NPR logo

Kentucky Census Worker Died Of Asphyxiation

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Kentucky Census Worker Died Of Asphyxiation


Kentucky Census Worker Died Of Asphyxiation

Kentucky Census Worker Died Of Asphyxiation

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

A 51-year-old census worker found dead in rural Kentucky with the word "fed" scrawled on his chest died of asphyxiation, Kentucky State Police say. Associated Press reporter Devlin Barrett, who broke the story, says investigators are still trying to determine if 51-year-old Bill Sparkman's death was suicide, accidental or a homicide.


You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

A census worker found dead in rural Kentucky died of asphyxiation. That's according to Kentucky State Police. Fifty-one-year-old Bill Sparkman was found hanging from a tree earlier this month, the word Fed scrawled on his chest. The Justice Department is investigating.

Devlin Barrett broke the story for the Associated Press, and he's here now. And tell us about the latest announcement from the state police.

Mr. DEVLIN BARRETT (Reporter, Associated Press): Yes, we just got word from the Kentucky State Police saying that Mr. Sparkman was found with a rope around his neck tied to a tree, but that he was in contact with the ground. What sources have described to me is that he was suspended in the air at the time he was found, but his feet were also touching the ground.

BRAND: And has this been classified as a homicide?

Mr. BARRETT: It has not. They are still investigating and trying to figure out whether it is a homicide, a suicide or an accidental death.

BRAND: And why is the Justice Department involved?

Mr. BARRETT: The federal government has charges - is able to bring charges when a federal worker is attacked as they are carrying out their official duties. So if that is - if Mr. Sparkman was found to have been attacked, and if that is the reason for the attack, they could claim jurisdiction in the case.

BRAND: And we're talking about this in part because it's been suggested that one of the motives could have been anti-government sentiment.

Mr. BARRETT: Right. What sources have said is that someone wrote the word Fed on the body, F-E-D. And, obviously, that is a cause of concern. While they haven't determined exactly how he died or if he was killed, why he was killed, it's obviously of great concern to figure that out.

BRAND: And where exactly did this occur? Where did he die?

Mr. BARRETT: This occurred in a fairly remote part of the Daniel Boone National Forest in Clay County, Kentucky. That's a fairly rural area, and the scene is near an old cemetery within the park, within the national forest.

BRAND: So not near any homes, I'm assuming, homes where he may have been taking the census.

Mr. BARRETT: No, it's a fairly remote patch, is my understanding of where he was found.

BRAND: Can you tell us a little bit about Bill Sparkman?

Mr. BARRETT: He was a part-time census worker. He'd been doing it for about five or six years. He was also a teacher and former Boy Scout. And people have had only glowing things to say about him, as folks in the community have been asked. It's obviously pretty upsetting to his former students.

BRAND: Yeah, and a single dad, I understand.

Mr. BARRETT: I believe that's right, yeah.

BRAND: What is this going to mean for other census workers taking the census in that area and elsewhere?

Mr. BARRETT: Well, the census officials are pretty concerned, and they have suspended door-to-door operations in Clay County while this investigation tries to figure out exactly what happened. Census workers were told initially that it is, quote, an apparent suicide - I'm sorry, apparent homicide, but the final determination hasn't been made. But in the meantime, they're obviously concerned about worker safety and keeping people safe.

BRAND: AP reporter Devlin Barrett, thank you.

Mr. BARRETT: Thank you.

BRAND: We've been talking about a census worker found hanging from a tree in rural Kentucky, the word Fed scrawled across his chest.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.