In the 1980s, for example, Sherman sued the builders of the home he would later be murdered in. He recouped nearly 90 percent of the $2.3 million construction cost after proving the contractor’s substandard work.26 His entanglements would involve less than reputable business partners at times, a reflection of the wide net he cast and his openness to helping other people, a theme that emerged in each of my conversations with his friends. As one friend put it, Sherman derived pleasure from helping others build lives for themselves. In the end, that willingness to help would set the stage for at least some of Sherman’s more principled legal battles.
Of all the lawsuits, the court battles near the time of the murders continue to complicate the already troubled investigation. On the very day of the murders, Sherman had directed legal action against a former business partner and convicted fraudster. And just a week before the murders, he had won a long legal battle against his estranged cousins. The father of the cousins, Lou Winter, was a mentor to the young Sherman and introduced him to the generic drug industry over fifty years prior. After the death of Winter, and that of his wife, Beverly, shortly thereafter, Sherman would take over his uncle’s company to avoid insolvency. Decades later, the cousins argued that they were owed a portion of Apotex, the company Sherman went on to create after selling the original business.27 Sherman had funneled millions of dollars to the troubled cousins over the years and even helped them obtain the original estate documents they would later use to unsuccessfully sue him.28 The case would be laughed out of court, with the Winters’ demand of a 20 percent stake in the multi-billion-dollar empire reduced to “wishful thinking” by the presiding judge.
Despite all the lawsuits, Kay describes Sherman as someone who avoided confrontation interpersonally, someone who was hesitant to argue about something that he knew nothing about. The greatest misconception, says Kay, was that Sherman was a tough business guy, when he merely had a belief in his process and “knew what he wanted to do.” Highlighting the nature of their friendship, Kay recounts an episode of acute pancreatitis that landed him in a Toronto area hospital twenty years ago. Sherman was convinced Kay was going to die and spent four days at his business partner’s bedside in the hospital. Reflecting on it now, Kay says, “People could not believe he was out of the office for that long.”
In his unfinished 1996 memoir, A Legacy of Thoughts, Sherman wrote of the vulnerability of the human mind and its susceptibility to religion and storytelling. “It appears that theistic beliefs are not based on observation and logical deduction but rather stem from thoughtless acceptance learned in naive youth or, alternatively, from a mindset grounded in fear rather than reason, seeking to give meaning to life and alleviate the fear of death.”29
For his part, Sherman did not seem to fear death. When a friend suggested increasing security measures shortly before the murders, he responded defiantly, “We don’t believe in that stuff. If they are going to get you, they are going to get you.”30 Atypical in this way, the billionaire maintained very little security presence, including at his home.
Sherman’s commitment to his work was perhaps matched by his fascination with life and death. He claimed to be someone who deeply pondered his own mortality, and his personal writing supports this. In a eulogy, one family member described how Sherman was baffled and awestruck by the miracle of life and took great joy in the wonder of children at play. But he had turned his mind to death as well and made major decisions based on his views about it. In an eerie bit of foreshadowing, Sherman once quipped to author Jeffrey Robinson that he was surprised he hadn’t been assassinated by a competitor given the enormous benefit that would come to them. A friend of Sherman’s told me of threats that were called in from payphones in the early days of Apotex. Sherman never really seemed worried by it all and found the possibility of being murdered almost boring.
The Sherman file clearly raises questions about the existence of a “two-tier” system of justice, wherein the wealthy have an advantage over others and their cases are concealed from public scrutiny, as with the Court of Star Chamber. Sherman himself, however, possessed a personal frugality,31 and friends tell me he often contemplated chance’s role in his good fortune. After a fancy dinner party hosted by one of Canada’s political elite, Sherman was said to be baffled as he contemplated the nature of the evening. Why should we be served and they do the serving, he asked, seemingly reflecting on the sheer chance and luck involved in his own circumstances that night.32 The political figure summed it up by saying, as Donovan reports, that it was as if Sherman considered the entire evening some sort of “cosmic injustice.”33
Regardless of Sherman’s musings upon his privilege, the family’s use of an all-star lawyer and private investigative team—and the offer of a substantial and ever-ballooning cash reward—are clear examples of how wealth disparity affects the carriage of justice. However, much of the family’s motivation in this regard seems to stem from their frustration with the objective failings of the police and their stubborn and obtuse refusal to let go of the egregious theory of murder-suicide. The police investigation, by any rational accounting of the facts, displayed an abysmal lapse in competence. Insofar as the family had the financial and legal means to push police and advocate for the investigation itself, this seemed defensible. But in retrospect, did Sherman’s own words, as written in his unfinished memoir, unsettle and confuse investigators?
