The death of Chicago police Officer Dina Markham has been ruled accidental drowning
“Help. Please … no kidding,” read the message sent just after 4 a.m. on May 28, according to investigative reports made public Monday.
It wasn’t until 14 hours later, after Markham failed to show up at a Memorial Day weekend get-together, that her friends went to her home and asked her son to help open her locked bathroom door. They found her naked body submerged in about 10 inches of water, her hair pulled back into a ponytail and cellphone on the floor by the tub, the records show.
Autopsy reports provided to the Tribune on Monday show the Cook County medical examiner’s office has ruled Markham, 47, died of an accidental drowning after consuming a dangerous mix of alcohol and the powerful anti-anxiety drug alprazolam, commonly sold under the brand name Xanax.
“In combination with other central nervous system depressants such as ethyl alcohol, alprazolam can become toxic at low concentrations,” the report stated.
At the time of Dina Markham’s death, authorities were in the midst of a criminal investigation into the death of her husband, Donald, himself a Chicago police sergeant, and whether his death was a homicide, the Tribune has previously reported.
While a police spokesman had previously said Dina Markham’s death was being investigated as a possible suicide, the medical examiner’s office report stated there was no suicide note or other signs that she killed herself.
Through an attorney, relatives of Markham issued a statement saying they were not surprised by the autopsy findings.
“We have never believed that this was a suicide,” the family said. “There are still some unanswered questions and things that have been published that are not true. We will continue to work to clear Dina’s name and do everything we can to provide support for the Markham children.”
The 20-page medical examiner’s office report sheds new light on the mysterious circumstances of Dina Markham’s death a little more than a year and a half after her husband was found fatally shot during the early morning hours of Sept. 2, 2015.
The medical examiner’s office has said Donald Markham, 51, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head and ruled his death a suicide. Dina Markham, a 22-year Chicago police veteran, told investigators at the time that she and her husband had been drinking and arguing before he shot himself in their bedroom.
In May it was reported that the FBI and prosecutors with the Cook County state’s attorney’s office’s special prosecutions division, which handles cases of police misconduct, were investigating whether Donald Markham’s death may have been a homicide and if the crime scene had been tampered with.
Shortly before Dina Markham’s death, at least two officers involved in the probe were interviewed at the state’s attorney’s offices about their roles in the investigation.
Meanwhile, Joseph Ferguson, the city’s inspector general, launched his own probe into how police handled the investigation of Donald Markham’s death after he was contacted by the Chicago Police Department’s internal affairs division.
Dina Markham with some of her five children.
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 that Donald Markham’s body was brought to the morgue, the subpoena showed.
Investigative reports released Monday show police were called to Dina Markham’s home in the 5900 block of North Newark Avenue shortly before 6 p.m. on May 28. When officers arrived, they met up with two of Markham’s friends who said they discovered her unresponsive in the water-filled bathtub.
One of the friends told police Markham had called her twice at 3:59 a.m., but the friend didn’t answer the phone because she was sleeping, the reports show. Six minutes after the calls, Markham sent the same friend the text asking for help.
The friend told investigators she saw the calls and text message later that morning but did not respond because she was scheduled to see Markham at a gathering that afternoon. The friend also said that “the early morning phone calls from Markham were not unusual, often when she was in an intoxicated state,” according to the reports.
But at about 4 p.m., after Markham failed to show at the gathering, the friend and another acquaintance drove to Markham’s home, where her teenage son answered the front door, the reports show. Finding the bathroom door locked, they assumed that Markham was inside “hiding” from them and didn’t want to talk, one of the friends told police.
They left a note on her pillow but returned about 45 minutes later out of concern, according to the reports. The friends had Markham’s son open the bathroom door with a key and found the body.
Markham was pronounced dead at the scene at 6:08 p.m. Her blood-alcohol level at the time was 0.187 percent, more than double the legal limit for driving, the report said. Her police badge was found in her bedroom, and two handguns were recovered from her dresser drawer.
Dina and husband, sergeant Don Markham, of Chicago PD, both now deceased, two years apart.
According to a police report released by the medical examiner’s office, Dina Markham’s sister, who is a Chicago Fire Department paramedic, came to the scene and took responsibility for the couple’s minor children.
At the time of her husband’s death, Dina Markham was assigned to the Bureau of Internal Affairs. But by October 2016 she was working in the Area North detective division, the same unit that determined Donald Markham had killed himself.
Her transfer at that point in time is one of the issues under investigation, it’s unclear who authorized Dina Markham’s transfer to Area North. But just weeks before her death, records show Markham had been assigned to the department’s Bureau of Support Services at police headquarters.
The medical examiner’s office report shows that investigators from Area South processed the scene of Dina Markham’s death to avoid any potential conflicts.
The report also noted that the FBI “was reviewing a case against (Dina) Markham,” but did not provide details.
Records show that Dina Markham told police her husband, 51, had locked her out of their home the night of his death after the couple had been out drinking and argued after leaving a bar about 1 a.m.
She said she discovered her husband dead in their bed after one of her children let her in the house, the reports said. She said she then called 911.
When police arrived at the scene, Donald Markham’s 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. Crime lab tests showed Donald Markham had gunshot residue on his hand.
The investigation into Donald Markham’s death was closed on Nov. 13, 2015, and classified as “noncriminal,” police reports showed.