Three hours after Chicago police Sgt. Donald Markham was pronounced dead of a gunshot wound to the head in his master bedroom, someone identifying herself as a cop called a top city garbage official for a special pickup “as soon as possible” to get rid of the bloody mattress where Markham’s body was found, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
The police already had removed the mattress from Markham’s Northwest Side home, dumping it behind the Jefferson Park police station. That’s where a city garbage crew was sent to haul it away less than four hours after Markham died.
It’s the latest in a series of irregularities in a case the Chicago Police Department quickly closed as a suicide — a conclusion now being questioned by the FBI, which suspects that someone killed the veteran cop hours after he had argued with his wife.
The request to haul away the mattress — which was soaked with blood and other bodily fluids — was unusual, sources say. But 45th Ward Streets and Sanitation Supt. Adam Corona obliged the caller, sending a two-person crew to the alley behind the police station on Milwaukee Avenue, according to city records and sources.
The mattress from Markham’s Norwood Park home ended up in one of the city’s blue garbage trucks, destined for a landfill, less than four hours after his wife Dina Markham, also a police officer, called 911 and reported that her husband was unresponsive and “there’s blood all over the bed.”
The police had the mattress disposed of hours before the Cook County medical examiner’s office began Markham’s autopsy.
Corona said he wouldn’t discuss the speedy disposal of the mattress without permission from Charles Williams, a former high-ranking police official who is Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s streets and sanitation commissioner. Williams wouldn’t respond to questions. A department spokeswoman said, “Your interview requests are respectfully denied.”
Corona — who ran unsuccessfully for the Chicago City Council two years ago — has been interviewed by the staff of City Hall Inspector General Joseph Ferguson about the mattress, sources said.
That office also is investigating Donald Markham’s death from a gunshot wound to the head on Sept. 2, 2015, to determine whether the police botched or rigged their investigation, the Sun-Times has reported.
The inspector general’s office declined to discuss its ongoing investigation.
The FBI began investigating Donald Markham’s death months ago after getting a tip that he might have been killed. The FBI also recommended that the Chicago Police Department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs investigate. Instead, the police referred the matter to Ferguson because Dina Markham was assigned to internal affairs at the time of her husband’s death.
As federal agents began interviewing the 20 cops who were at the Markhams’ home after Donald Markham died, his widow was found dead May 28 in the bathtub of the master bedroom — a death the medical examiner’s office concluded was accidental. The police department, though, has yet to close its investigation of Dina Markham’s death.
THE HOURS AFTER DONALD MARKHAM’S DEATH
Here’s a timeline of the hours following Donald Markham’s death, starting with his wife’s call to 911, based on interviews and records obtained from the city and the medical examiner’s office:
3:06 a.m. — Dina Markham calls 911 from a cellphone, eventually hanging up on the dispatcher.
Markham: “I need an ambulance … Emergency . . . please. Oh, my God. It’s right around from your f—— firehouse on Avondale. My husband is bleeding. He is not responsive. Please hurry. He’s a PO. He’s a police officer . . . There’s blood all over the bed. Please, just f—— come here.”
Dispatcher: “Is he breathing?”
Markham: “No. G–damnit.”
3:09 a.m. — A Chicago Fire Department ambulance and a police squad car are dispatched to Markham home in the 5900 block of North Newark.
3:11 a.m. — Dina Markham makes a second call to 911, which also ends with her hanging up.
“I f—— called. This is an emergency. I need an ambulance. Why can’t you send . . . ?”
3:12 a.m. — Dina Markham’s third call to 911 also ends with her hanging up.
Markham: “I’ve been calling for an ambulance . . . Why can’t you send one? . . . I need one now. Off-duty PO. It’s an emergency.”
Dispatcher: “Ma’am, listen to me. You called two minutes ago. Someone’s on the way over there. Is he awake?”
Dispatcher: “OK, then you should be doing CPR. . . . Is he laying on his back? Lay him on his back.”