Sherman’s Self-Evident Truths
Sherman’s memoir has been characterized as having a “humorless” style, resembling a scientific manuscript.34 True to this description, much of the document is written in a serious and methodical style, but it is also breathtakingly clear and concise. Sherman only briefly mentions his family but explicitly states that readers should not infer anything about his feelings toward his loved ones based on this fact. What most stands out are his reflections on existential themes and philosophy, particularly in the first chapter titled “The Meaning of Life.” In his characteristically direct “no time for chitchat” manner (as Kay put it), Sherman explores significant topics such as free will, consciousness, and God.
“It is evident that numerous unanswered questions exist and may remain unanswered,” he wrote. “Did time have a beginning? How could the universe have had a beginning without a causal presence? Is the universe finite? Are there other universes?”
Despite his workaholic persona, Sherman did not hole himself in his office like some sort of new age Howard Hughes, watching movies and urinating in glass bottles. He was active in political and philanthropic circles, building and fostering a plethora of close relationships over the years with friends, their children, and many others.
Still image of the lone suspect according to Toronto Police Service. The so-called “walking man” was found on surveillance video in the Sherman’s neighborhood and was evidenced to be close to the Sherman estate for a suspicious amount of time on the night of the murders. Police have stated they believe the “walking man” is the killer or one of the killers. The suspect remains unknown, and police released the images four years after the murders in a December 2021 press conference.
A close friend of Sherman described to me how he maintained a commitment to the endless stream of contacts, near and far, that he’d gone out of his way to help over the years. He was shy and rational, the friend recounted, making a point to avoid emotionally charged interpersonal conflicts. This was another theme confirmed by all three of Sherman’s friends: that he was a calm and collected thinker, someone who would seldom if ever yell, for example, despite the various forms of chaos that sometimes erupted around him.
Though shy, Sherman’s friend confirmed that he was also direct, most especially when it came to the question of God. Sherman would consistently skip out on religious services, opting to meet up with his party afterward. He would even deliberately engage the religious in argument, something he touches on in his memoir. He was, said the friend, a “proud atheist.” More than that, he held the institution of religion in contempt, writing, “I have always felt disdain for organized religion, and for the foolishness or hypocrisy of clergymen who sell religion as a source of morality or everlasting life.”
In his memoir, Sherman spends considerable time on the topics of God, meaning, and motivation. “Meaning and purpose are inherently dependent on an intelligent being having an intent in mind,” he wrote. “A logical consequence of the absence of a ‘God’ is that we exist without any inherent ‘meaning’ or ‘purpose’ in our lives.” Sherman further elaborates that our behaviors, when rationally considered, are aimed at fulfilling fundamental needs such as obtaining food and shelter and engaging in sexual activities. Wealth, according to Sherman, does not bring obligation; he asserted that obligations only exist in relation to the law. Instead, money offers the opportunity to find pleasure and happiness through helping others. The Shermans certainly lived up to this ideal in their formal philanthropy and through Sherman’s more personal charity.
Kay noted that when a problem or need arose, it was often easier for Sherman to simply write a check and get back to his work. Kay tells me that when he did offer his own advice on certain curious business decisions, Sherman would invariably reply, “It’s only money.”
