Lead homicide detective in Sherman case did not go to crime scene for four days
Family has criticized handling of case, which wasn’t ruled murder until six weeks later
The 911 call from 50 Old Colony Rd. brought police to the home in the Bayview Avenue and Highway 401 area of Toronto. The bodies of billionaires Barry and Honey Sherman had been discovered by a realtor.
Firefighters and paramedics arrived first, then police at 11:54 a.m. — 10 minutes after the 911 call on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017.
The suspicious nature of the apparently staged scene — two dead bodies, faces purple indicating they had been dead for a while, discovered in the basement swimming pool room with belts around their necks — prompted uniformed officers to call in homicide, the specialized unit that handles suspicious deaths.
Located in the downtown headquarters of the Toronto Police Service on College Street, the homicide unit groups officers into six teams that rotate through a busy case load. Each team typically has eight officers of different ranks, led by a detective sergeant. There is no favouritism or choice made depending on the type or complexity of case. The team that is “up” (available) gets the assignment.
On that Friday afternoon, Det.-Sgt. Susan Gomes’ team was “up” and they were given the Sherman assignment. Their job was to assess all available information and determine if it was death by double-homicide or double-suicide, or homicide-suicide. At a crime scene, homicide detectives work closely with forensic identification officers who photograph, fingerprint and analyze potential clues. Forensic teams went immediately to 50 Old Colony Rd.
Gomes had been a police officer for nearly 30 years by then. Coming up through the ranks, she’d worked as a detective in Etobicoke’s 22 Division, and by the time the Sherman call came in she had been in homicide for close to a decade. Among the cases she had “caught” and closed over the years is the 2010 case of Andrew “Philly” Dowden, a 17-year-old who was fatally shot and whose body was discovered on the banks of the Humber River. As the Toronto Star’s Wendy Gillis reported, writing about Gomes in the early stages of the Sherman probe, three underage teens later served four years in prison in connection to the Dowden case.
As uniformed constables secured the perimeter of the 12,000-square-foot Sherman home by tying yellow police tape between bushes and a realtor’s sign, two doctors arrived: Coroner Dr. David Giddens and forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Pickup. The then chief of police, Mark Saunders, would later tell reporters that having the pathologist and coroner present at the crime scene was proof of how seriously the police were taking the high-profile investigation. While a coroner would typically go to a suspected crime scene, a forensic pathologist would not, sources say.
Police would later reveal that Barry Sherman, the founder of generic drug firm Apotex, and his wife, Honey, were killed 36 hours before their bodies were discovered. Police say the investigation is active and ongoing.
The Sherman bodies remained in the position they were found beside the swimming pool until 7:20 p.m. that evening when the morgue wagon arrived to take them away to the provincial building where autopsies would be conducted the next day. Belts around their necks that were tied to a low railing above, keeping them in a seated position, were removed with gloved hands and each body was placed in a body bag. A uniformed officer accompanied the bodies when they left Old Colony Road.
At no time that day did Det.-Sgt. Gomes, the lead homicide investigator, go to the crime scene while the bodies were there, Toronto Police have confirmed. Nor did Gomes go to the home for roughly four days, though police were unable to provide the Star with the exact time Gomes visited the scene.
Instead of going herself, Gomes delegated a junior homicide officer on her team, Det. Brandon Price, to attend. Price was with the homicide unit in 2007, left, and rejoined the unit in 2014, police told the Star.
“Inspector Gomes had complete confidence in her partner (Price) to take on this task as they continued to work seamlessly together on the case,” according to a statement provided to the Star by Toronto Police spokesperson Meaghan Gray.
Price gave a short press briefing that evening outside Old Colony Road, telling reporters there was no sign of forced entry and police were not looking for an “outstanding suspect.” That comment, later echoed by police sources to several media outlets, led to stories that revealed police were probing a murdersuicide theory.
