On the night off-duty Chicago police Sgt. Donald Markham was found shot to death inside his Northwest Side home in September 2015, he and his cop-wife Dina Markham had been arguing, with him accusing her of having an affair with another cop — the guy they’d been out drinking with that night.
That revelation — included in a cache of documents obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times — further calls into question the findings of the Chicago Police Department, which has maintained, over the objections of the FBI, that Donald Markham shot himself to death after arguing with his wife that they needed to leave an Edison Park bar because he had to work early in the morning.
The records, obtained from the Cook County state’s attorney’s office in response to a public records request, include previously unreleased reports on interviews by the FBI, which tried unsuccessfully to persuade the police and the Cook County medical examiner to reverse their findings and investigate Donald Markham’s death as a murder.
According to the records, officers and firefighters who responded to the Markhams’ home in Old Norwood Park told the FBI they didn’t believe he killed himself, calling the position in which his body was found on the couple’s bed “odd.” A pathologist later enlisted by the FBI agreed, saying it appeared the body had been moved.
But the Chicago police investigation into the sergeant’s death was hindered, the records show, by a lieutenant who was under investigation at the time for his role in a botched homicide case involving a nephew of Mayor Richard M. Daley, eventually retiring rather than face firing.
Taking charge of the scene, Lt. Denis P. Walsh declared, “This is an obvious suicide,” according to an FBI interview with Donald Markham’s narcotics division supervisor, Lt. Michael Ryle, who was called to the home.
According to the reports, Walsh helped place the dead man in a body bag and loaded the body into a police wagon — in violation of protocols requiring a city contractor to transport bodies to the county morgue.
Sgt. Laura Griffin told the FBI that Walsh also directed her to summon another police wagon to quickly remove the bloody mattress, which two officers then dumped in the garbage at the Jefferson Park district police station on Milwaukee Avenue — though the death investigation hadn’t been formally completed and the mattress was evidence.
A police evidence technician, Abdalla Abuzanat, told federal investigators he asked whether he should test Dina Markham for gunshot residue to see whether she had fired a weapon or was nearby at the time. But Abuzanat said Walsh told him, “No need.”
So Abuzanat did the testing only on Donald Markham, finding gunshot residue on both of his hands.
The city of Chicago inspector general’s office continues to investigate the conduct of Walsh and other officers.
According to the account the police have given, the Markhams’ argument began at a bar and continued in their car until they got home. Donald Markham then locked his wife out of their house, the police say, and she knocked on a window and one of her sons let her inside, and she discovered him on their bed, bleeding from a gunshot wound to the head.
The police have said they based this on statements Dina Markham gave police, who quickly concluded her husband killed himself.
The medical examiner agreed, though it didn’t send anyone to the home and never examined the mattress and other potential evidence, the Sun-Times previously has reported.
Acting on a tip, the FBI and state’s attorney’s office found evidence that Donald Markham didn’t kill himself but were unable to persuade the police and medical examiner to change their suicide finding and investigate further.
The newly released records show the Markhams had gone out with another couple — a close friend in the police department and his wife — the night of Sept. 1, 2015, to an outdoor country music concert in Rosemont before heading for drinks around 10:30 that night at the Firewater Saloon, a country bar in Edison Park.
At the bar, Donald Markham said he wanted to go home because he had to work a side job early in the morning, providing a security escort for a load of iPhones being delivered to Memphis, the records show. But their friends said Dina Markham ordered another round of drinks, upsetting her husband, who stewed while she went outside to smoke for about half an hour.
They eventually went home but continued to argue on their driveway, the FBI found by speaking with neighbors who apparently were never interviewed by the police. One neighbor said she heard Donald Markham yell, “You f—— whore.”
Later interviewed at Chicago’s FBI headquarters, the cop friend, Detective Robert Voight, told agents and Cook County prosecutors that Dina Markham sent him a text during her argument with her husband, saying Donald Markham accused her of having an affair with Voight.
Voight said they did have an affair but that it didn’t begin until a couple of weeks after Donald Markham’s death. Voight — who could not be reached Wednesday — told the FBI the affair continued until Dina Markham was found dead in her bathtub on May 28, 2017, hours after he had been out drinking with her.
