A U.S. Census worker found dead in a secluded Clay County cemetery killed himself but tried to make the death look like a homicide, authorities have concluded.
Bill Sparkman, 51, of London, might have tried to cover the manner of his death to preserve payments under life-insurance polices that he had taken out. The policies wouldn’t pay off if Sparkman committed suicide, state police Capt. Lisa Rudzinski said.
“We believe it was an intentional act on his part to take his own life,” said Rudzinski, who helped lead the investigation.
Sparkman’s nude body was found Sept. 12 by people visiting the cemetery. There was a rope around his neck tied to a tree, and he had what appeared to be the word “fed” written on his chest in black marker.
His census identification card was taped to his head.
The bizarre details of the death caused a firestorm of media coverage and widespread speculation on the Internet, including that someone angry at the federal government attacked Sparkman as he went door to door, gathering census information.
There has been some anti-census sentiment in the country this year, and Sparkman apparently tried to capitalize on that with his ruse.
If there had been no writing on his chest and his identification hadn’t been taped to him, police could have concluded more quickly that Sparkman’s death was a suicide, Rudzinski said.
Instead, it took considerably more investigation to rule out homicide. Police even analyzed the ink on Sparkman’s chest to see how the letters were applied, in order to determine whether it was more likely that someone else wrote on him or he wrote on himself.
Tests indicated that the letters were applied from the bottom to the top — not the way an assailant facing Sparkman would write them. Police concluded that Sparkman wrote on himself, Rudzinski said.
Ultimately, there was no evidence to point to murder, she said.
Tests results showed that there was no DNA other than Sparkman’s on the rag in his mouth or on another rag found near his body. Those results, which police received only recently, were a pivotal development.
Other evidence also pointed to suicide as the manner of Sparkman’s death, police said.
For instance, there was no evidence that Sparkman had struggled with anyone. There were no wounds on his body, Rudzinski said.
Tests ruled out any theory that he was drugged and unconscious when he was tied to the tree, making the lack of signs of a struggle more significant. Also, Sparkman’s glasses were taped to his head. The question that raises is why a killer would care whether Sparkman, who had poor vision, could see what was going on.
On the other hand, if Sparkman was writing on his chest or preparing to kill himself, it would matter that he could see.
And although it is true that Sparkman died of asphyxiation from the rope around his neck, he was not dangling from the tree the way people commonly perceive hanging, Rudzinski said.
His legs were bent at the knee and his knees were less than six inches off the ground, Rudzinski said.
Sparkman could have stood up, taken the pressure off his neck and not died.
Sparkman’s hands were bound, but loosely, allowing him to move them shoulder-width apart, Rudzinski said.
The significance of that is that Sparkman could have created by himself all the conditions found at the scene, such as tying the rope around his neck and putting a rag in his mouth, Rudzinski said.
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