It’s only money, indeed. One fascinating aspect of Sherman’s life involves his financial support for, and close friendship with, an unusual Canadian personality by the name of Frank D’Angelo. Sherman and D’Angelo met in the early 2000s and over the years partnered in a variety of businesses and ventures, including a beer company, a late-night talk show, an attempted purchase of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and more recently a slew of B-list movies written and directed by, and starring, D’Angelo. The showbiz ventures were amusing but would bring serious Hollywood actors such as Al Pacino into the haughty and potty-mouthed D’Angelo’s lens and interview chair. The financier of all, and the executive producer of one of the more eye-catching films, Sicilian Vampire, was none other than Barry Sherman. The title was most likely an ode to D’Angelo’s Italian roots, and Sherman found the bloodthirsty spin on the mob quite interesting, emails before his death would later show.
In a 2016 profile of D’Angelo, Sherman was quoted as saying, “I like helping people and Frank deserves to succeed.” This despite D’Angelo costing the billionaire over C$120 million35 in a dramatic 2007 bankruptcy proceeding almost ten years before the interview. Bloomberg has recently reported that the amount of loans gifted to D’Angelo by the end of Sherman’s life totaled some C$268 million, including interest.36 The relationship would be questioned by nearly everyone in Sherman’s inner circle, but over the years many close to the billionaire resigned themselves to the strength of the pair’s undeniable bond. For however different the men were, they both shared a similar degree of extremity. Perhaps D’Angelo offered Sherman a kind of exit ramp, and time away from the deep and focused study of patent law and chemistry he so regularly consumed himself with. Sherman’s friends corroborate press reports of his interest in human nature. He was, one friend told me, “psychologically smart,” not merely scientifically gifted. D’Angelo, who refers to Sherman as a brother, perhaps exemplified many of the aspects of human nature that Sherman found most fascinating.
Sherman’s scientific foundation was central to his life, underpinned by a marked intelligence corroborated by everyone who knew him, even his enemies. Sherman completed both master’s studies in aeronautics and astronautics and PhD studies in systems engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in under three years. He patented his work on the control of satellites in orbit and toured launch facilities in the states but would ultimately turn down an opportunity with NASA, choosing instead to pursue his business interests in a completely unrelated scientific field in Toronto.37 According to Rubin, Sherman never looked back on this decision, and in his memoir we find a clue as to why. “Another consequence of the laws of physics is that we lack ‘free will,’” he wrote. “Each of us possesses a physical existence analogous to the hardware and software of a computer. Just as a computer’s response to any input follows from its construction and programming, our responses are likewise predetermined.”
Sherman goes on to present a defense of the philosophical concept of hard determinism:
If automatons were constructed to resemble humans and adequately programmed to simulate human behavior, how could an objective observer distinguish between a human with free will and an automaton without it? While each of us may subjectively feel that we have the freedom to make certain choices, the fact that we consist of mass energy, albeit of a highly complex structure, and the fact that mass-energy behaves according to the laws of physics implies that every future event, including our thoughts and actions, is predetermined by the present. Free will is an illusion. 38
While the murder-suicide theory has been discredited beyond any reasonable doubt, certain media sources continue to promote this theory in an extravagant and shameless manner. In the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s podcast on the case, The No Good, Terribly Kind, Wonderful Lives and Tragic Deaths of Barry and Honey Sherman, the final episode heavily implies that Barry Sherman might have committed the act after all, highlighting excerpts from his memoir in such a way as to suggest that his deterministic views on life left the possibility of his culpability intact.39 The series concludes with a reading of Sherman’s list of “self-evident” truths, including his assertion that there is no God and that “Life has no meaning or purpose.”40
The lives and words of notable recently deceased atheists are, sadly, often subject to lazy and capricious posthumous interpretations and allegations, including tales of deathbed conversions. The late polemicist Christopher Hitchens once recounted how Voltaire was asked to renounce the devil on his own death bed and replied, “This is no time … to be making new enemies.”41
Hitchens himself became the subject of similar cynical speculation after his own passing, when an old religious debate partner suggested that he may not have been as opposed to belief in God as he seemed.42 Hitchens, of course, had anticipated this possibility. In a television interview before his death, when asked by Anderson Cooper whether he had considered hedging his bets with God, Hitchens responded, “If that were to happen, it would be when I’m very ill, half-demented, either by drugs or pain. I won’t have control over what happens. I mention this in case you ever hear a rumor later on because these things happen, and the faithful love to spread these rumors.”43
In the case of Barry Sherman, no such forewarning was given, perhaps because he did not anticipate needing to defend himself against absurd accusations of grotesque murder and self-slaughter. The sensationalized coverage in several media outlets attempted to link atheistic and materialistic worldviews with suicide. This is regrettable, to say the least, and illustrates just how easily false associations between humanist beliefs and themes of fatalism and torment are still erroneously made. One wonders whether the blunt materialism of the opening chapter of Sherman’s A Legacy of Thoughts was considered by investigators as “strange” to them as William Prynne’s Histrio-Mastix was to those who tried him before the Court of Star Chamber, resulting in Prynne’s imprisonment and mutilation.