Voight, who might have been the last person to see Dina Markham alive, told investigators she texted him that morning, threatening to kill herself. He said he ignored the message, thinking she was trying to manipulate him into leaving his wife.
After an autopsy, the medical examiner’s office concluded Dina Markham accidentally drowned after ingesting alcohol and pills — a conclusion the pathologist apparently reached before the FBI obtained her cellphone records under a court order.
The newly obtained records also show:
• While detectives were inside the Markham home, Dina Markham asked to wash her hands in the kitchen sink, and an unidentified detective gave her permission, according to an FBI interview with Officer Mike Gremo, a friend of the Markhams who showed up at the home when he heard about the shooting.
• Ryle told federal investigators he had lunch with Donald Markham the previous day, and Markham was excited about his impending promotion to lieutenant. Ryle, who has a master’s degree in psychology, said he didn’t believe Markham showed any sign of depression and “seemed very happy with his kids and his career.”
• Dina Markham told several officers and her sister, Dawn Hedlund, who is a Chicago Fire Department paramedic, that she had left the house following an argument and got locked out. Dina Markham said one of the couple’s five children let her inside, and she was searching for the keys to go sleep in the car when she discovered her husband had been shot. But one of her husband’s co-workers, Joseph Meloscia, told the FBI that Dina Markham said she was looking for her cellphone in his pants pockets when she realized her husband was shot.
• After Dina Markham called 911 and the police arrived, she still had not located her phone. Gremo said it began ringing inside the bedroom where her husband’s body was. She wasn’t allowed to get the phone, which remained in her husband’s pocket as he was taken to the morgue, where it began ringing again and was retrieved by Detective Brian Spain.
• When Dina Markham was told detectives were interested in looking at the messages on her phone, she refused to give them the password, according to an FBI interview with Dina Markham’s co-worker, Sgt. Phyllis Muzupappa.
• Muzupappa told the FBI she called her husband, Michael Muzupappa, also a police officer, asking him to call Walsh to see whether Dina Markham could get her phone back so she could alert her contacts about her husband’s death. At first, Walsh said no, but he later told Michael Muzupappa he could come to Walsh’s Northwest Side bungalow to pick it up. That’s the same home where Walsh had once kept missing police files on the death of David Koschman — a case in which Daley nephew Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko eventually was charged with involuntary manslaughter and pleaded guilty.
On the morning Dina Markham died, she sent personal texts to Voight, a friend and her boss, now-former Area North Cmdr. Kevin Duffin, whose old division is still being investigated by the inspector general in the Donald Markham case.
Voight, who said he knew Dina Markham since they were teenagers, told the FBI he sometimes worked side construction jobs with Donald Markham. He told agents Markham suspected his wife was cheating but that his affair didn’t begin until he went along on a trip to Nashville that Dina Markham’s family took to celebrate her brother-in-law’s birthday two weeks after Donald Markham died.
Voight said he tried to end the affair but never did, telling Dina Markham he would never leave his wife “because he could not trust Dina . . . after he learned that Dina had also had affairs with another member of the Chicago Police Department and a member of the Chicago Fire Department after Donald’s death,” according to the FBI report.
He told the FBI that Dina Markham had tried to kill herself two months before she was found dead, renting a hotel room and sending him pictures of pills she threatened to take.
Their affair continued until last May 28, when he dropped her off at 3 a.m., he told federal agents, saying Dina Markham sent him a message again threatening to kill herself and “repeatedly” called his phone, but he didn’t answer. He said he thought she was trying to manipulate him to leave his wife.
Fifteen hours later, she was found dead.
Working the Story
“Working the Story” is a video feature of the Chicago Sun-Times that explores how our reporters do their jobs.
In this discussion, Chicago Sun-Times editorial board editor Tom McNamee and reporter Tim Novak talk about the mysterious deaths of a Chicago police officer and his wife: The investigative work that has spanned years and why the paper chose to take an editorial stand, raising questions about police professionalism in Chicago.
Leading the conversation is Sun-Times Washington bureau chief Lynn Sweet.