Hung in the backwoods of Kentucky

This month in The Atlantic Magazine Rich Shapiro tells the whole story of the body that was found hanging deep in Clay County, in the backwoods of Kentucky. Bill Sparkman, a 51-year-old Census worker and Boy Scout leader, was found dead with “FED” scrawled across his chest, hands and feet bound by duct tape. It perfectly fit the media narrative of the day, when President Obama had just taken office and the Tea Party was instigating a wave of right-wing extremism.

But, as you probably guessed, there’s a lot more to what happened. From The Atlantic:

The history of Clay County is soaked in blood. Violence roiled this remote corner of Appalachia in the late 19th century, fueled by grisly feuds between rival families. The hostility between the wealthy and influential clans—the Bakers versus the Howards, the Philpots versus the Griffins, the Garrards versus the Whites—spanned decades and spawned national headlines. “It is a strange, bloody story, this of Clay County’s two recent feuds,” read a New York Times report published on November 26, 1899. “Its ferocity, barbarity, and cruelty are appalling.”

And later:

Sparkman’s 20-year-old son, Josh, had shown up at the state police’s London post with several documents, and his demeanor had struck the officers as odd. He was unnervingly calm and spoke in a flat, emotionless voice. Among the documents he turned over was a “just in case” letter written by his father, which Josh had found buried in a filing cabinet. William Sparkman had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2007, but had been cancer-free for the past year. The letter spelled out what Josh needed to do with the family’s finances if the elder Sparkman passed away. While meeting with Atkin, Josh asked whether Sparkman’s gun had been found. He couldn’t recall the make, but he was certain it was a .22-caliber pistol. His father had been no gun aficionado, but said one never knew who or what he might run into in Clay County’s backwoods. Josh said Sparkman had kept the gun in his truck.


Rachel Maddow opened her show with the news back in 2009.


The Atlantic: The Hanging by Rich Shapiro