Despite this tendency among the press, Sherman’s perspective on God is likely one that Hitchens would endorse, and it should be noted that Sherman expressed these thoughts a full decade prior to Hitchens’s own focused exploration of atheism. “Having debated with numerous theists, I have come to realize that the best way to bring debate to a brief conclusion is to explain that one cannot have meaningful dialogue without a mutual understanding of what is meant by words to be used,” wrote Sherman.
I thus ask before the conversation proceeds; the theist define exactly what he means by the word ‘God.’ Is it an intelligent three-headed monster who created the universe and who intercedes in our lives at its whim? Is it an evil being that creates suffering for its sadistic gratification? Where did this creature come from? If our universe needed a creator to explain its existence, then why did this creature not also need a creator? There follows invariably an inability to answer my questions as a prerequisite to debate.44
By the 1990s, Apotex had grown to become Canada’s largest generics firm. A patent lawsuit from 1998 stands as an example of Sherman’s novel approach to business. Novopharm, a Canadian generic firm at the time, had a license agreement with brand name giant Eli Lilly for the use of one of its drugs, nizatidine. Apotex had made a regulatory submission before Novopharm, and in the context of legislative changes relevant to their businesses, entered into an agreement outlining supply access to the drug. The agreement was drafted, apparently without the advice of counsel, by Sherman and Novopharm executive Leslie Dan. Eli Lilly sued, asserting the deal drafted between Apotex and Novopharm had constituted a sublicense, infringing on the original licensing agreement. The court would ultimately side with Apotex, ruling that literal meaning is sufficient to determine intent.45 In this case, the agreement was clearly written, according to the courts, and, further, based on this wording, did not wander into sublicense territory given that proprietary information had not actually been shared between Apotex and Novopharm. Apotex had set itself up for “indirect enjoyment” of the license through Novopharm, all thanks to Sherman’s careful and clever drafting.
Details around these patent cases can be murky at times, given the shroud of secrecy that envelops the pharmaceutical industry. I had recalled, however, news reporting that Sherman himself spearheaded Apotex’s legal efforts. In further discussion with Kay, he corroborated the salient points of the story as described, but shared that even if Sherman had drafted the agreement himself, and had mapped out a solution all on his own, he likely would have vetted the approach with a longtime lawyer he’d worked with. Confidence, as Murray Rubin had said, was one of Sherman’s greatest strengths. When it came to legal maneuvers around the close corners and straightaways of the vicious multinational drug patent game, Sherman wielded an unusual superpower. “He had a feel for it,” Kay told me, referring to Sherman’s skills in both drug formulation and patent law. “But he had a feel for everything.”
Another of Sherman’s friends corroborated this characterization of the billionaire as a wearer of many hats, noting how the often-timid Sherman, cognizant of his own limitations in the art of debate, could surprise you with the fervency of his opinions, of which he had many. And none of his opinions were as strident as those regarding God. He kept up with world events and expressed his thoughts on topics from the Six-Day War to the invasion of Iraq. While the specifics of his many opinions are lost, in part because of his unfinished text, the atheist lens through which he viewed the world almost certainly contributed to his conclusions.