“It was Detective Sergeant Brandon Price (Price’s rank was detective at the time, he has since been promoted) who was tasked by Inspector Gomes (who was also later promoted) with attending the Sherman home in the hours/days immediately following the discovery of the bodies. As you know, homicides are investigated by a team of officers and it is not uncommon to limit the number of people (including investigators) who enter a crime scene while it’s being processed by a forensics team,” Gray said.
Police did not say whether they have a protocol requiring the lead investigator to attend a crime scene in the early days, or at all.
Meanwhile, the Sherman family was gathering at the home of Sherman daughter Alexandra Krawczyk. Members of the Sherman family said an officer did arrive to speak to them that night, but it was not Gomes or Price.
In its ongoing investigation of the Sherman case — now more than three years old and unsolved — the Star has been searching for answers to a question that boggles the minds of many, including retired homicide investigators and forensic pathology experts who spoke to the Star on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the case.
“How on earth could this have been considered a double-suicide or murdersuicide for six weeks?” one said to the Star. As records obtained by the Star through the court process revealed, police actively pursued a murder-suicide theory, along with a double-suicide theory, for six weeks, losing precious time in the investigation.
Civilians on the scene when the bodies were discovered — the realtor and a gardener who also saw the bodies — told police it looked like the Shermans had been murdered. As the Star reported Tuesday, a forensic examination discovered marks on the Shermans’ wrists indicating they had been bound, and the markings of a thin ligature (possibly an industrial zip tie) around their necks under the belt. No zip ties or other bindings were found at the scene.
To find answers as to how this case was initially misidentified and to shine a spotlight on one of the most high-profile investigations in Toronto history, the Star has been looking at who went to the crime scene. That’s how we discovered the lead investigator did not go.
Veteran former homicide detectives told the Star that, in their opinion, the lead investigator on a case should attend a crime scene when the bodies are present. The former officers spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the case.
The investigative work done by the homicide unit was criticized by the Sherman family’s own private team of investigators. Speaking for the private team, criminal lawyer Brian Greenspan (who was hired by the family but no longer works for them) told the media a year into the police probe that the homicide unit had missed numerous finger and palm prints when they went over the crime scene. Greenspan’s team’s own forensic experts lifted these prints and passed them on to police.
The Star’s own research found numerous apparent missteps in the homicide investigation. For example, when the Greenspan team arranged for a second set of autopsies — by veteran forensic pathologist Dr. David Chiasson — the homicide unit was asked to attend and watch but declined. Chiasson determined (this was just a few days after the official autopsy which was inconclusive) that it was a double-murder.
Police have confirmed that both Gomes and Price attended the first, official autopsies done by Dr. Michael Pickup.
The homicide unit did not speak to Chiasson after his autopsies, which took place at the same provincial complex where the official autopsies by Pickup were conducted. Four weeks later, the Star learned details of the second autopsies and published a story revealing that Chiasson and the private team of former homicide officers believed it was a double-murder and the next day the homicide team led by Gomes asked Chiasson if he would speak to them. Chiasson did, and Gomes held a press conference a few days later to announce the Sherman deaths were a “targeted” double-murder.
The Star also found that the homicide unit did not begin gathering DNA and fingerprints from people who were normally in the Sherman home (personal trainers, a masseuse, staff, etc.) until nine months after the bodies were found. Collecting this information is done to zero in on DNA and prints that are foreign to the home and possibly belong to suspects.
In another apparent misstep at the crime scene, neighbours across the street asked police if they would like to review their home surveillance video, which captured the Sherman front door and driveway. That was on the Friday as soon as the police tape went up. The homeowners repeatedly asked police at the scene to secure the video — it wipes after seven days — but homicide detectives did not walk across the street until the Sunday afternoon to take a copy of the video.
One year after the Sherman investigation began, Det.-Sgt. Gomes was promoted to inspector. She has since commanded the Toronto Police operations centre, worked in the force’s “talent acquisition” (hiring) department and is now second in command of the downtown 51 Division.
Price was promoted to detective-sergeant and remains in homicide. He leads a group of officers investigating the Sherman case.