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Why police are keeping quiet on Census worker Sparkman death

Just because Census worker Bill Sparkman was found hanging from a tree with the word 'fed' written on his chest doesn't mean he was murdered in an antigovernment act. Sparkman died in an insular county of moonshiners and pot-growers, and police are wary of taking a wrong step.

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Yet Mr. Trosper agrees that the case is "perplexing" in that police haven't been able to rule out any of the three possibilities: suicide, accidental death or homicide.

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For some observers, the lynching image, combined with a summer of Tea Parties founded on a state's rights tradition deeply rooted in the South makes it hard to rule out an antigovernment motive. With US officials reporting an uptick in homegrown radical activity, some of it violent, they say the link appears even more likely.

"This was such a symbolic and personal anger that I'm led to lean towards someone who has severe antigovernment feelings, perhaps someone seeking revenge," domestic terrorism expert Brian Levin told CNN's "AC360."

But it's clear that law enforcement hasn't yet endorsed the notion of Appalachian bogeymen threatening government workers. In fact, the appearance of antigovernment bias in the death could be a smokescreen to cover up what really happened, says Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox.

Moreover, the Times-Tribune in Corbin, Ky., quoted a local law-enforcement source who urged reporters to look into the circumstances of the death of actor David Carradine, who died of apparent auto-erotic asphyxiation.

Coworkers and a retired State Police officer who knew Sparkman say they find it difficult to believe that the mild-mannered Eagle Scout could have committed suicide or been involved in something that led to an accidental death.

Sparkman, a 50-something substitute teacher, moved to southeast Kentucky to be a local director for the Boy Scouts of America. He recently served as a substitute teacher in Laurel County and earned extra money as a Census field worker, according to the Associated Press

He had been a part-time Census worker since 2003 and had been working in the area on routine surveys the Census bureau conducts for various government agencies, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

One concern is that the official silence could mean that the trail has grown cold. Secrets can be well-kept among the the close-knit clans in rural parts of Appalachia, where even an outwardly harmless man like Sparkman could have been perceived as a threat, or even a Drug Enforcement Admininstration informant.

But the silence could also be a strategy to control the investigation, says Mr. Cross of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

"I almost always sympathize with investigators in these circumstances," he says. "I'll go back to the [former Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld quote: 'There are known unknowns and unknown unknowns,' and any sort of information [given out] that points in one direction or another might compromise the investigation."