Markham: “You’re not getting it.”
3:18 a.m. — Ambulance arrives. It leaves at 3:38 a.m. after Donald Markham is pronounced dead.
3:45 a.m. — Detective Brian Spain is assigned to investigate. In his initial report, later that day, Spain writes, “It appeared that he had shot himself in the head.”
3:53 a.m. — Police evidence technician Abdalla Abuzanat is sent to the home.
3:58 a.m. — Emanuel’s security detail is notified — a common practice when a police officer dies.
4:19 a.m. — Abuzanat arrives. He recovers Donald Markham’s service weapon — a .380-caliber Glock — and an expended shell casing between the pillows, to the right of Donald Markham’s head.
4:35 a.m. — Lt. Denis P. Walsh, the detective supervisor in charge of the crime scene, texts his boss, Area North Cmdr. Kevin B. Duffin: “Call me so I can give you better directiond (sic).”
4:55 a.m. — Walsh calls internal affairs. Abuzanat conducts a gunshot-residue test on Donald Markham to see whether he fired a weapon or was near one when it was fired. Though she reported finding the body, Dina Markham wasn’t tested.
5:41 a.m. — Officer Michael Gremo brings the body to the morgue in a squadrol —a job usually handled by a private company that has a contract with the police department. The medical examiner’s office says it wasn’t notified of Markham’s death until the body was on the way to the morgue. At some point, the mattress, either queen- or king-sized, is transported to the alley behind the Jefferson Park station, 5151 N. Milwaukee.
6 a.m. (approximate) — A woman identifying herself as a police officer asks Corona for a special pickup to remove the mattress from the alley.
6:45 a.m. — A Department of Streets and Sanitation laborer tosses the mattress into the back of a garbage truck, which is later emptied at a transfer station near Ashland and Clybourn on its way to a landfill, records show.
7 a.m. — Officer Nyls Meredith goes to the morgue to pick up the fired bullet from the medical examiner’s office.
9:44 a.m. — The city Office of Emergency Management and Communications, which operates the 911 center, notifies the police that the medical examiner’s office has made two requests to obtain recordings of Dina Markham’s 911 calls.
10 a.m. — Dr. Steven M. White does the autopsy, finding that Donald Markham died from a gunshot wound to the head. Five days later, White issues a report stating that Donald Markham killed himself. No one from the medical examiner’s staff ever went to Markham’s home.
1:45 p.m. — Then-Deputy Chief of Detectives Eugene Roy emails Duffin and Walsh about the medical examiner’s request for the 911 calls. “Please coordinate this request from the ME’s office re the suicide. They should be working with us and coordinating with us. I’ll talk with [Medical Examiner Dr. Steven] Cina about requests of this type.”
1:54 p.m. — Walsh responds: “We have told them no problem. They went to oemc and we told oemc to go ahead and give it to them.”
2:14 p.m. — Roy emails Cina, asking him to call him.
Six days later, the police had yet to release the 911 calls to the medical examiner’s office, emails obtained by the Sun-Times show.
“Apparently CPD is miffed because we got a copy of a 911 call on a police suicide last week from OEMC without asking them first,” Cina wrote on Sept. 8, 2015, to two staffers, incorrectly assuming the police had given them recordings of Dina Markham’s calls.
Cina’s director of investigations, Christopher Kalka, responded: “As for the 911 tape, Investigator [DeAnna] Lowe requested a copy of the 911 tape as part of her investigation, but was told that it must be approved first by CPD. We have not obtained a copy of the call.”
Cina forwarded the email to Roy, and the medical examiner’s office eventually received the 911 tapes — after concurring with the police that Donald Markham committed suicide.
Cina — who has left the medical examiner’s office — says he doesn’t recall the exchange with police.
Roy, who later was promoted to chief of detectives and has since retired, declined to comment, saying it would be “inappropriate” since “it’s an ongoing investigation.”