By Kevin DonovanChief Investigative Reporter
Tue., March 16, 2021timer8 min. read
updateArticle was updated 11 hrs ago
WARNING: This story contains delicate field matter, including a discussion of the pathology of suicide, that can be triggering for some readers.
The high-profile death investigations of Barry and Honey Sherman in Toronto, and Jeffrey Epstein in Original York, were complicated by confusion and misdiagnosis allegations related to the publish-mortem situation of a small U-shaped neck bone called the “hyoid,” the Star has discovered.
While in life the billionaire philanthropist Shermans and accused intercourse trafficker Epstein were polar opposites, in death there was a similar controversy over how they died.
In each cases, though in diversified ways, it appears too much emphasis was placed on whether their hyoid bones were broken or no longer, and no longer satisfactory emphasis on other factors. The theory held by some is that a broken hyoid strongly suggests a violent execute by strangulation, and an intact hyoid is indicative of a suicide, the place typically much less stress is applied. Now no longer so, say leading specialists.
In the Sherman case, the first autopsies determined the hyoid bones in each Barry and Honey’s necks were no longer broken, contributing to the early theory that each died by suicide, according to sources. A second, extra experienced pathologist hired by the Sherman family disagreed and police dominated the deaths a double execute six weeks after their our bodies were discovered.
In the Epstein case, his hyoid bone was broken, but his jail cell death was dominated a suicide — a diagnosis a second pathologist hired by the family strongly disagreed with, fuelling conspiracy theories to this day that the registered intercourse offender with a string of wealthy guests was murdered to maintain him tranquil.
The bottom line, according to forensic specialists interviewed by the Star and leading forensic pathology reviews, is that a broken or unbroken hyoid bone does no longer by itself point to suicide or execute. As with so many things in each science and police work, the context is king.
“Hyoid bone fractures are one of those varieties of injuries you may discover with compression of the neck. You can discover it with hanging deaths, you can discover it in a manual strangulation, you can discover it in a ligature strangulation,” says Dr. James Gill, the president of the National Association of Medical Examiners in the U.S. Gill spoke to the Star about issues involving forensic pathology and the hyoid bone, and was no longer commenting on either the Sherman or the Epstein case.
“The fracture has to be interpreted in context of the total case. What are the circumstances? Gaze at the tall characterize. It is no longer (a determination) you want to make in a vacuum,” said Gill, adding that the only inequity between a ligature strangulation and a suicidal hanging is “what is causing the force.”
To understand this issue, you have to first know what a hyoid bone is, and the place it is located.
Take your thumb and index finger, start them a couple of inches, and gently bustle them up your neck. Apt above your larynx (deliver field) and tucked below your chin, is your hyoid bone. The hyoid bone is often described as “free floating” — muscle groups and ligaments bustle off it nevertheless it is no longer attached to other bones. It does many things, but one of its most important capabilities is assisting with movements of the tongue, including swallowing, and with chewing. Scientists are aloof learning about this minute bone — one theory being studied is that an improperly positioned hyoid contributes to sleep apnea.
In the case of death caused by some form of compression to the neck, the hyoid is always examined as a clue, as it was in each the Sherman and Epstein cases. When a forensic pathologist tries to understand how a particular person came to die from a neck compression they learn about to discover if the bone and cartilage around it has been broken.
Barry and Honey Sherman, billionaires and philanthropists, were discovered dead in their Toronto home on December 15, 2017, seated beside their basement swimming pool, belts looped around their neck and tied to a low railing. The first feature of autopsies, by Dr. Michael Pickup, a forensic pathologist with Ontario’s forensic pathology unit, determined that each died of “ligature neck compression.” What caused the neck to be compressed, Pickup did no longer initially say, and the lead homicide detective on the case said in the early stages of the probe investigators were “alive” to the chance of double suicide, execute suicide or double homicide.
According to investigative sources, guests and family of the Shermans, and police documents released to the Star, the double-suicide and execute-suicide probabilities were vigorously pursued for six weeks.
One reason was that their hyoid bones were intact. The theory was, sources have told the Star, that if the Shermans were violently strangled, the hyoid bones would have broken. Think of a turkey wishbone, which can be pulled apart or compressed and snapped. Add to that the fact of their age (Barry was 75, Honey was 70). The hyoid bone becomes much less pliable and extra brittle, and sources say the investigators on the case — police and forensic — speculated that if they were manually strangled, the bones would have snapped.
