Toronto Police have “a person of interest” in the Barry and Honey Sherman murder investigation, the Star has learned through a court proceeding to unseal search warrants in the almost three-year-old case.
Police say they will not publicly identify the individual, both because that could hurt their investigation and — if they are wrong — it would prejudice the interests of an innocent person.
“It could compromise the investigation if the perpetrator knew they were identified. It could precipitate flight, they could take steps to get rid of evidence, frustrate our investigation,” said homicide Det. Const. Dennis Yim, the only full-time investigator on the Sherman case. Yim was testifying as part of an ongoing process where the Toronto Star is seeking to unseal search warrant material that details aspects of the case. Some documents were released last week; more than 1,000 pages remain under seal.
In explaining his reason for not releasing certain information to the public, Yim stated in his affidavit filed in court: “I have also redacted … any information that could identify a person of interest.”
A person of interest is someone police believe to be involved in a crime but detectives lack the evidence to label the person a “suspect” and lay charges, court heard.
That’s the second time a reference to a “person of interest” has come up in the Star’s investigation of the murders of the Apotex founder and his wife, which police initially pursued as a murder-suicide. Apotex is Canada’s largest generic drug firm and Sherman had just been appointed to the Order of Canada for both his philanthropy and his pioneering work in the pharmaceutical field.
The Star first heard the “person of interest” term last year from Jonathon Sherman, 37, one of Barry and Honey’s four children, who wrote in a letter to the newspaper that he believes “persons of interest” in his parents’ murders are providing information to the Star. He did not identify them.
Barry, 75, and Honey, 70, billionaire philanthropists were murdered by “ligature neck compression,” and left in the swimming pool room in the basement of their house on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017. Their bodies were found 36 hours later by a realtor touring clients through the 12,000-square-foot home. Belts looped around their necks and tied to a low railing above their heads kept them from falling back into the pool. They were clearly dead, their lips purple, faces blue, according to a witness to the scene. Initially, unsealed documents reveal, police pursued a murder-suicide theory, but after the Star detailed the results of a second set of autopsies arranged by the Sherman family, police interviewed the family-hired pathologist and announced they were investigating the case as a “targeted” double murder.
In a bid to provide scrutiny on the protracted case, the Star has both conducted interviews and gone to court to argue for the unsealing of at least some of the police documents used to support search warrant and production order applications. To date, police have obtained information from nine search warrants of specific locations and 75 sets of records from production orders — where police compel a business or other “entity” to provide data or other information. Cellular telephone records, airline loyalty program data, or banking information fall into the latter category.
Justice Leslie Pringle of the Ontario Court of Justice is presiding over the case. She is the judge who has authorized all of the police search applications. Each one was initially sealed at police request. Last week, Pringle approved the release to the Star of some documents with redactions throughout. For example, details of interviews with seven family members are completely redacted, including the name and date of the interview. The interview with an eighth family member — Honey’s sister and best friend Mary Shechtman — is partially unredacted. The Star is arguing that at least some of the still sealed records should be made public.
During this process, Justice Pringle has allowed a Star reporter to cross-examine Det. Const. Yim. To keep the documents sealed, police must show to the court that to reveal them would hurt what is known in legal circles as “the administration of justice.” The now public documents were released because police told court their contents dealt with the earlier, more “general” path of the probe.
The Star has learned new details of the case through this process. For example, in its argument to maintain the seal on the more recent warrants, Toronto police told court the information “could identify a person of interest.”
Police have not used this term before in relation to the Sherman investigation.
During cross-examination last week, Yim told court that four months into the investigation of the murders, homicide detectives noticed the “start of a pattern” in the mammoth quantity of information they amassed — believed to be witness interviews, banking documents, cellular phone records, video and audio files, GPS locational information and internet histories. The further they have gone in the case, Yim said “a pattern emerges.” What that pattern is, Yim would not say.
Yim also shed light on how the investigation has become one of analysis, not the sort of gumshoe detective work seen on television shows.
