As family and friends vacillate between outrage and disbelief, Toronto's homicide unit has taken over an investigation into the "suspicious" deaths of Canadian pharmaceutical billionaire Barry Sherman and his wife Honey, police said Sunday, a day after their bodies were discovered at their home in a tony part of the city, according to AFP.
Most of the victims’ acquaintances said they couldn’t imagine Barry murdering his wife Honey - the theory on which the police are operating.
"The cause of death for both deceased was ligature neck compression," Toronto police said in a statement after post-mortem examinations of the bodies of the 75-year-old Apotex chairman and his 70-year-old wife.
"Toronto Police Service Homicide has taken the lead in this suspicious death investigation," the police said, without further details.
At 11:44 am on Friday, officers responded to an emergency call at the couple's home on Old Colony Road, in a tony neighborhood of Toronto.
Local media cited a police source as saying the Shermans' bodies were found hanging from a railing around a basement pool, the theory being that the Apotex chairman killed his wife Honey, hung her body and then hanged himself by the pool's edge.
"Our parents shared an enthusiasm for life and commitment to their family and community totally inconsistent with the rumors regrettably circulated in the media as to the circumstances surrounding their deaths," the family said in a statement.
"We are shocked and think it's irresponsible that police sources have reportedly advised the media of a theory which neither their family, their friends nor their colleagues believe to be true."
The family called for a "thorough, intensive and objective criminal investigation," urging the media to refrain from reporting until the investigation is complete.
There were apparently no signs that the deaths were premeditated or that either of the Shermans was suffering from depression. The couple had reportedly been planning to spend the holidays in Florida with friends.
Linda Frum, a member of the Canadian Senate and friend of the couple, dismissed the idea that Barry Sherman could have harmed his wife.
"He adored her... He was a gentle, good man," she was quoted as saying in The New York Times.
In addition to being recognized philanthropists, the Shermans were widely admired for their frugality. They flew economy class and their home was relatively modest, while Barry Sherman drove an old car.
Barry Sherman founded the generic drug company Apotex in 1974. The company eventually grew to employ more than 11,000 people worldwide in an expansion that included legal battles with the world's biggest brand-name drug makers.
Sherman had an estimated worth of $3.2 billion (4 billion Canadian) at the time of his death, making him the 12th-richest person in Canada, according to Forbes.
Canadian media said the Shermans had recently put their home up for sale with a price of around 7 million Canadian dollars.
The deaths sparked an outpouring of sympathy. Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau posted on Twitter that he was "saddened" by the news, noting the "vision and spirit" of the couple known for their philanthropy.