Bill Sparkman, 51, was found strangled Sept. 12 with a rope around his neck near a cemetery in a heavily wooded area of the Daniel Boone National Forest in southeastern Kentucky. Authorities said his wrists were loosely bound, his glasses were taped to his head and he was gagged.
Kentucky State Police Capt. Lisa Rudzinski said an analysis found that "fed" was written "from the bottom up." He was touching the ground, and to survive "all Mr. Sparkman had to do at any time was stand up," she said.
"Our investigation, based on evidence and witness testimony, has concluded that Mr. Sparkman died during an intentional, self-inflicted act that was staged to appear as a homicide," Rudzinski said.
Sparkman's mother, Henrie Sparkman of Inverness, Florida, bristled at the conclusion: "I disagree!" she wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
Authorities said Sparkman alone manipulated the suicide scene. Rudzinski said he "told a credible witness that he planned to commit suicide and provided details on how and when."
Authorities wouldn't say who Sparkman told of his plan, but said Sparkman talked about it a week before his suicide and the person did not take him seriously. He told the person he believed his lymphoma, which he had previously been treated for, had recurred, police said.
Sparkman also had recently taken out two accidental life insurance policies totaling $600,000 that would not pay out for suicide, authorities said.
If Sparkman had been killed on the job, his family also would have been be eligible for up to $10,000 in death gratuity payments from the government.
Sparkman's son, Josh, previously told AP that his father had named him as his life insurance beneficiary. Josh Sparkman said earlier this month he found paperwork for the private life insurance policy among his father's personal files but wasn't sure of the amount. Police wouldn't say who the beneficiary was.
The Census Bureau suspended door-to-door interviews in the rural area after Sparkman's body was found, but a spokesman said normal operations would resume in Clay County next month.
Anti-government sentiment was initially one possibility in the death. Authorities said Sparkman had discussed perceived negative views of the federal government in the county.
Sparkman's mother has said her son was an Eagle scout who moved to the area to be a local director for the Boy Scouts of America. He later became a substitute teacher in Laurel County and supplemented that income as a census worker.
Friends and co-workers have said that even while undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, Sparkman would show up for work smiling with a toboggan cap to cover his balding head. They said he was punctual and dependable.