Ky. census worker committed suicide, authorities say

By Ed O'Keefe and Carol Morello
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Census Bureau worker in Kentucky who was found dead in September with "FED" written on his chest killed himself and staged his death to look like a homicide, state and federal law enforcement officials said Tuesday.

William E. Sparkman Jr. was found with his hands, feet and mouth loosely bound with duct tape, a rope loosely tied around his neck. Passersby spotted his body Sept. 12 in a remote area of the Daniel Boone National Forest in eastern Kentucky.

The condition in which Sparkman's body was found led to speculation about whether he was a victim of anti-government violence. Area residents, however, surmised he had stumbled upon a backwoods drug lab.

But investigators concluded that Sparkman wrote the word on his own chest from the bottom up. He died of asphyxiation, an autopsy showed.

Witnesses told investigators that Sparkman had discussed ending his life. He had also discussed recent federal investigations of Kentucky public officials and the negative perceptions of federal agencies expressed by some residents of Clay County, Ky., where he lived, investigators said. Before his death, Sparkman also secured two life insurance policies, totaling $600,000, that would not pay out for suicide.

Sparkman was a substitute teacher and one of 5,900 part-time Census Bureau fieldworkers who conduct the annual American Community Survey and dozens of other government surveys each year. Normal census operations will resume in Clay County next month, 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," Buckner said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends."

Gilbert Acciardo, a former state trooper who worked with Sparkman in an after-school day-care program, said that Sparkman gave him no clues that he was contemplating suicide. Nevertheless, he said he was confident in the results of the investigation.

"If that's what they say, because they are the professionals," Acciardo said when told of the findings. "With the time frame they worked on it, and the thoroughness of the investigation, it sounds like a reasonable statement."

The Kentucky State Police partnered with the FBI and other state and federal agencies to investigate the death. Authorities decided to share some details of their investigation Tuesday because of the high level of national interest.

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