Census Worker Hanging Ruled a Suicide

Kentucky police say that census worker Bill Sparkman, whose body was discovered naked and hanging from a tree in a rural cemetery Sept. 12 with the word “Fed” scrawled across his chest, committed suicide.

The discovery of his body prompted a national discussion on controversies surrounding the census and whether anti-government rage had reached a high-enough point in the rural area to result in the murder of the part-time government employee. Authorities said Sparkman, 51, who had been undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, had recently taken out two life-insurance policies and had spoken about taking his own life. They say Sparkman staged his death in order to be eligible for the life insurance, since suicide is not covered. He wasn’t eligible for a separate life-insurance policy through the government because his work for the census was intermittent. Sparkman’s son had told reporters he was convinced his father was killed, in part because items had been missing from his car.

In a statement read to NEWSWEEK, Census Bureau spokesman Stephen Buckner said: “The death of our co-worker William Sparkman was a tragedy and remains a loss for the Census Bureau family. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends. Normal census operations will resume in Clay County next month and, as always, the safety of the American public and all census workers remains our top priority.”

Earlier this month the AP reported that investigators were looking at suicide in part because there were no defensive wounds on Sparkman's body and because his hands remained mobile despite being bound with duct tape.

When news of the discovery of Sparkman’s body first broke, NEWSWEEK spoke with his friend Gilbert Acciardo, a retired state trooper who also worked at the school where Sparkman was a part-time teacher. He called Sparkman “dependable and reliable” and “a real nice man, soft-spoken and well thought of.” He described the area where Sparkman did his census work as rural and isolated, and said he had warned his friend to be careful canvassing people there. “I told him, ‘You don’t know how people will see you there.’ But he kind of shrugged his shoulders like he wasn’t sure that was the case.”