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In the last 13 months, Yim said the investigation, led by Det. Sgt. Brandon Price, has included an interview with only one new person, who he would not identify. Prior to that, and mostly in the first few months of the case, detectives had interviewed 250 people, including family members, business and charity colleagues, and employees who worked for the Shermans in their home.
As the gatekeeper of all the information, Yim spends his days going over the interviews, and the information that has come in from warrants, and writing applications for more, which he said are being “contemplated.” He told court that in the last few months, beginning Sept. 4, detectives served one search warrant and two production orders somewhere in Ontario. Detectives also obtained some information — he would not say what or from where — from a foreign jurisdiction. Due to the pandemic, Yim said he did his analysis work from home for months, but in the last two weeks he has been in the office almost full time. “Busy working on the case,” he told court.
That the concept of a “person of interest” has come up now appears to be a significant step. Previously, police have said only that they have a “theory” and an “idea of what happened.” Police have also said details of the estate of Barry and Honey Sherman — who was left money and who was not left money — is “embedded” in their probe, but refused to answer additional questions on any of these issues. Estimates of Barry Sherman’s worth ranged from $4 billion to $10 billion.
As to who was responsible for the murders, there has been a great deal of speculation and finger pointing among Sherman family members and close friends.
The identity of the perpetrators has even been speculated upon in the nation’s highest court, where the Sherman family is fighting to keep details of the estate sealed. (The Star won access to the estate information at the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2019, but the Sherman family and the estate trustees appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. A decision in the case is pending.)
During the October hearing, Supreme Court Justice Michael Moldaver commented that “this was a very, very sophisticated crime, in my view, committed by a very sophisticated organization, at least it has those hallmarks.”
Among Sherman family members and friends, speculation has ranged from angry business associates of the Shermans to family to mysterious offshore assassins.
During a back and forth with a Star reporter by email in 2019, son Jonathon used the term “persons of interest,” saying he believed the Star was being fed information by people involved in the murders.
“Mr. Donovan has based much of his so-called investigation on information clearly provided to him by people who we believe to be persons of interest in the murder of my parents,” Jonathon wrote in a letter responding to questions the Star had posed, including about his father’s financing of his storage and marina business, his suggestion in a 2015 email to his father that he and business partner Adam Paulin could be involved in “succession” at the Sherman companies, and other matters.
Brian Greenspan, the criminal lawyer who was at the time representing Jonathon and the two other Sherman estate trustees, echoed his client’s words in a May 2019 letter to the Star saying:
“Your questions reflect a tabloid journalism unworthy of the mainstream press and rely upon information received from persons we believe to be ‘persons of interest’ in the homicides of Barry and Honey Sherman.” At the time, Greenspan was overseeing a team of private investigators working for the family.
While Jonathon would not answer a list of 31 questions sent to him by the Star, he said in a 2019 letter to the Star that he would send to the Toronto police “my comprehensive written responses to each and every question.” He would then make himself available to be interviewed by Det. Sgt. Price, the lead investigator. Letters describing this suggestion, from both Sherman and Greenspan, were sent by email and copied to Price and a lawyer hired by the police, Scott Hutchinson.
During the Star’s cross-examination of Det. Const. Yim last week, the Star learned the status of information gleaned by the Sherman family’s own private investigation into the murders. The full file — an electronic file containing 20 gigabytes of information — was turned over to the Toronto police last August, eight months after the private investigation ended. Yim said police are continuing to go through the information, which includes tips that came to the Sherman tipline in response to the Sherman family posting a $10 million reward. Yim said police are trying to determine the “fullness and completeness” of the information.
Yim said police are trying to match the private detective’s information with information they already have, trying to determine what, if any, of the tips are credible. He anticipates it will take several more months to finish this process.
From time to time, Toronto Star reporters represent the paper in court, typically to request access to closed court proceedings and sealed documents. In the situation described in the above story, Chief Investigative Reporter Kevin Donovan represented the Star in court in its application to unseal police search warrant materials related to the ongoing Barry and Honey Sherman murder investigation.
Kevin Donovan can be reached at 416-312-3503 or [email protected]
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