Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Question: Who commits crimes?

Answer: Criminals.

That's one thing that occurs to me here in eastern Kentucky, where I've come to report on the investigation into the murder of part-time Census Bureau employee Bill Sparkman.

Consider the elaborately sadistic nature of Sparkman's death -- he was gagged, blindfolded, and bound hand and foot with duct tape, then hanged from a tree limb, so that he died by asphyxiation. Surely the person who committed a crime of such wanton cruelty must have an extensive criminal record.

And that's my chief contribution tonight to the whirlwind of speculation surrounding Sparkman's death. I drove 570 miles Monday, stopping at Fairmont, W.Va., to file a brief update, and then stopping again near Huntington, W.Va., to take a one-hour nap in the car. I didn't come here to speculate, but to report.

It's not a journalist's job to solve crimes. That's what cops are for, and thank God. Whoever killed Sparkman is a very dangerous person, and I don't want them coming after me.

It's very easy for Andrew Sullivan to sit around speculating about "Southern populist terrorism whipped up by the GOP and its Fox and talk radio cohorts." I'd like to see Sully sit across from Rodney Miller and say that.

Mr. Miller is in charge of advertising sales at the Manchester (Ky.) Enterprise. I took a wrong turn when I got to Manchester, detouring up around the courthouse and sheriff's department before crossing over the bridge to find the Enterprise office.

I'd promised Morgan Bowling, news director of the Enterprise, that I'd make it there before 5 p.m., and it took some genuinely criminal driving to keep that promise. But when I got to the office at 4:55 p.m., they told me Miss Bowling had left just before I got there.

So I spent nearly an hour talking to Mr. Miller, a 56-year-old native of Manchester who was quite helpful in understanding the community, the people and what little can be learned about the Sparkman murder investigation.

After we'd done talking, Mr. Miller introduced me to one of his young advertising reps, who lives in the vicinity of the cemetery where Sparkman's body was found. Would she lead me up there? No way. Uh-uh. Too scary up there.

If you want to speculate about anything, ponder this: Sparkman lived in London, Ky., in neighboring Laurel County, more than 30 miles east of where his body was found, with his truck parked near the end of the the dead-end road leading up to that cemetery.

Did Sparkman arrange a meeting up there with the person who killed him? If so, why? And if not . . .?

Tomorrow -- actually, today, since it's now past midnight and already Tuesday -- I'll have time to clear up some of the specifics about the timeline on this case that aren't yet clear to me. When and where was Sparkman last seen alive? It seems he disappeared a few days before his body was found near sundown, Saturday Sept. 12. My understanding of the coroner's report is that he was killed late Sept. 10 or early Sept. 11.

Given the 30-mile distance between his London home and that cemetery, either Sparkman drove himself there or, perhaps, he was bound and gagged somewhere else, and driven there in his own truck by the person or persons who killed him. And how did that person (or those persons) leave the cemetery? If there were more than one killer, then perhaps one of them drove Sparkman's truck and an accomplce (or accomplices) followed in another vehicle. If there was more than one person involved in Sparkman's murder, then each of the perpetrators has to be worried that his accomplice(s) will rat him out if he gets caught.

So you've got to figure that the investigators are constructing a timeline of their own, trying to narrow down the possibilities. At some point, Sparkman's truck traveled that 30 miles from London to the cemetery, and if they can figure out exactly when that last ride happened . . .

Well, that's a job for the police, not a journalist. Extreme exhaustion takes its toll, and I was just sending e-mails to Wlady, asking him to correct some typos in the American Spectator story I filed at 11:45 p.m. Monday, having gotten three hours' sleep in the past 36 hours. But here are a few typo-free paragraphs:
What is striking to a first-time visitor to this region is the vast distance between the media perception and the reality.
At the London exit off I-75, there is a Starbucks, that ubiquitous symbol of 21st-century American civilization. Drive west for 20 minutes, and the parkway exit at Manchester is surrounded by other all-American enterprises like Wal-Mart, McDonald's, Subway and Wendy's. Teenage boys hang around the shopping center near the Family Dollar store after school, riding their skateboards on the sidewalk.
Yesterday, I ate supper at the Pizza Hut in Manchester, where people were clearly more concerned about the Clay County High School football team -- "Once A Tiger, Always A Tiger," the waitress's T-shirt declared -- than with "anti-government sentiment."
When police finally make an arrest in Sparkman's death, the suspect will be considered innocent until proven guilty. Shouldn't the same be true for the rest of Clay County?
Read the whole thing. I'll be up early Tuesday and back on the job.