Beyond being a classic whodunnit, beyond the landmark legal rulings concerning the press and Canada’s open courts, and beyond the matrix of suspicion, motives, and finger-pointing, the Sherman murders also reveal how atheist and humanist thought is still badly misunderstood and stereotyped. With Sherman, his nuanced philosophical views on life and death may have led police and media astray.
Over the many hours I have spent immersed in this case, I have been able to draw some conclusions. For one, Sherman wasn’t a saint, as one friend told me earnestly. There is no doubt that Sherman was direct, tenacious, and studied. His sharp intellect enabled him to chart paths in business that others simply could not see. His exactness and rigorousness in business perhaps explains the many misconceptions about Sherman the man. He wasn’t a bad guy, as Kay summarized to me. Sherman entered the battlefield of the generic drug industry and through his raw determination caused a good deal of friction, but Sherman’s respect for the law itself, something he considered obligatory, dovetailed well with his respect for human progress and potential, evidenced by the lives of the many people he helped. Despite his ultimate view on free will, he is someone who showed an enormous will to live. One source close to Sherman commented on the power of his sheer presence at a social function just before the time of the murders. He was, said the source, finally starting to enjoy and take interest in the social duties he so often left to others.
At the end of the first chapter of his unfinished memoir, Barry Sherman lists what he says he holds to be “self-evident truths”:
There is no “God.”
There is a universe and we do exist.
We and all other species are here as a result of evolution.
Mass and energy behave in space and time according to laws of physics that have been largely, but not yet entirely, elucidated.
Free will is an illusion.
Life has no meaning or purpose.46
There is a deep sense of injustice in the Sherman case that is rooted in the tragedy of the crime itself but also in the lack of a fair and proportionate conclusion. But in reflecting on that second injustice myself, it occurs to me that this likely explains the mounting interest in the Sherman case beyond any mere palace intrigue. I’m reminded of one of Sherman’s friends who shed light on his view of the universe, highlighting the fact that he strongly believed there really was no “benevolent order.” Given the bizarre and gruesome circumstances that arose from the events on that snowy winter’s evening in Toronto, it’s hard to disagree.
Mystifying as the details may be, there is a simplicity to the case that adds to its sadness and senselessness. A brutal murder of a man, about to be awarded the Order of Canada, and his wife, both heavily engaged in philanthropy. Who would want them both dead?
And what about Apotex, the company referred to as Sherman’s fifth child? It was sold for an estimated $3 billion in 2022, just shy of the company’s fiftieth anniversary.
Investigators have been tight-lipped as they quietly continue a probe said to have taken on an “international flare,” eventually churning through information from five different countries.47 As the investigation continues, one hopes that the Toronto Police Service, the same service that initially believed that Barry Sherman had murdered his wife and committed suicide, might now take a page from Sherman’s commentaries on theoretics and the art and science of drawing conclusions: “The fact that there are imponderables does not, however, prevent an intelligent being from coming to some conclusions with a high degree of confidence in their correctness, based on observation and logical deduction.”
Toronto Police last formally updated the public in December 2021 when they released home security footage of an unknown figure, dubbed the “walking man,” found “tight” to the Sherman home for a suspicious amount of time on the night of the murders. Police have said they have a working theory of the case and an “idea of what happened.” I reached out to corporate communications at Toronto Police Service, and they forwarded my inquiry regarding an update on the probe to the head of the homicide unit, Inspector Hank Idsinga. As of the time of this writing, Idsinga has not provided any response on behalf of the beleaguered police service. No suspects have been named, and no arrests have been made.
Kevin Donovan continues to investigate the case and believes the chaos leading up to the murders was a “perfect storm” that was taken advantage of by the perpetrators. He is adamant about the central issue behind his work on this case, which he says outweighs the grisly true crime angle: public scrutiny of police work. In a new documentary focused on his investigation, Donovan reflects on the police work saying, “We got the Keystone Cops here”—a reference to the fictional blundering policemen of slapstick silent film fame. As for his view of the crime, he maintains his own theory48 and “belief ” as to who murdered the billionaire businessman and his philanthropist wife. For what it is worth, he believes the cops are zeroing in on the same suspect.
