FRANKFORT, Ky. — On the surface it looked like a gruesome hate crime in a rural part of Kentucky with a history of disdain for the government: a census worker found bound with duct tape and hanging from a tree, the word “Fed” scrawled across his chest.
But investigators noticed the foot-tall letters scrawled in black felt-tip pen looked like they could have been written by the victim himself, and they soon found out that he believed he had cancer, had two insurance policies worth $600,000 — which would not pay out in a case of suicide — and had an adult son in need of money.
Investigators said Tuesday that Bill Sparkman’s hanging was a ruse to mask his suicide for the insurance payout.
The key clue was the lack of defense wounds — the only visible marks on his body were a furrow around his neck and insect bites.
Kentucky State Police Capt. Lisa Rudzinski said the insurance payout was one motive for suicide, but Sparkman had also told “a credible witness” that he believed his lymphoma, which he had previously been treated for, had recurred.
On Sept. 12, Sparkman drove his Chevy pickup — packed with a rope, a roll of duct tape and some red rags — deep into the Kentucky woods, where outsiders are mostly treated with distrust and apprehension. He stripped down to his socks and walked to a nearby cemetery.
He taped his ankles and wrists, but his wrists were bound so loosely that he had considerable mobility, leaving investigators to believe he could have done the taping himself, authorities said. He scrawled the word “Fed” upside down on his chest, taped his Census Bureau ID to his head, stuck a red cloth in his mouth and placed another piece of tape over it.
Sparkman then strung a rope from a tree, placed a noose around his neck and leaned forward, using his own body weight to cut off oxygen to his brain, investigators said.
He likely became lightheaded from lack of oxygen then lost consciousness. Sparkman was found touching the ground, almost at his knees.
“To survive, all Mr. Sparkman had to do at any time was stand up,” Rudzinski said.
In addition, Rolf said the autopsy found no signs of a recurrence of Sparkman’s cancer, so his cancer fears were unfounded.