Bill Sparkman, the Kentucky census worker found hanged and wrapped in duct tape with the word "FED" scrawled on his chest, concocted the entire scenario as an elaborate ruse to commit insurance fraud, Kentucky police said Tuesday.
Kentucky State Police said the 50-something substitute school teacher and part-time census worker committed suicide. They said he tried to make it look like a murder in an attempt to force two insurance companies to pay out policies that did not cover suicide to his remaining relatives.
Unable to find evidence of foul play and noting that the letters in "FED" were written from the bottom to the top in a way that an assailant would have found difficult to do, police ultimately came to a simple conclusion: "He could've stood up, taken the pressure off his neck, and not died," Kentucky State Police spokeswoman Lisa Durzinski said.
The discovery of Mr. Sparkman's naked body in the Daniel Boone forest on Sept. 12 came at a time of heightened concern about anti-government violence. A Department of Homeland Security report earlier this year warned of the potential for rising domestic extremism, and a spate of shootings by white supremacists – in Pittsburgh and at the Holocaust Museum in Washington – seemed to suggest the increasing alienation of anti-government groups on the far-right fringe.
"It's more volatile out there now than ever, whether you're a census worker or an undercover agent or somebody who's going to knock on a door to give them Band-Aids or cheese or something," former US former US revenue agent Jack Allen Powell, an expert on Kentucky moonshine culture, told The Monitor as the investigation was beginning.
Experts familiar with rural Kentucky posited that Sparkman may have stumbled across a marijuana or moonshining operation.
The idea that a census worker could be the target of a nefarious murder plot by anti-government dissidents in rural Kentucky rang alarm bells in Washington. Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry warned: "We will come down on these perpetrators as hell hath no fury."
The conclusions of the police investigation suggest that Sparkman sought to play off the fears that backwoods bogeymen see Washington as the enemy. Police said Tuesday they uncovered a witness who said Sparkman had "discussed ending his own life" and often talked about the "perceived negative attitudes toward federal entities" by members of the Clay County community.
But Sparkman's mother, Henrie Sparkman, took issue with the state police's conclusion today, writing in an e-mail to the Associated Press: "I disagree!"
Sparkman's friends said that the teacher, who had undergone treatment for cancer, had given no signs that he was thinking about suicide.
But former Kentucky state trooper Gilbert Acciardo, who said he had told Sparkman to be careful while canvassing Clay County's backroads, told The Washington Post he was confident in the result of the investigation. "It sounds like a reasonable statement," he said.
As parts of rural Kentucky surely felt vindicated Tuesday, the Census Bureau expressed its regrets.
"The death of our co-worker, William Sparkman, was a tragedy and remains a loss for the Census Bureau family," spokesman Stephen Buckner said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends."
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