Though a brilliant life’s force has been taken before its time, Sherman’s legacy, complexity, and intrigue live on. True to form, he comments on this very point at the outset of his memoir. “I have enjoyed considerable success in building the Apotex group of companies, which will probably survive me,” he writes. “However, memories are brief, and even should there survive some physical manifestation of my existence, my thoughts will be forever lost unless I commit them to paper.”
Near the end of our call, Sherman’s lifelong business partner and friend Jack Kay, himself an atheist, told me, “If God was real, Barry would have reached out to me by now. He’d be up there breaking all the rules.”
1. Kevin Donovan, “Barry and Honey Sherman Homicide Detectives Seek Information in 5 Countries.” Toronto Star, October 27, 2022. Available online at https://thestar.com/news/canada/2022/10/27/sherman-homicide-detectives-looking-for-information-in-five-countries.html.
2. Kevin Donovan, “Barry and Honey Sherman Were Murdered, Private Investigators Claim.” Toronto Star, January 19, 2018. Available online at https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/barry-and-honey-sherman-were-murdered-private-investigators-claim/article_037bd488-e551-5696-9261-40400f9839de.html.
3. Joe Warmington, “No Arrests Five Years after Murder of Billionaires Barry and Honey Sherman.” Toronto Sun, December 11, 2022. Available online at https://torontosun.com/news/local-news/warmington-no-arrests-five-years-after-murder-of-billionaires-barry-and-honey-sherman.
4. “Toronto Police Say Public Safety Not at Risk after 2 Bodies Found in North York Home” (video). Global News, December 16, 2017. Available online at https:// ca/video/3920521/toronto-police-say-public-safety-not-at-risk-after-2-bodies-found-in-north-york-home.
5. Toronto Police Service, “@TorontoPolice Chief Mark Saunders | Re: Sherman Investigation | Fri, Oct, 26th, 2018,” posted October 26, 2018, Available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJqU5kWbfgE.
6. Kevin Donovan, “Barry Sherman’s Son Says His Father Asked Him to Repay Tens of Millions of Dollars, Two Weeks Before Murders, but Barry Was ‘All In’ with Son’s ” Toronto Star, January 11, 2021. Available online at https:// www.thestar.com/news/canada/barry-sherman-s-son-says-his-father-asked-him-to-repay-tens-of-millions-of/article_ecd00d19-7671-58f0-a23f-314169a6729d.html.
7. Kevin Donovan, “Succession.” Toronto Star, May 19, 2023. Available online at https://thestar.com/podcasts/billionairemurders/succession/article_61f66ab2-5533-5a3c-a8f1-99c0f5738bed.html.
8. Jacques Gallant, “Supreme Court Unseals Barry and Honey Sherman Estate Files, Paves Way for Access in Toronto Star Legal Win.” Toronto Star, June 11, Available online at https://www.thestar.com/politics/federal/supreme-court-unseals-barry-and-honey-sherman-estate-files-paves-way-for-access-in-toronto/article_e04782b2-f48d-5941-8360-8276edb1f51f.html.
9. Kevin Donovan, “Wannabe Lawyer: The Secret Handshake and Other Tips to Unseal Sherman Secrets.” Toronto Star, March 24, 2023. Available online at https://thestar.com/podcasts/billionaire-murders/2023/03/24/the-billionaire-murders-the-hunt-for-the-killers-of-honey-and-barry-sherman-podcast-bonus-episode.html.
10. Martin Gruberg, “Star Chamber.” The First Amendment Encyclopedia. Available online at https://mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/820/ star-chamber.
11. William Prynne, Histrio-Mastix. The Players Scourge, or Actors Tragaedie. London, United Kingdom: E.A and W.I for Michael Sparke, 1633.
12. David Cressy, “Book Burning in Tudor and Stuart England.” The Sixteenth Century Journal, vol. 36, no. 2 (Summer 2005), pp. 359–374. Available online at https://doi.org/10.2307/20477359.
13. Daniel Vande Zande, “Coercive Power and the Demise of the Star Chamber.” American Journal of Legal History, vol. 50, no. 3 (July 2010), pp. 326–349.
