BIG CREEK, Ky. – A family's visit to a rural Kentucky cemetery led to the shocking discovery of a census worker's naked body hanging from a tree with the word "fed" scrawled on his chest.
Jerry Weaver of Fairfield, Ohio, told The Associated Press the man had been gagged and his hands and feet were bound with duct tape.
Weaver said Friday he was certain from the gruesome scene that 51-year-old Bill Sparkman was killed deliberately.
"He was murdered," Weaver said. "There's no doubt."
Weaver said he was in rural Clay County, Ky., for a family reunion and was visiting some family graves at the cemetery on Sept. 12 along with his wife and daughter when they saw the body.
"The only thing he had on was a pair of socks," Weaver said. "And they had duct-taped his hands, his wrists. He had duct tape over his eyes, and they gagged him with a red rag or something."
Two people briefed on the investigation said various details of Weaver's account matched the details of the crime scene, though both people said they were not informed who found the body. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case.
Authorities have said a preliminary cause of death was asphyxiation, pending a full medical examination. According to a Kentucky State Police statement, the body was hanging from a tree with a rope around the neck, yet it was in contact with the ground.
"And they even had duct tape around his neck," Weaver said. "And they had like his identification tag on his neck. They had it duct-taped to the side of his neck, on the right side, almost on his right shoulder."
Both of the people briefed on the investigation confirmed that Sparkman's Census Bureau ID was found taped to his head and shoulder area. Weaver said he couldn't tell if the tag was a Census ID because he didn't get close enough to read it. He could see writing on Sparkman's chest, and could read that it said "fed."
Authorities have said the word was scrawled with a felt-tip pen.
Weaver, who works for a family topsoil business in Fairfield, said the body was about 50 yards from a 2003 Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck. He said Sparkman's clothes were in the bed of the truck.
"His tailgate was down," Weaver said. "I thought he could have been killed somewhere else and brought there and hanged up for display, or they actually could have killed him right there. It was a bad, bad scene.
"It took me three or four good nights to sleep. My 20-year-old daughter ended up sleeping in the floor in our bedroom," he said.
Sparkman, a Boy Scout leader and substitute teacher, was supplementing his income as a part-time census field worker. Authorities have refused to say if Sparkman was at work going to door-to-door for census surveys before he died.
After Sparkman's body was found, the Census Bureau suspended door-to-door interviews in Clay County until the investigation is complete.
Clay County Sheriff Kevin Johnson declined to comment on the investigation because the department is only playing a supporting role but said patrols have increased in the Daniel Boone National Forest since the body was found.
State Trooper Don Trosper said it was clear this wasn't a natural death but said all other possibilities were being considered.
"We are not able to rule out many scenarios at this time, and that's what makes this a difficult case," he said.
Although anti-government sentiment was one possibility in the death, some in law enforcement also cited the prevalence of drug activity in the area — including meth labs and marijuana fields — although they had no reason to believe there was a link to Sparkman's death.