  1. Nice reporting job over at TAS, despite the typos (yeah, I know what it's like trying to get something written and filed from on the road).

    One question, probably not strictly germane to the story, but which I suspect others will also have. You wrote:

    Rodney Miller dismisses such speculation with blunt language -- bovine excrement, so to speak -- and explains that "fed" as an epithet has a specific localized meaning in Clay County. "Half our public officials are in jail and the other half have been indicted," he says, somewhat exaggerating the result of the federal corruption probe. "So, yeah, there are a lot of a people here who don't like 'feds.'"

    Any noticeable correlation between the party affiliations of those officials and whether or not they've been indicted/convicted? This would seem to me to be a natural question for the author of Donkey Cons to ask in any case.

    Tom Knapp

  2. Stacy, in the name of all that's Gracious, please get lots of sleep! Many of us out here are worried about your health, specifically for lack of sleep! You are a national treasure, and Mrs. Other McCain and your children, and your heart and lungs and arteries are not immune to over-exertion. Thanks for all you do, really, THANKS!, but you must sleep!!! Regularly!!! I speak from personal dire experience on this subject. Don't tempt the Grace of God ... as I did!

  3. I don't believe this. Criminals commit crimes? I thought legal gun owners did.

  4. Ti Kn@ppster

    Some of the officials are in jail, some out on bail, some cooperating with the govt. All Democrats


  5. [pure speculation]..."I didn't come here to speculate"...[more speculation]

    Implying you've seen a coroner's report was a nice touch.

  6. Quoted from and linked to at:

    Go Sam Gatlin Go! [But do take The Rev's advice]

  7. David R. Graham said...
    You are a national treasure

    1. OK, I just woke up, after seven hours sleep. Good to go.

    2. "Stacy McCain is a national treasure" -- that would be a great title for a blog post, don't you think?

  8. Please examine the tree. I am curious as to what it looks like and where the rope was attached to the tree.

    Please ask the KSP if they have officially determined this to be a homicide or is their official position still that there is no determination as to whether this is a homicide, suicide, or accident.


  9. At the London exit off I-75, there is a Starbucks, that ubiquitous symbol of 21st-century American civilization. Drive west for 20 minutes, and the parkway exit at Manchester is surrounded by other all-American enterprises...

    Not to nitpick, Stacy, but isn't Manchester located about twenty minutes to the east of I-75? I hasten to add that it would be easy to write the wrong word if you've written this in a badly sleep-deprived state.

    And I hate to sound like a meddling old uncle, but David is right. Take care of yourself. And thank you for making this trip to check things out first hand.

  10. El Cerdo Ignatius wrote: Not to nitpick, Stacy, but isn't Manchester located about twenty minutes to the east of I-75?

    Correct, ECI. I also had another wrong direction in the story, and both of those errors have now been corrected. It was a very long day, deadline was looming, and stupid little typos tend to multiply in such a situation. There was also some less-than-elegant sentence structure that I regret, but . . .

    Anyway, thanks for the fact-checking. In the newspaper business, we have copy editors to do that work. In the blogosphere, we have commenters, and I'm grateful for your work. You're owed a beer, if you can ever catch me in a bar with cash in my pocket.

    Good luck with that.

  11. 2. "Stacy McCain is a national treasure" -- that would be a great title for a blog post, don't you think?

    A very, how shall we say, 'Johnsonite Commentator' comment.