A mysterious murder that appeared to be some kind of political statement was apparently neither, reports are indicating.
"A Kentucky census worker found naked, bound with duct tape and hanging from a tree with “fed” scrawled on his chest killed himself but staged his death to make it look like a homicide, authorities said Tuesday," the Associated Press reports.
The Lexington Herald-Leader reports, "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," Rudzinski said.
More from the Lexington Herald-Leader report:
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.
The Associated Press adds, "Authorities said Sparkman alone manipulated the scene to conceal a suicide. In a news release, police said he had talked with others about ending his life, though authorities did not say specifically who."
Speculation swirled that he had been killed by rabid foes of the federal government and President Barack Obama before today's report.
"The discovery of the body of Bill Sparkman, 51, a substitute teacher and a field worker for the (census) bureau, comes at a time when talk media, tea parties and white-hot town-hall meetings have fanned antigovernment sentiment," Time magazine wrote earlier this year.
Months ago, Britain's The Guardian newspaper wrote that, because Sparkman had the word "Fed" -- short for "federal agent" -- scrawled across his chest, some investigators were pursuing a "line of inquiry that he was the victim of an extreme anti-government group.
"Although law enforcement officials say that southern Kentucky is not considered a particular hotbed of anti-government sentiment, there is little doubt that growing rightwing and libertarian anger at Barack Obama and his administration is increasingly belligerent," wrote The Guardian's Chris McGreal earlier this year.
Sparkman was reported missing on Friday, September 11 to the state police by co-workers at the school in London, Kentucky, where he worked as a substitute teacher.
His body was found, strung from a tree, reportedly with his feet still touching the ground, the following evening in the woods in Daniel Boone national forest in Clay County, about 18 miles (28 kilometers) south of the main county town of Manchester, Kentucky state police told AFP.
The word "Fed" had reportedly been scrawled on Sparkman's chest in red felt-tip pen.
Many reporters had theorized that Sparkman's work for the Census Bureau -- which is a federal government agency -- linked him in the minds of his killers in conservative, mainly white rural Kentucky with increasingly detested "big" government or with Obama, the first black US president.
In a statement issued in September, the Washington-based Census Bureau expressed its condolences to Sparkman's family, and said: "We have no information that this event has any implications for the safety of our staff outside of this small geographical area."
Assaults on census agents were "extremely rare," the bureau said.
Before today's report that the death was considered a suicide, Kentucky native Al Cross, who is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, said although the part of Kentucky where Sharpman's body was found was squarely Republican, Obama probably had nothing to do with the census worker's death.
"Clay County is part of that great rural white swathe that begins in western Pennsylvania and goes to Cajun country in Louisiana -- but when you talk about federal activity in Clay County, the thing people are most familiar with is going after marijuana growers," Cross told AFP in September.
Marijuana is "probably the biggest cash crop in Kentucky", rivaling even tobacco back in the days when it was king, said Cross.
National forest areas are "an invitation to grow marijuana, at least around here" because the woods are public land and the federal authorities can't "invoke property confiscation" against major marijuana growers, said Cross.
"But that's just the first point. The second point is that Clay County, more than any other county that I know of in this country, has been the target of federal corruption investigations.
"Lots of families and business networks and social networks have been affected by these investigations, prosecutions and imprisonment of a number of local political figures and their hangers-on," said Cross.
Sparkman might simply have knocked on the wrong door at the wrong time, said Cross, describing the area where the census worker was killed as "not the kind of place where you want to blithely go about asking questions about what goes on in someone's household."
Alternatively, Sparkman might not have knocked on the door of his probable killer.
"He could have been killed by someone who saw him moving around in this small area and presumed he was investigating, and when they found out or were told that 'that guy works for the federal government' -- that may have been all it took to set them off," said Cross.
(with AFP reports)