14. Sherman Estate v. Donovan. Supreme Court of Canada, June 11, 2021. Available online at https://decisions.scc-csc.ca/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/18914/ do.
15. Kevin Donovan, “Lawyers for Ontario, Apotex Struck Deal on What Detectives Could Access in Sherman Murder Investigation. It Took One Month.” Toronto Star, November 26, Available online at https://www.thestar.com/news/investigations/lawyers-for-ontario-apotex-struck-deal-on-what-detectives-could-access-in-sherman-murder-investigation/article_7d597898-c7ed-5157-bfd4-5cdafe72ef3e.html.
16. The private team’s forensic pathologist had incidentally authored a study on the relevance of hyoid bone fractures in death investigations. Both Sherman’s hyoid bones were intact, which reports suggest led to an initial hesitation on the part of the original pathologist to declare the deaths homicides. See https:// thestar.com/news/canada/what-do-the-mysterious-cases-of-barry-and-honey-sherman-and-jeffrey-epstein-have-in/article_41e25f11-64ec-5c78-a5d5-7143e2d89039.html.
17. Kevin Donovan, “Barry and Honey Sherman Were Murdered, Private Investigators ”
18. Kevin Donovan, “Barry and Honey Sherman Were Murdered, Police Say.” Toronto Star, January 26, 2018. Available online at https://thestar.com/news/gta/barry-and-honey-sherman-were-murdered-police-say/article_ e6507d18-4632-5e57-a23d-991154d6d12d.html.
19. See Joe Warmington, “No Arrests Five Years after Murder of Billionaires Barry and Honey Sherman.”
20. For example, Honey Sherman’s phone and Barry Sherman’s driving gloves and paperwork were found on the floor in locations that suggest they were both attacked inside the house. See Kevin Donovan, “Barry and Honey Sherman’s Bodies Were Found Posed Like the Sculptures in Their Basement.” Toronto Star, December 12, 2019. Available online at https://thestar.com/news/investigations/2019/12/12/barry-and-honey-shermans-bodies-were-found-posed-like-the-sculptures-in-their-basement.html.
21. Wendy Gillis, “Bruce McArthur Charged with Three Additional Counts of First-Degree Murder, Police Say.” Toronto Star, January 29, 2018. Available online at https://thestar.com/news/crime/2018/01/29/police-to-up-date-media-on-bruce-mcarthur-investigation-monday.html.
22. The bounty reward the United States issued for Osama Bin Laden was just $25 million. It should be noted that these are large sums but not relative to the
23. Suspicion: The Billionaire Murders, “Family Matters,” May 5, 2023. Available online at https://open.spotify.com/episode/7zgBHT4ddvguVuf3aX9l-Vi?si=0518b535f22d4833.
24. Lifeline, Winter 2017. Available online at https://www.thalassemia.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/LifeLine-Winter-2017.pdf.
25. Victoria Gibson and Jacques Gallant, “When It Came to Launching Legal Battles, Apotex Founder Barry Sherman Was ‘Absolutely Singular’.” Toronto Star, December 22, Available online at https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/when-it-came-to-launching-legal-battles-apotex-founder-barry-sher-man-was-absolutely-singular/article_2aefa20c-52aa-5a1d-9b88-0821ef-c2ac5b.html.
26. Tamar Harris, “Barry and Honey Sherman Sued Builders of North York ” Toronto Star, December 19, 2017. Available online at https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/barry-and-honey-sherman-sued-builders-of-north-york-home/article_b1e69fd3-d01f-5577-9fb6-05f412fb3ffe.html.
27. The lawsuit related to Sherman’s acquisition of Empire Labs, the original company his uncle owned. Sherman committed to a 5 percent option for each of the four cousins, but his later sale of the company negated the agreement.
28. Harvey Cashore, Scott Anderson, Ronna Syed, et al., “Barry Sherman’s Cousin Fails Lie Detector Test over Allegation of Plot to Kill Honey Sherman.” CBC News, February 1, 2018. Available online at https://cbc.ca/news/can-ada/toronto/barry-sherman-cousin-1.4514176.
