Medical examiner rebuffs FBI findings in mysterious Chicago cop death
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FBI agents met with the Cook County medical examiner’s staff earlier this month to present evidence that Chicago police Sgt. Donald Markham was killed at his home in 2015 and didn’t commit suicide, as a county pathologist concluded days after his death, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
After the extraordinary meeting Dec. 4, the medical examiner’s office “re-reviewed” the case. But it’s standing by the determination that Markham used his own gun to shoot himself in the head.
“This case, and the new evidence provided, was re-reviewed by more than 10 Cook County forensic pathologists this month,” said Becky Schlikerman, a spokeswoman for Dr. Ponni Arunkumar, the chief medical examiner. “The consensus was that the body was not moved after the gunshot and that the clear preponderance of information and evidence supports the 2015 findings of the office, as well as the manner of death ruling of suicide.”
The medical examiner’s office — which determines the manner and cause of violent deaths — left open the possibility it could revisit its findings “if additional credible information or evidence is presented.”
Markham, 51, who worked in the narcotics division, was found dead in his bed in his Far Northwest Side home on Sept. 2, 2015, after arguing with his wife, Chicago Police Officer Dina Markham.
From the start, the police treated his death as a suicide. They removed the body and the bloody mattress on which it was found from the home within three hours, even before the medical examiner’s office could examine the scene, as the law requires. Within weeks, police and the medical examiner formally closed the case as a suicide.
But someone later contacted the FBI with a tip that Donald Markham might not have killed himself, the Sun-Times has reported. The FBI enlisted a forensic pathologist and an expert in bloodstain-pattern analysis to review the evidence, leading to ongoing investigations by its agents and the city of Chicago’s inspector general’s office, which is looking into whether the police mishandled or rigged the case.
Sun-Times reporters went to Dina Markham’s home in May, asking whether she was aware the FBI and inspector general’s office were looking into her husband’s death. She said she wasn’t. Six days later, on May 28, she drowned in her bathtub after ingesting pills and alcohol, a death the medical examiner ruled was an accident.
The FBI has declined to discuss the case.
At the meeting earlier this month, Schlikerman said, its agents “provided to the medical examiner multiple interviews of friends, family, colleagues and scene witnesses, including first-responders, to supplement the information our investigator had already obtained.
“They also provided a blood-stain pattern analysis they obtained from an expert they worked with and a review by one outside pathologist with whom they worked,” Schlikerman said. “The blood-stain pattern analysis report supported the finding that the immediate scene where the body was found was not altered. The outside pathologist’s analysis was inconsistent with the blood-stain pattern analysis provided by the FBI.
“In addition, the Cook County medical examiner reviewed with a firearms specialist the functioning of the .380 Glock, which is the weapon found at the scene. The characteristics of the weapon and the location of the casing are consistent with the position of the gun found at the scene.”
Schlikerman would not characterize the Dec. 4 meeting as an attempt by the FBI to sway the medical examiner’s office into changing its ruling.
“I cannot speculate as to what the FBI was doing,” she said.
“It’s not up to law enforcement to determine cause and manner of death,” she said. “They investigate cases and provide information about their investigation, which can assist in the ultimate determination of the cause and manner of death. It is up to the medical examiner’s office to determine the cause and manner of death.”
At the time of Donald Markham’s death, his wife was working for the police department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs. Eleven months later, she was transferred to the Area North detective division, working for Cmdr. Kevin Duffin, whose detectives had determined that Donald Markham killed himself.
While the FBI was investigating Donald Markham’s death, Duffin and Dina Markham were exchanging text messages until the day she died, the Sun-Times has reported.
Duffin alerted the detectives investigating Dina Markham’s death about the text messages, which they had exchanged over six months.
The FBI obtained copies of those text messages. But police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi would not say whether detectives read the texts before concluding Dina Markham had accidentally died. He described them as “personal” messages exchanged between Duffin and Dina Markham.
The police department denied a public records request for copies of the text messages, saying it doesn’t have them and they can be obtained only with a subpoena.
“Phones were inventoried and reviewed by an external law enforcement agency,” Guglielmi says. “Ultimately Dina Markham’s death was ruled an accidental overdose and there is no evidence of foul play in her death.”
Asked if the FBI shared the contents of the text messages with the police, Guglielmi says, “I can’t share investigative tactics between us and the FBI. What I can say is there was no foul play.”
Duffin didn’t respond to emailed requests for comment.
Before Donald Markham died, the Markhams were drinking at a bar and got into an argument when he wanted to go home because he had to work the next morning, according to police reports. The argument continued at their home in the 5900 block of North Newark in Old Norwood Park.
The reports show Dina Markham told police she was locked out of the house and had one of the couple’s five children let her in through a window. She was looking for her keys when she found her husband, shot in the head, on their bed in the early-morning hours, the reports say.
She called 911, and her husband was pronounced dead at the scene.
The case has been marked by numerous irregularities, the Sun-Times has reported:
• The police didn’t test Dina Markham or anyone else who was in the family’s home to determine whether they’d fired a weapon.
• Donald Markham’s body was driven to the Cook County morgue by police officers, rather than by the private company that has a city contract to transport bodies.
• The medical examiner’s office didn’t send an investigator to the scene, saying the office wasn’t notified until Donald Markham’s body was en route to the morgue.
• About three hours after Dina Markham called 911, detectives removed the bloody mattress from the home, throwing it out behind the Jefferson Park police station at 5151 N. Milwaukee. Someone then called the ward superintendent for the city Department of Streets and Sanitation, which dispatched a crew for a special pickup, tossing the mattress into a garbage truck less than four hours after Markham’s wife call to 911.
• Duffin’s point person on Donald Markham’s case was Lt. Denis P. Walsh, who was under investigation by the inspector general at the time for irregularities in the case of David Koschman, the Mount Prospect man who died after being punched by Mayor Richard M. Daley’s nephew, Richard “R.J.” Vanecko. Walsh resigned five months later to avoid being fired.
In September, Duffin, a 35-year veteran of the police department, was transferred to the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, which runs the 911 center.