Mysterious Chicago cop death: Detective, sergeant suspended for ‘incompetent’ investigation

But the cop who took charge can’t be disciplined. He quit while facing firing for helping keep ex-Mayor Daley’s nephew from being charged in David Koschman’s killing.

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Chicago police Sgt. Donald Markham and Officer Dina Markham.

Chicago police Sgt. Donald Markham and Officer Dina Markham.


The city of Chicago’s inspector general has found that the Chicago Police Department badly mishandled the case of a sergeant whose cop-wife reported finding him dead of a gunshot wound four years ago, and two cops have been suspended as a result.

A report Wednesday from Inspector General Joseph Ferguson cited numerous failings in the police investigation of Sgt. Donald Markham’s death — including ignoring evidence that didn’t fit detectives’ conclusion he committed suicide or that might implicate the wife. The FBI later challenged the suicide finding, unsuccessfully urging the police and Cook County medical examiner to reexamine Markham’s death as a murder.

Based on Ferguson’s recommendation, police Supt. Eddie Johnson has suspended two of the cops involved in the investigation for five days apiece: Detective Brian Spain and Sgt. Shauntai Gracia.

Ferguson found that Spain and Gracia had acted at the direction of Lt. Denis P. Walsh, who showed up at the couple’s home in Old Norwood Park on the Northwest Side, took charge, immediately decided that Markham shot himself, ordered other officers to dump the bloody mattress on which Markham’s body was found and never tried to verify the wife’s story.

“The lieutenant, sergeant and detective violated CPD rules by conducting an incompetent and incomplete investigation . . . neither competent nor complete,” Ferguson’s report said.

But Walsh can’t be disciplined because he retired in February 2016 when the police department moved to fire him for falsifying evidence to help keep former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s nephew Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko from being charged with killing David Koschman in 2004. Walsh also had once been charged with criminal sexual conduct in Michigan while with the police department but pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors. While fighting that case, he was promoted to lieutenant. He now collects a yearly $99,111 police pension.

Denis P. Walsh’s mugshot following his arrest in August 2004 on a Michigan criminal sexual conduct charge. He ended up pleading guilty to reduced charges of misdemeanor assault and battery.

Denis P. Walsh’s mugshot following his arrest in August 2004 on a Michigan criminal sexual conduct charge. He ended up pleading guilty to reduced charges of misdemeanor assault and battery.

Kalamazoo Township, Mich., police

Officer Dina Markham — who was found dead in her bathtub in May 2017 in what was ruled to be an accidental drowning after ingesting pills — was never tested to determine whether she fired a weapon the night her husband died.

Ferguson’s report doesn’t name any of the parties involved, but the Chicago Sun-Times has identified all of the people who were cited.

Ferguson’s investigators found that the police failed to pursue “appropriate leads,” including talking with neighbors and collecting possible evidence of a crime.

As a result, Ferguson wrote, detectives didn’t learn that employees of the funeral home where Donald Markham’s body was taken heard Dina Markham make “comments suggesting [she] was in the room when [her husband] was shot,” rather than being locked out of the house after a fight, as she had told police.

Donald Markham was found dead Sept. 2, 2015, in bed at home hours after he and his wife had been out drinking with Detective Rob Voight and Voight’s wife. The Markhams had been arguing in an Edison Park bar because she didn’t want to go home, according to Dina Markham, who told the police she was locked out of the house. She said she woke one of the couple’s five children to let her inside and then found her husband in bed. He’d been shot in the head. 

Acting on a tip, the FBI brought in a forensic pathologist to review the case, to try to determine whether Donald Markham actually killed himself or was murdered. The FBI dropped its investigation when Dina Markham was found dead in her master bedroom’s bathtub on May 28, 2017.

Ferguson’s office picked up the case to try to determine whether anyone in the police department acted improperly. He didn’t try to determine whether Donald Markham killed himself.

The inspector general criticized Walsh for quickly concluding it was a suicide, saying the result of that was that detectives didn’t pursue “any investigative avenues which might have led to different conclusions.”

Gracia — a sergeant in the Area North detective division where Dina Markham worked who city records show was paid $129,964 in 2017 — assigned Donald Markham’s case to Spain, paid $106,517 in 2017. They drove together to the Markham home, according to FBI reports obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

Gracia told the FBI she was responsible for alerting Walsh, who lived near the Markhams’ home. Once Walsh arrived, Gracia told the FBI he was in charge.

Among the failures Ferguson’s report cites Spain and others at the scene for: “The investigative team neither challenged nor attempted to verify the account given by [Markham’s] spouse, also a CPD member . . . despite their marriage having been marked by credit card debt, allegations of infidelity and volatile arguments.

“Because of the bare, uncorroborated, assertion of the spouse to have not been in the house when [Markham] was shot, the investigative team did not test the spouse for gunshot residue and may have even given the spouse express permission to wash [her] hands.”

Ferguson’s report says the police interviewed the Markhams’ three sons in the presence of their mother and that there was no evidence that police officers “probed the questionable assertion” that no one in the house heard the gunshot from Donald Markham’s .380-caliber, Glock semi-automatic pistol.

After Dina Markham’s cellphone was found in her husband’s pants pocket at the Cook County morgue, the police returned the phone to her without documenting that she refused to let them access the phone’s contents. Walsh acknowledged the phone “may have had evidentiary value,” Ferguson’s report says.

Ferguson’s staff also found that the police didn’t interview neighbors, including one who heard arguing in the Markhams’ driveway before the shooting.

The detectives “failed to” interview firefighters who responded to the home, including a 37-year veteran of the Chicago Fire Department who thought that the gun he was shown in crime-scene photos wasn’t the one he’d seen in Markham’s bed, the report says.

It says detectives “collected no information from” other cops in the house who “were uncertain about the position of the body and whether the crime scene photos were consistent with their recollections.”

The report also says detectives didn’t interview Voight, the detective who had been out drinking with the Markhams and who said his first thought was that Dina Markham had killed her husband. Voight told the FBI he began having an affair with Dina Markham after her husband’s death.

Ferguson’s team said detectives didn’t interview Donald Markham’s siblings, who say Dina Markham repeatedly had said she could kill her husband and make it look like a suicide. Donald Markham’s brother told Ferguson’s investigators he had been threatened at the funeral home by police officers about “asking questions.”

The inspector general’s report also confirmed a Sun-Times report that detectives violated state and county laws by removing Donald Markham’s body and the bloody mattress “without authorization” from the medical examiner.

None of the three officers cited by Ferguson could be reached for comment.

A police department spokesman said the superintendent decided on five-day suspensions “based on case law from other similar rule violations.”

Spokesman Anthony Guglielmi noted that the FBI “never filed any criminal charges or recommended any administrative sanctions against any of those officers.”

“Every police officer is held to the highest of professional standards within the department,” Guglielmi said.

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