29. Bernard Charles Sherman, A Legacy of Thoughts, 1996 (unpublished).
30. Kevin Donovan, The Billioniare Murders: The Mysterious Deaiths of Barry and Honey Sherman (Penguin Canada, 2019), p. 297.
31. Sherman drove old worn-out automobiles, carried coins in his wallet, and only ever flew economy, stating that if he could get a cheaper fare standing up on the plane, he would.
32. Donovan, 209.
34. CBC News, “The No Good, Terribly Kind, Wonderful Lives and Tragic Deaths of Barry and Honey Sherman,” March 28, 2023. Available online at https:// cbc.ca/radio/podcastnews/the-no-good-terribly-kind-wonderful-lives-and-tragic-deaths-of-barry-and-honey-sherman-ep-2-transcript-1.6793328.
35. Jonathon Gatehouse, Maclean’s, “A Meal with Frank D’Angelo: Pitchman, Entrepreneur, Auteur,” February 24, 2016. Available online at https://macleans. ca/culture/movies/a-lunch-with-frank-dangelo-pitchman-entrepreneur-film-auteur/.
36. “Murder, Money and the Battle for a Pharmaceutical Empire,” August 3, Available online at https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2023-sherman-apotex-billionaire-murder/.
37. Sherman had no academic training in the pharmaceutical industry but remained personally involved in nearly all aspects of drug development after starting Apotex. Sherman and Kay’s offices were joined by a small laboratory where Sherman would conduct experiments.
38. Kay offered one of Sherman’s common sayings: “Life is a joke.” Sherman may have best been encapsulated by a philosophy falling somewhere between absurdism and nihilism.
39. “Chapter Eight: Thin Lines.” The No Good, Terribly Kind, Wonderful Lives and Tragic Deaths of Barry and Honey Sherman. Available online at https://www.cbc. ca/listen/cbc-podcasts/1352-the-no-good-terribly-kind-wonderful-lives-and-tragic-deaths-of-honey-and-barry-sherman/episode/15976008-chapter-eight-thin-lines.
40. “Ch. 8 Transcript.” The No Good, Terribly Kind, Wonderful Lives and Tragic Deaths of Barry and Honey Sherman. Available online at https://cbc.ca/radio/podcastnews/the-no-good-terribly-kind-wonderful-lives-and-tragic-deaths-of-barry-and-honey-sherman-ep-8-transcript-1.6799559.
41. Christopher Hitchens, “Unanswerable ” Vanity Fair, September 2, 2010. Available online at https://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2010/10/hitchens-201010.
42. Nick Cohen, “Deathbed Conversion? Christopher Hitchens Was Defiant to the Last.” The Guardian, June 4, 2016. Available online at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/04/deathbed-conversion-christopher-hitchens-defiant-to-last.
43. “Hitchens Anderson Cooper EXTENDED Interview CNN” (video). Available online at https://youtube.com/watch?v=JbNJoHFsQnc.
44. However, the clarity of the position, as written, suggests utility in codifying these as the Sherman Rules of Debate and Concept Clarification.
45. Eli Lilly & Co. v. Novopharm Ltd. (1998). Available online at https://scc-csc. com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/1641/1/document.do.
46. Bernard Charles Sherman, A Legacy of Thoughts, 1996 (unpublished).
47. Kevin Donovan, “Barry and Honey Sherman Homicide Detectives Seek Information in 5 Countries.” Toronto Star, October 27, 2017. Available online at https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/barry-and-honey-sherman-homicide-detectives-seek-information-in-5-countries/article_4646c33d-0538-5676-be9c-ef38a9083341.html.
48. Donovan, Crave Documentary, “Billionaire Murders.”
“I find no inconsistency in holding intellectually that life has no meaning, while at the same time being highly motivated to survive and to achieve.” —Barry Sherman, A Legacy of Thoughts (Unfinished, 1996) On December 15, 2017, the bodies of Barry Sherman, seventy-five-year-old billionaire pharmaceutical magnate, and his wife, Honey, age seventy, were discovered in …