On the morning of Friday, December 15, 2017, family, friends, and colleagues of Barry and Honey Sherman woke, shook off sleep, and set about their normal routines. But for some, a nagging thought persisted. Something was amiss. An email not returned, an empty desk in the executive office, a vacant seat at a charity boardroom table. At 50 Old Colony Road, in Toronto’s suburban North York, snow was softly dusting the ground, melting quickly on the heated driveway and obscuring any footprints that may have been made on the front lawn or unheated steps over the previous two days.
It had been cold, ten degrees below freezing, and as the sun rose behind clouds, it promised to be another grey, wintry day in Canada’s biggest city. Many of the people who owned homes on the street had already flown south to escape the cold weather, so it was not unusual at this time of year for a house in the neighbourhood to be quiet. At the rear of the house was an outdoor pool, long closed for the season, a tennis court surrounded by a fence, and two patios. In a basement underneath the tennis court, stretching north on the property, was a lap pool rarely used by the homeowners. In front of the house, one vehicle was parked on the circular driveway, a light gold Lexus SUV that was ten years old. Judging by the snow lining its fenders and windows, it had been there at least overnight. Beside it, on the left, was a long bed of snowball hydrangeas, their withered brown flower heads perked up by little hats of fresh snow. A ramp to the right of the Lexus led down to a closed garage door that opened into a six-car underground garage nestled in the basement of the house with utility and recreation rooms on the ends closest to the road, and the lap pool at the far north end.
At 8:30 a.m., two people arrived on a clockwork schedule: a cleaning lady on her regular Friday visit, and a woman who came twice a week to water the plants in the home. The cleaning lady parked in the centre of the circular drive. The woman who came to water the plants trudged along the street, passing the large For Sale sign at the curb. The house had been on the market three weeks with an asking price of $6.9 million. Just the day before, a Toronto magazine had revealed publicly for the first time that the property was for sale: “Pharma Titan Barry Sherman is selling his modern North York mansion.”
Inside 50 Old Colony, the woman watering the orchids and other plants filled her can and went from room to room. The cleaning lady got busy as well. Hanukkah had begun the previous Tuesday evening and included in her assigned duties today was helping Honey prepare potato latkes, which she would cook later that day at the home of one of the Sherman children. The main floor was 3,600 square feet, anchored by a grand entrance topped with a chandelier and a curved staircase heading up to the second floor. The six-bedroom house, including the expansive lower level, was well over 12,000 square feet in total.
Both women began their chores on the main floor. While they were working, a phone rang. The cleaning lady followed the sound into a powder room, where she found an iPhone lying on the tiled floor. By the time she picked up the phone it had stopped ringing. When she moved upstairs, she noticed that the bed in the master bedroom had not been slept in and that the room was unusually tidy. Normally, on cleaning day, the bed was unmade and clothes from the night before were casually strewn on the bed or a chair. The cleaning lady busied herself dusting surfaces and picture frames.
Around 10 a.m., Elise Stern arrived. Dark-haired, with a thin, angular face, Stern was a twenty-year veteran real estate agent who shared the listing for the house with Judi Gottlieb, who was the senior realtor on the file. Just the other day, Gottlieb had shown the house to two men who struck her as odd ducks. But in her business you met all kinds.