Slain Census Taker Was Sanguine About Job's Dangers

By Carol Morello and Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 26, 2009

MANCHESTER, Ky. -- Bill Sparkman juggled three part-time jobs and chemotherapy, and he was conscientious about keeping his schedule straight. So when he didn't show up for work at a day-care program Sept. 10, two days after he went out canvassing residents for the Census Bureau, a co-worker reported him missing.

Sparkman's body was found two days later beside a remote road near a small family cemetery in the Daniel Boone National Forest. His death initially garnered little attention, even in eastern Kentucky.

Then authorities revealed this week that a noose was found around his neck, and that he was hanging from a tree, his feet touching the ground. The word "Fed" was scrawled across the 51-year-old census taker's chest, according to the Clay County coroner.

Late Friday, a law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss an open investigation, said Sparkman was found bound and gagged, with his Census Bureau identification card taped to his head.

The AP quoted two sources briefed on the matter as saying Sparkman's Census ID was found taped to his head and shoulder area. The news service quoted a witness as saying Sparkman was naked and bound with duct tape.

The state medical examiner has ruled he was asphyxiated but has not determined whether the death was a homicide.

Although it has not been determined that Sparkman's death was related to his government job, the head of the Census Bureau, which is preparing to hire 750,000 temporary workers for the 2010 count, flew to Kentucky for a briefing.

Census takers who die on the job typically succumb to strokes, heart attacks and car accidents. But violence against field workers, while rare, is an ongoing concern.

The 2000 Census was marked by a spate of violence. In Indiana, a pack of dogs mauled a census taker to death. A California census taker was grabbed and forced into her car after a homeowner ordered her to leave and she lingered, trying to explain the importance of the Census. A Denver census taker was hijacked and stabbed, and in Chicago, a census taker was thrown down a flight of stairs.

This year, a county manager in New Mexico warned that many people take their property rights seriously, and some might shoot at census takers who trespass.

Here, Sparkman's gruesome death has ignited a debate over whether it was a byproduct of harsh anti-government rhetoric on talk shows, blogs and protests. Residents of impoverished Clay County say most people harbor no resentment for agents of the federal government, and they're baffled by Sparkman's apparent killing.

Sheriff Kevin Johnson, a native, said most residents feel a measure of gratitude to the federal government.

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