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Keith BieryGolick, firstname.lastname@example.org
7:40 a.m. EDT October 5, 2015
Mason police leave the home of Timothy and Susan Sparks. A grand jury declined to indict Timothy Sparks for murder after the death of his wife March 30.(Photo: Provided/Mason Police Department)
The gun wasn’t supposed to be loaded.
Susan Sparks bought the 12-gauge shotgun as a Christmas present for one of her three sons in 2012. And when the son she bought it for joined the military, the family kept it in its case in the basement of their Mason home. They never loaded it.
So when Susan’s husband, Tim Sparks, thought it was out of place one April day two years later, he told his youngest son to put it away.
When Joseph Sparks picked it up, his thumb slipped onto the trigger. The gun discharged and sent a round barreling through the basement wall. Tim thought Joseph was playing with it, but Joseph told police he thought his mother had loaded the gun.
This is the 12-gauge shotgun Susan Sparks bought for one of her sons in 2012. Sparks died on March 30 after the gun went off during a struggle with her husband, striking her in the chest and killing her. (Photo: Provided/Mason Police Department)
In an interview after her death, Joseph told police his mother would get “loopy” and sometimes did strange things after taking her medication. Once, the family found her in the garage at 3 a.m. She told them at the time she didn’t remember being there.
“The concern was that his mother had been looking at the gun,” Mason police Detective Jamie Van Wagner wrote in a narrative report obtained by The Enquirer.
After the incident, the family kept the gun and ammunition separate. When Tim Sparks walked into their bedroom on March 30 and saw his wife sitting on the bed with the gun he wasn’t worried.
The ammunition was in his dresser, he thought. When he tried to take the gun from her, they fell onto the bed and it went off. Susan Sparks died on the bed a short time later.
DNA and other forensic analysis of the gun and ammunition proved inconclusive — although it did show Tim’s DNA was not on the shotgun cartridge police took from the gun. Prosecutors are still not able to say with certainty what happened the morning of Susan Sparks’ death.
The five-month investigation raised questions about the family’s finances, Tim’s fidelity, and Susan’s relationship with her children. It even examined whether she was, as her husband and other family insist, clinically depressed at the time of her death.
What is certain: A grand jury did not find enough evidence to charge her husband with murder.
The case is closed and no charges were filed. But how did the grand jury make its decision? Grand jury proceedings are secret by law, but The Enquirer reviewed more than 450 pages of investigative documents relating to the incident to better understand how authorities made their case.
Joseph is the youngest of three sons. Family members agree he knew Susan the best, but in an interview with police he described his relationship with his mom as fractured.
He went as far to say he was afraid to be around her. The 20-year-old came home from Miami University for spring break this year, at his parents’ request, but didn’t stay the night. When he did come home at other times, he closed the door to his bedroom so his mom wouldn’t come in.
In his words, Susan “is not right” and “has not been right” for a very long time. Her mood changes abruptly, Joseph told police, but she was always depressed. She never got physical with anyone, but on bad days she would say no one loves her.
“His mother worried a lot about her appearance,” Detective Van Wagner wrote in a narrative report of her interview with Joseph. “She was always worried about being too fat or not pretty enough.”
This led to a trip to Beverly Hills for plastic surgery in December. It was not the first time the 56-year-old woman had plastic surgery. Susan also shopped a lot because she was depressed and it made her feel better, Joseph told police.
The house was his mother’s prized possession. But Joseph said the furniture in the main level was “just for show.” No one ever sat there. The family spent most of their time in the basement, where Susan slept most nights.
One of Susan Sparks’ children said the furniture in the family’s main level was “just for show.” (Photo: Provided/Mason Police Department)
His parents didn’t have physical fights, but they argued. Most arguments revolved around Susan’s depression. When Joseph was in high school, he said his mother talked about divorce after one heated argument but was fine a few hours later.
Regardless, Joseph said his mother was Tim’s “one and only.”
“Joe said there is no way his father would intentionally hurt his mother,” Detective Van Wagner wrote. “He loved her unconditionally, even to a point sometimes that Joe felt he was always protecting her and covering for her depression”
Tim spent most of his two interviews with police explaining – in repetitive detail – the moments before and after the gun went off.
Where were you standing?
Were you holding the gun?
What happened after it went off?
Did you kill your wife on purpose?
Timothy Sparks is photographed by Mason police before his first interview with authorities after the death of his wife on March 30. (Photo: Provided/Mason Police Department)
A few days after the incident, the 58-year-old manager at Kerry Chevrolet in Northern Kentucky told police he had relived the incident 100 times.
