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Census worker's death was suicide, not anti-government violence, police say

William Sparkman was found dead in the Kentucky woods with a rope around his neck and 'Fed' written on his chest.

November 25, 2009|By Richard Fausset
  • Kentucky State Police Capt. Lisa Rudzinski answers questions about the mysterious death.
Kentucky State Police Capt. Lisa Rudzinski answers questions about the… (Brian Bohannon / Associated…)

Reporting from Atlanta — A Census Bureau worker found dead in rural Kentucky -- a death that sparked fear of anti-government violence in some quarters -- committed suicide, authorities said Tuesday.

The death scene was "staged to appear as a homicide," according to a statement released Tuesday by the Kentucky State Police.

The body of William E. "Bill" Sparkman Jr., 51, was found in the backwoods of Clay County on Sept. 12, with his hands, feet and mouth bound with duct tape, a rope around his neck and the word "Fed" written on his chest. The rope was tied to a tree, though police said his body was not hanging but, rather, on the ground.

State police and the FBI began looking into the possibility that he was targeted because of his job collecting information for the federal Census Bureau.

Officials said Tuesday that Sparkman had in fact acted alone. Witnesses told them that Sparkman had discussed suicide, as well as "perceived negative attitudes toward federal entities by some residents of Clay County."

Also discovered, the statement said, were two life insurance policies Sparkman had recently purchased that did not pay benefits in cases of suicide.

Evidence at the scene and DNA testing concluded that Sparkman committed suicide, the release said. The cause of death was "asphyxiation/strangulation" at the spot where his body was discovered.

The death came at a time of growing and impassioned concern among some conservatives about what they perceived as an expansion of government power under President Obama. That concern was manifested most prominently in the tea party protests that began earlier this year.

A month before Sparkman's death, a dozen people carrying guns were among the protesters outside an Obama event in Phoenix. In June, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) gained national attention when she said she and her family would not fully fill out their 2010 census forms, in part because the questions had become "very intricate, very personal."

After the discovery of Sparkman's body, Village Voice Media's True Crime Report blog cited the recent "rage against Washington . . . especially in the rural South." The blog said Sparkman's death had "all the makings of some anti-government goober taking his half-wit beliefs way too far."

In September, the Census Bureau suspended door-to-door interviews in Clay County until the completion of the investigation. Census spokesman Stephen Buckner said in a statement Tuesday that "normal census operations" would resume next month.

Sparkman's death, Buckner said, "was a tragedy and remains a loss for the Census Bureau family. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends."

richard.fausset@latimes.com

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