Skip to main content

Toronto neurosurgeon, Mohammed Shamji, left, has been charged with the murder of his wife, 40-year-old Dr. Elana Fric-Shamj.Elana Shamji

On the surface, their lives present the perfect picture of an ambitious couple. At 40 years old, he was a prominent Toronto neurosurgeon and she was a respected family physician and emerging political advocate. They had three young children, a stately home in North York, and social-media feeds full of photos together, snapshots of yoga moves, long-distance running events and a recent trip to Dubai.

Now, the children are in the care of relatives and the house is being scoured by police investigators after the body of Elana Fric Shamji, dead of "strangulation and blunt-force trauma," was found on Thursday by a roadside in Kleinburg, Ont., north of the city. Her husband, Mohammed Shamji, is in jail, charged with her murder. And many in Toronto's medical community are in shock.

Larry Erlick, the head of family medicine at The Scarborough Hospital where Dr. Fric Shamji had worked since August, 2015, told The Globe and Mail he knew that despite her positive personality, there was trouble in her life. She had just filed for divorce.

Related: Toronto doctor charged with first-degree murder in woman's death

"She confided a lot in me," he said, adding that he has spoken to police. "I don't want to say a lot. There were issues … No one ever expects anything like this."

Grief counsellors will be on hand as her colleagues arrive on Monday, Dr. Erlick said. Tributes to the popular family physician and assistant professor at University of Toronto have flooded her social-media networks.

"She was someone who never yelled at anybody. She always was upbeat," said Dr. Erlick, a former head of the Ontario Medical Association.

He said the OMA is planning to raise funds for her family and honour her legacy. Doctors who knew her were meeting Sunday to figure out what to do.

Dr. Erlick described her as an emerging "physician leader" who had recently joined the policy committee of the OMA, which has clashed with Queen's Park over health-care reforms.

She was at work on Wednesday, Dr. Erlick said, but was scheduled to be out of the office on Thursday for meetings downtown. Those meetings, Dr. Erlick said he learned later, never happened. He became concerned when he learned on Friday she had not shown up for work. By then, police had already found her body.

With some of his family members looking on, her husband appeared in an Old City Hall courtroom on Saturday and was remanded in custody. Police say Dr. Shamji was arrested on Friday, reportedly at a Mississauga café, and charged with first-degree murder.

Despite the allegations he faces, former patients described him in glowing terms.

Derek Smith, a Toronto lawyer, said he had seen Dr. Shamji for an issue with his spine about a dozen times over the past four years.

"Imagine the nicest person in your workplace, and then, say, that person has been accused of killing their spouse," Mr. Smith said. "He is nice to his assistants, he is nice to the residents he has with him, he is nice to nurse practitioners."

In a testimonial on the University Health Network website, Toronto lawyer Joe Grossman wrote that he came down with a sudden spinal epidural abscess, caused by a staphylococcus aureus infection, in April, 2014 at the age of 46. The pain was so bad that he could not stand up. Then, he developed sepsis and doctors feared he would die.

Dr. Shamji performed a laminectomy and removed the abscess. Not only was his life saved, but the surgery was so successful that Mr. Grossman returned to top physical condition and earned his second-degree black belt in karate later that year, he wrote.

What's more, Mr. Grossman wrote, when he developed joint pains after surgery, Dr. Shamji went out of his way to arrange tests for him to get the problem fixed.

"Dr. Shamji is my hero. He literally saved my life. Because of him, I not only survived a terrible ordeal, but have been able to get back to karate, which is my passion, and my life as a whole," Mr. Grossman wrote. "My family and I will be forever grateful to Dr. Shamji and his team."

The testimonial appeared to have been scrubbed from the UHN website Sunday, but a cached version of the page was still available from Google.

In an e-mail, Mr. Grossman said he was in "complete and utter shock" about Dr. Shamji's situation.

"It's devastating and doesn't make sense on any level. This is a man to whom I literally owe my life and a man who I truly believed was a hero," he wrote.

According to online bios, Dr. Shamji is graduate of Yale, Duke and Queen's Universities and was recruited in 2012 to join the faculty of the division of neurosurgery at Toronto Western Hospital as a "surgeon-scientist and staff neurosurgeon." He was also appointed as an assistant professor U of T.

He was a neurosurgery resident at The Ottawa Hospital for eight years, from 2003 to 2011. His wife, who had a master's in public policy from Duke University, attended medical school at the University of Ottawa and did her residency in family medicine there.

Charles Tator, the renowned concussion expert and a colleague of Dr. Shamji's at the division of neurosurgery, said the department was "absolutely" in shock.

"It's a tragic situation," he said. "We're not in a position to make a statement."

Dr. Shamji's lawyer, Liam O'Connor, declined to comment when reached by The Globe.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe