Hanged Census Worker Staged Suicide in Apparent Insurance Scam

Bill Sparkman Was Bound and Had 'Fed' Written Across His Dead Body


Nov. 24, 2009 —

The part-time census worker found naked, bound and hanging from a tree had staged his suicide to make it appear like murder, authorities said today.

When the body of Bill Sparkman, 51, was found near a rural Kentucky cemetery in September, he was gagged, had duct tape over his eyes and neck, his hands and feet were bound with tape, and he had "fed" scrawled on his chest.

Authorities initially investigated whether Sparkman had been a victim of anti-government sentiment, but today they said in a statement that he died during an "intentional, self-inflicted act that was staged to appear as a homicide."

Two life insurance plans had also been taken out by Sparkman, a single father, right before the time of his death, but payment for suicide was precluded, said police.

If Sparkman had been killed on the job, his family also would have been be eligible for up to $10,000 in death gratuity payments from the government, according to the Associated Press. He was not eligible for a separate life insurance policy through the government because his census work was intermittent, Census Bureau spokesman Stephen Buckner said in September.

According to the Kentucky State Police, DNA evidence shows that Sparkman was the only person who "handled the key pieces of evidence" and there was no evidence of involvement by other individuals.

Kentucky State Police Capt. Lisa Rudzinski said an analysis found that "fed" was written "from the bottom up." He was touching the ground, and to survive "all Mr. Sparkman had to do at any time was stand up," she said.

Sparkman had also "discussed ending his own life," according to the police statement, and had often talked about the "perceived negative attitudes toward federal entities" by members of the community.

Sparkman's mother, Henrie Sparkman of Inverness, Fla., bristled at the conclusion. "I disagree!" she wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Police said the official cause of death was asphyxiation and strangulation.

Slain Census Worker Was Cancer Survivor

Jerry Weaver of Fairfield, Ohio, was in the area for a family reunion when he discovered Sparkman's body on Sept. 12 in Daniel Boone National Forest.

Sparkman's truck was found nearby with his computer still inside.

"His tailgate was down," Weaver told the AP at the time. "I thought he could have been killed somewhere else and brought there and hanged up for display, or they actually could have killed him right there. It was a bad, bad scene."

Sparkman, his mother said, had moved to Kentucky to take a leadership position with the Boy Scouts of America. He, himself, was an Eagle Scout.

A single father and non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivor, Sparkman was working two jobs -- as a census worker and a substitute teacher -- while he waited for a permanent teaching position to open up.

Carol Williams was Sparkman's course mentor in the teacher education program at Western Governors University, where he took online classes and graduated in 2008.

"He was going to be a middle school mathematics teacher," she said. "From what I recall, he was an instruction aide, what we call a paraprofessional. He did a lot of things that teachers do."

Williams said he was so devoted to education and such a hard worker that she nominated him to speak at commencement, which he attended in Salt Lake City after driving cross-country.

In a 2008 profile in The Times Tribune, which covers southeastern Kentucky, Sparkman talked about juggling school, work, chemotherapy treatments and being a single father to a teenage son.

"I know a lot of people were out there praying for me, and I have no doubt that it was a mixture of God's will, the doctors, and my friends and family that got me through this," he told the newspaper.

The Census Bureau said Sparkman's death was the first suspicious death of a census worker since 1998, although a 71-year-old employee was killed by a dog in Nashville, Ind., in 2000.

ABC News' Sarah Netter and The Associated Press contributed to this report.