When Dr. David Chiasson — the extra experienced pathologist hired by the Sherman family, Ontario’s extinct chief forensic pathologist — conducted his examination, he had the profit of being the co-author of a learn about in 1995 that discovered that the situation of the hyoid was no longer necessarily indicative of execute or suicide. He discovered that the hyoid bone was no longer fractured in two-thirds of the homicide cases reviewed in the learn about. Chiasson did the learn about with Dr. Michael Pollanen, Ontario’s present chief forensic pathologist, who is Pickup’s boss. Pollanen was no longer available to do the autopsies on the Shermans; the extra junior Pickup did them.
Sources say that Chiasson belief of other factors in arriving at his double-execute determination. First, while a man’s belt was tied around each of the Sherman necks, it was no longer what killed them, sources say. The marks of a extra narrow ligature — speculation is that it may have been similar to a large “zip tie” frail to bind wires or pipes — can be considered on the Sherman necks, sources say. Chiasson also belief of similar marks on each of the Sherman wrists — an indication that they were certain at some point. No ties or bindings were discovered at the crime scene.
The other factor Chiasson assign a great deal of weight on is that the Shermans were in a seated state. He determined, sources say, that it can be extremely unlikely that a particular person may probably die of suicide in that state; no longer satisfactory weight was applied to the neck.
How these markings on the Shermans and their physique state weren’t properly belief of by forensic and police investigators unless Chiasson came along remains a mystery. Murder detectives probing the Sherman case were aware of them — they asked Barry and Honey’s personal trainer, who saw the couple the morning ahead of they died, about marks on the Shermans’ wrists. Meanwhile, all police files related to the autopsies remain sealed by think’s command. Since this is an ongoing case, Pollanen and Pickup said via a spokesperson that they may probably no longer comment. Police say they cannot touch upon the forensics in the case.
Information related to the Sherman autopsies was saved from the family, according to Sherman son Jonathon. “We did no longer know about the minute bone,” he told the Star in an interview.
The police apparently did no longer share very much information and Jonathon told the Star that the family’s team of private investigators determined it was greater that the Sherman family only knew what was in the public domain relating to the case. He said their private team only told them “we know the police are execrable, the suicide thing is bulls–t.”
In the high-profile Epstein case, the hyoid also factored, but in a fully diversified way.
Epstein was a financier and hedge-fund manager with prominent guests, including extinct presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton as properly as Prince Andrew. He was facing allegations of human trafficking of younger ladies and was awaiting trial in a Original York Jail cell. Guards discovered him dead early on Aug. 10, 2019. Original York City’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Barbara Sampson, dominated the death a suicide by hanging. Conspiracy theories, aloof prevalent today, held that he was murdered to maintain him from naming names. His brother hired Dr. Michael Baden, a extinct Original York City medical examiner, to conduct a second autopsy.
As Baden told TV’s “Fox and Chums,” he discovered that one aspect of Epstein’s hyoid bone and some cartilage were broken. Baden said these injuries “are extremely unusual in suicidal hangings and may probably occur much extra generally in homicidal strangulation.”
In her reply, Sampson issued a statement to several media shops confirming her original findings — Epstein hung himself. To this day, there is an active online neighborhood of conspiracy theorists who point to Baden’s findings and the fact that guards weren’t doing regular tests on Epstein’s cell as proof that he was murdered. Two jail guards are facing charges of falsifying records related to completing rounds — authorities in Original York alleged they were sitting at their desks and browsing internet sites for furniture sales and sports activities news instead of doing rounds each 30 minutes. As to Epstein’s positioning in the cell when he was discovered, media experiences say there are no photos because the guard who discovered him decrease the bedsheet ligature that was tied to an elevated bed frame and attempted to resuscitate him.
Dr. Judy Melinic, a forensic pathologist and CEO of a consulting company Pathology Knowledgeable, wrote in an online journal article in response to Baden’s feedback on the Epstein case, that “the hyoid bone and thyroid cartilages can gain broken in each hangings and strangulations.” What is of great importance, she wrote, is the “death scene investigation” — shut examination of the injury to the neck and the surroundings.
Meanwhile, in Toronto, homicide detectives say the investigation into the Sherman deaths is “active and ongoing.”
Tomorrow: Who went to the Sherman crime scene and who did no longer
Correction – March 16, 2021 – Dr. Michael Pollanen is Ontario’s chief forensic pathologist. His given name was misstated in a Mar. 16 article about the investigation into the deaths of Barry and Honey Sherman.