MONTREAL (AFP) - Toronto's homicide unit has taken over a probe into the "suspicious" deaths of Canadian pharmaceutical billionaire Barry Sherman and his wife Honey, police said on Sunday (Dec 17) after finding they had died of strangulation.
"The cause of death for both deceased was ligature neck compression," Toronto police said in a statement following post-mortem investigations of the bodies of the 75-year-old chairman of the board of Apotex and his 70-year-old wife.
"Toronto Police Service Homicide has taken the lead in this suspicious death investigation." Police provided no further details on the case.
At 11.44am on Friday, police responded to an emergency call to 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.
But their family strongly refuted that version of the events.
"Our parents shared an enthusiasm for life and commitment to their family and community totally inconsistent with the rumours regrettably circulated in the media as to the circumstances surrounding their deaths," a statement read.
"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." They called for a "thorough, intensive and objective criminal investigation", urging the media to refrain from reporting until the investigation is complete.
There were no apparent signs of pre-meditation or that either of the Shermans was suffering from depression. The couple had planned to spend the year-end holidays with friends in Florida.
Apotex, which Sherman founded in 1974, confirmed the deaths. Local media said he was not seen at the company's offices on Thursday.
The company, which made its name producing generic drugs, grew to employ more than 11,000 people worldwide.
According to Forbes, Sherman had an estimated worth of US$3.2 billion (S$4.32 billion) at the time of his death, and was the 12th-richest person in Canada.
Canadian media said the Shermans had recently put their home up for sale with a price of around C$7 million (S$7.34 million).
The deaths sparked an outpouring of sympathy from the country's political elite, including from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said he was "saddened" by the news, and tweeted about the "vision and spirit" of the couple known for their philanthropy.
Apotex noted the couple had made significant donations to universities, saying their foundation had given more than C$50 million over the past decade.