Frank Roberts was gunned down on the morning of Thursday, August 13th, 1998 in the parking lot of the OBUS Forme Ltd. factory on Hopewell Ave. at Dufferin St. Roberts, 67, the inventor of the OBUS Forme backrest support cushion, and president of the company, arrived at work at 7:30 every morning, and police speculated his killer knew his schedule and ambushed him the morning of the 13th. The murder had hallmarks of a professional hit.
Roberts’s life had seen some changes in recent months, things he had kept secret from many of those close to him. He had been dating Etty Sorrentino, a 31-year-old married Florida woman. Earlier in the year, he had taken out an $830,000 mortgage on his Toronto home and bought a dream house in North Beach, Florida, a new Mercedes, and expensive gifts for Sorrentino. His extravagance may have been beyond his ability to afford.
Several witnesses to the slaying came forward and, days after the murder, police received an anonymous call from someone who provided what authorities considered “vital information”. Police have never revealed what that information was, and it is unknown if the unknown caller ever contacted police again.
Death of a self-made man.(OBUS Forme Ltd. founder and head Frank Roberts)
Article from: Canadian Business | November 13, 1998 | Kaihla, Paul
Frank Roberts transformed a humble piece of plastic into the OBUS Forme back rest, one of the biggest success stories in Canadian marketing history. Then his brutal murder revealed the millionaire’s secret life.
Hundreds of mourners packed a sweltering Toronto chapel to pay their final respects, while condolences from the rich and famous poured in from across the land. The Aug. 16 funeral reflected the life and achievements of Frank Roberts, whose peers in corporate Canada had once ranked him among the country’s top entrepreneurs and twice honored his company as one of the nation’s best-managed private enterprises. Roberts, 67, had invented the OBUS Forme back rest and made a humble piece of plastic the greatest single success story in the history of Canadian product marketing. But the enigmatic millionaire was fated to be even more famous in death than in life. For Roberts is the only high-profile CEO in memory to be gunned down in a mob-style execution.
The killing happened an hour after sunrise as the grandfather of 13 children stepped out of his black Mercedes SL 500 convertible and walked toward the gleaming facade of OBUS Forme Ltd.’s headquarters in a west-end Toronto neighborhood populated’ by working class immigrants and building supply retailers. The killer, who is still unidentified, shot Roberts in the head and chest at point-blank range. It was Aug. 13, a Thursday, and the brutal murder transformed a mundane workday into a media circus. Those in the CEO’s immediate universe, friends, family and his 100 employees – many of them immigrants from poor countries – reeled in shock. Their tears were sprinkled with accolades. “He would always come in with a smile, and he treated us all with respect,” a worker told a Toronto newspaper the day of the shooting. “He didn’t have an enemy in the world,” Roberts’ older brother, Walter, told Canadian Business weeks later. “He was just a kind, nice man.”
Frank’s most recent ex-wife had remained close to the slain businessman and his three children from a previous marriage. She sped to the crime scene after hearing of the killing from a friend. “He was a very happy man, and he was loved,” Dominique Leval recalled with emotion. “You ask me how, how, how. We would like to know because we don’t have any answers.”
Everyone was asking the same question: “Who in the world would want Frank Roberts dead?”
But a more telling point of departure, perhaps, would be to turn that question around. “Who didn’t?”
Within days of Roberts’ death, the fabric of a strange, secret reality began to unravel, details of which were unknown even to members of his own family. Roberts, it turned out, had a mistress in Florida, where he had owned a Miami condo for years. Etty Sorrentino, an Israeli emigre less than half Roberts’ age, lived with her eight-year-old daughter – and was still married to her second husband. He was a flashy Miami restaurant owner who had trouble staying in business and making support payments to an ex-wife and two kids he’d left behind in New York City. At the time Roberts was killed, the Sorrentinos were on holiday in Italy.
Roberts’ business life was no less complicated than his personal life. In the first in-depth exploration of the businessman’s private world, Canadian Business conducted exclusive interviews with Roberts’ son, Brian, co-owner and current head of OBUS Forme, and Roberts’ last wife, Leval. Canadian Business also located former employers, competitors and associates who offered their own revelations. What emerges is a portrait radically at odds with Roberts’ public image.
Consider these voices from Roberts’ professional life, from men who crossed his path as he took a garage invention and transformed it through raw will into a multimillion dollar, international export.
“Sometimes you wish that someone would just disappear,” says a former OBUS executive, adding slowly, “not that they deserve to get shot. He made a lot of enemies.”
Some of those enemies did little to disguise their enmity. “After Roberts was killed, my phone stopped ringing for two days,” joked a competitor. “Everyone thought I was in on it. Right. I don’t own a gun.”
Even a prominent Toronto business figure could not find it in his heart to forgive Roberts in death. ‘It really irks me when I see all these articles eulogizing the guy,” he complained. “I’ve worked hard and I’ve been successful, but I never had to cheat anybody to do it. He was not a nice person. He did not have a very good reputation.”
What Roberts did have was a faculty unique to born salesmen: the ability to visualize the exact point at which a demand curve intersects with a supply curve. “He had a calling,” says Frank’s 38-year-old son Brian, fondly reminiscing in the OBUS Forme boardroom. “He saw a product and he’d import it. That was his love.”
Roberts pursued that love with staggering stamina, relentlessly chasing the next high in either business or pleasure through tortuous cycles of boom and bust. His shrewd marketing instincts and his personal pain would lead him to develop the OBUS Forme, an invention that would generate tens of millions of dollars in revenue from Kuwait to California, and become to back supports what Kleenex is to facial tissues. After an agonizing half-century-long quest marked by personal and business failures, Roberts would finally find a goose that would lay golden eggs. …
TORONTO — The unsolved murder of a Toronto business tycoon continues to irk retired detective Ray Zarb even though it’s been almost 18 years since that summer morning when he first arrived at the bloody crime scene.
It was 7:24 a.m. on Aug. 13, 1998 when Zarb and his partner responded to a report of a shooting at an industrial parking lot.
When they arrived, the body of Frank Roberts — the millionaire inventor of the Obus Forme backrest — lay on the ground next to his Mercedes Benz SL 500 with one bullet hole to the head and two to the chest.
“I know who did it,” says Zarb, who investigated the killing first as a fresh murder and then as an unsolved crime when he transferred to the Toronto police cold case squad years later.
He won’t get into the details of the case, but Zarb says he had two “huge tips,” both leading him down a trail to organized crime. He believes there was a wheelman, a triggerman and someone who ordered the hit.
But the evidence gathered by detectives wasn’t strong enough for prosecutors, he says, and the case remains unsolved.
“It irks me, it bugs me,” Zarb says at his home in Burlington, Ont. “Police officers don’t forget. I’ll never forget. And we’ll catch the guys. We’ll get them.”
Now he’s pushing the leader of the cold case squad, Det. Sgt. Stacy Gallant, to look into the case again.