By Calvin Palmer
A U.S. Census worker found hanged from a tree near a cemetery in rural Kentucky had the word “fed” scrawled on his chest.
This gruesome detail surrounding the death of Bill Sparkman, 51, came from a law enforcement official speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Sparkman, a part-time Census field worker and teacher, was found on September 12 in a remote part of the Daniel Boone National Forest in Clay County, southeast Kentucky.
The U.S. Census has suspended door-to-door interviews in the county, pending the outcome of an investigation by the FBI as to whether Sparkman was a victim of anti-government sentiment.
Investigators have said little about the case. FBI spokesman David Beyer said the bureau is assisting state police and declined to confirm or discuss any details about the crime scene.
“Our job is to determine if there was foul play involved — and that’s part of the investigation — and if there was foul play involved, whether that is related to his employment as a Census worker,” said Beyer.
Sparkman’s mother, Henrie Sparkman of Inverness, Florida, described her son as an Eagle Scout who moved to the area to be a local director for the Boy Scouts of America. She said he later became a substitute teacher in Laurel County and supplemented that income as a Census worker.
Investigators have given her few details about her son’s death but told her the body was decomposed and it has not been released for burial.
“I was told it would be better for him to be cremated,” she said.
Her son’s death is a mystery to her.
“I have my own ideas but I can’t say them out loud, not at this point,” she said. “Right now, I’m just waiting on the FBI to come to some conclusion.”
Lucindia Scurry-Johnson, assistant director of the Census Bureau’s southern office in Charlotte, North Carolina, said law enforcement officers have told the agency Sparkman’s death is “an apparent homicide” but nothing else.
Sparkman’s truck was found nearby, and a computer he was using for work was found inside it, Scurry-Johnson said. He worked part-time for the Census, conducting interviews once or twice a month.
Sparkman had worked for the Census since 2003, spanning five counties in the surrounding area. Much of his recent work had been in Clay County.
Professor Roy Silver, a New York City native now living in Harlan County, Kentucky, said he does not sense an outpouring of anti-government sentiment in the region as has been exhibited in town hall meetings in other parts of the country.
“I don’t think distrust of government is any more or less here than anywhere else in the country,” said Silver, who teaches at Southeast Community College.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a private group tracking violence against employees who enforce environmental regulations, said from 1996 to 2006 violent incidents against federal Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service workers soared from 55 to 290.
Executive director Jeff Ruch said: “Even as illustrated in town hall meetings today, there is a distinct hostility in a large segment of the population toward people who work for their government.”
[Based on a report by the Associated Press.]