The Cook County state’s attorney’s office was in the midst of a criminal investigation into the 2015 death of a Chicago police sergeant when his widow, also a veteran officer, was found dead in their home over Memorial Day weekend, the Tribune has learned.
Prosecutors, working jointly with the FBI, interviewed Chicago police officers who were at the scene of the Sept. 2, 2015, death of Sgt. Donald Markham, according to two sources familiar with the investigation.
The Cook County medical examiner’s office has said Markham, 51, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head and ruled his death a suicide. His wife, Dina Markham, 22-year Chicago police veteran, told police she and her husband had been drinking and arguing before he shot himself in their bedroom.
A source familiar with the investigation said prosecutors with the state’s attorney’s office’s special prosecutions division — which handles cases of police misconduct — and the FBI were looking into the possibility that Markham’s death may have been a homicide and whether the crime scene had been tampered with.
Last month, at least two officers involved in the Markham probe were interviewed at the state’s attorney’s offices about their roles in the investigation. An FBI agent was also present, the source said.
On May 28, about a week after the latest round of interviews, a family member found Dina Markham, 47, in a bathtub, unresponsive after ingesting pills, police have said. While the medical examiner’s office has not yet ruled on a cause of death, a police spokesman has said the case was being investigated as a suicide.
Where the criminal probe into Donald Markham’s death may head in light of his widow’s death is unclear. Neither the FBI nor the state’s attorney’s office would comment Friday.
The Tribune has previously reported that a Chicago police officer raised questions about Donald Markham’s death, concerned about how evidence was handled at the scene. That led Superintendent Eddie Johnson to contact the FBI.
Meanwhile, Joseph Ferguson, the city’s inspector general, launched his own probe into how police handled the investigation of Donald Markham’s death in February, after he was contacted by the Chicago Police Department’s internal affairs division, Danielle Perry, a spokeswoman for Ferguson’s office, confirmed Friday.
A subpoena sent from Ferguson’s office to the medical examiner’s office in February asked for all records pertaining to the examination of Donald Markham’s body, including lab reports and photographs, according to a copy obtained by the Tribune.
In a second subpoena in May, Ferguson requested copies of “any video recordings (inside or outside)” of the intake area at the medical examiner’s office on the morning Markham’s body was brought to the morgue, the subpoena showed.
Jim Bastian, an attorney and close friend of Dina Markham’s family, told the Tribune this week that Markham had “heard rumors” of an investigation but had not been contacted for an interview by any law enforcement agency before her death.
To his knowledge, none of Dina Markham’s relatives or friends have been contacted for interviews since her death, said Bastian, a California-based attorney who is acting as the family spokesman.
“Frankly no one in the close circle of family and friends of the Markhams believes that Dina was responsible for Don’s death,” Bastian said, adding that the family “firmly believes Dina will be vindicated.”
The main concern, he added, was for the Markhams’ five children. They are together and being cared for by family members, he said.
“It was horrible,” he said. “They are doing as well as can be expected.”
Adding to the mystery surrounding the deaths was Dina Markham’s reassignment to various positions in the department as the probes were getting underway.
At the time of her husband’s death, Dina was assigned to the Bureau of Internal Affairs. But records obtained by the Tribune show that by October 2016 she was working in the Area North detective division, the same unit that determined Donald Markham had killed himself.
It’s unclear who authorized Dina Markham’s transfer to Area North. But by early May — just weeks before her death — she had again been moved, this time to the department’s Bureau of Support Services, which is based out of police headquarters, records show.
Police reports show that hours after her husband’s death, Dina Markham told detectives she and her husband had been at the Firewater Saloon in the Edison Park neighborhood earlier that night.
The two got into an argument on the way home from the bar. Markham said her husband blamed her for staying out late, and the argument continued as they arrived at the front door of their home, in the 5900 block of North Newark Avenue, the reports show.
Markham said she walked away from the home as her husband followed, according to the reports, but Donald Markham eventually returned to the home and went inside.
About 15 minutes later, Dina Markham returned to the home and discovered the front door was locked, the reports show. Unable to get into the home, Dina Markham said she knocked on one of the windows before one of her children opened the front door, according to the reports from police and the medical examiner’s office.
When she entered the home, Markham said, she started looking for her car keys because she planned to sleep in her vehicle for the rest of the night, according to the police reports. After entering the master bedroom, she saw her husband lying in bed, on his side and with his back pointing toward her, the police reports said of her account.
Dina Markham continued looking for her keys, and she felt the outside of her husband’s pockets, the reports show. That’s when, she said, she felt moisture on her hands and realized it was blood. She said she then called 911.
When police arrived at the scene, Donald Markham’s .380-caliber Glock semi-automatic pistol was found in his right hand, with five bullets still in the magazine and one in the chamber, according to supplemental reports logged in the investigation.
A spent shell casing was found near the pillows on the bed, and Markham had a “contact” gunshot wound to his right temple, indicating the gun had been pressed to the skin when it was fired, the reports showed. Markham was pronounced dead at the scene at 3:34 a.m.
According to a medical examiner’s office report, the detective investigating the death that night said the gun used in the shooting belonged to Donald Markham but it was not his service weapon.
“There was no history of suicidal ideations or suicide attempts and no suicide note was found on scene,” the report said.
The detective wrote that the death was being treated as a suicide and “there was no suspicion of foul play.”
The medical examiner’s office did not conduct its own investigation at the scene because the detective hadn’t contacted the office about the death until almost 5:30 a.m., at least two hours after the incident, the report said. By then, Markham’s body was being transported to the morgue.
An Illinois State Police report later showed Markham’s gun was caked in blood, including inside the barrel, which had to be cleaned before the weapon could be test-fired by the state police crime lab. The tests showed the bullet that killed Markham had been fired from the weapon, the records show.
The crime lab tests also showed Donald Markham had gunshot residue on his hand, indicating he’d either fired a gun or was close to a weapon being discharged at the time of his death, according to police records. The records do not indicate whether Dina Markham’s hands were ever tested.
The autopsy report showed that Markham had no drugs in his system when he died, but blood tests later confirmed he had been drinking.
The investigation into Donald Markham’s death was closed on Nov. 13, 2015, and classified as “non-criminal,” the police reports showed.