“I mean, it’s tough. I haven’t slept in three days,” Tim said. “I’m beating my head against the wall to try and figure out what could have been different.”
Her face — almost robotic, as he recalled it — still flashes through his head.
“She was just looking at me,” Tim told police. “ All I saw was blood.”
Officer Sean McCormick first interviewed Tim at the Mason Police Department shortly after his wife died. Before the interview, Tim struggled to understand what was happening in his house. Medics came and went, but he never saw his wife taken to the hospital. Officers moved him to a police cruiser to calm him.
Eventually, Officer Stephanie Neal told him Susan “more than likely did not have heart activity and they pronounced her deceased.”
Tim cried. Then he mumbled, almost like he was praying, Neal wrote in a narrative report of the incident.
Under his breath, he said, “I killed her.”
A police background check revealed Tim had no prior criminal history.
Tim had just returned from Goodyear, Arizona, two days before Susan died. He had been watching Reds spring training with his oldest son, Tim Sparks, Jr. He called Susan multiple times a day that week because Joseph asked him if she was taking her medication and asked him to check on her.
These diet pills [in photo] are some of the medication Susan Sparks was taking when she died on March 30. She also took medication to help her sleep and for depression, according to police records. (Photo: Provided/Mason Police Department)
Tim believed finances were getting to her. He had two major shoulder surgeries recently and she offered to take over the bills to relieve some of his stress.
The couple had a tax lien placed on their house, were behind on their mortgage, credit card payments and recently lent a family member $40,000.
“He didn’t believe that Susan was gambling or overspending on shopping but (was) just not good at paying the bills,” Officer McCormick wrote in his report of the hours-long interview.
The day Tim returned from Arizona, Tim and Susan visited Joseph in Oxford. Tim said it was the best day they had as a couple in years. They’d been married 34 years.
When they got home, they watched “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” Trying to calm him down after his wife’s death, an officer asked about the movie.
“Tim gave Susan everything she ever wanted. There is no doubt in my mind that this is nothing but an accident.”
“It was depressing,” he responded.
The movie is about older retired couples who move to India and live in a hotel. Susan is retired from the Ford Motor Company. She told Tim she feared they were going to be like the characters in the film and have no money.
“I think she was embarrassed she couldn’t handle the money,” Tim said.
None of this explained why she might want to kill herself. Tim told McCormick multiple times he didn’t believe his wife would hurt herself. She had overdosed on Valium four or five years ago, but he didn’t believe it was intentional and she since switched to Prozac.
“I didn’t pull the trigger and kill my wife,” he told McCormick. “I wouldn’t harm her. You can ask anybody. She’s my best friend.”
When McCormick left the room, Tim called a friend and a coworker.
“I can’t tell you everything. There’s been a horrible accident in my home. My wife is dead,” he said. “I’m not OK.”
Dr. Tom Lundberg
Lundberg has known Susan for about 20 years. He described her as a “delightful, sweet and kind person.” Unless it just happened, Lundberg told police, the news about Susan’s severe depression was “blatantly false.”
The Symmes Township doctor last saw Susan six or eight weeks before her death for a sinus infection and “everything was perfect,” McCormick wrote in a narrative report of his interview with Lundberg.
She was in a great mood during the visit, Lundberg said. Susan suffered severe depression years ago but had been stable since she switched medication, he said.
The doctor called his relationship with Susan great and characterized it as “highly unusual” for her to be depressed and not come see him. In a separate interview, Tim said Lundberg “really … understood her.”
Lundberg did say it could be problematic if someone prescribed Prozac stopped taking it without doctor’s orders.
“She was not depressed,” he said. “At least to my knowledge.”
Vaughn worked with Susan at Ford and knew her since 1990. Vaughn considered Susan her best friend but said their friendship had been on and off for the last five years.
Susan was “very conservative, opinionated and somewhat OCD,” she told police.
The women often didn’t communicate for months when Susan got upset about something. Sometimes Tim would step in and tell her Susan would love to hear from her. This happened frequently – like when Vaughn quit Ford to open a lingerie business.
“It was not well-received,” she said of Susan’s response to her business venture.
But Susan eventually got involved. When Vaughn closed the business for financial reasons, Susan again became very upset. Vaughn could not think of a reason she would want to hurt herself and described Susan’s husband as a saint. She said she never saw any fighting or turmoil between the two.
“Tim gave Susan everything she ever wanted,” Vaughn said. “There is no doubt in my mind that this is nothing but an accident.”
Detectives searched Tim’s phone and found numerous visits to adult websites involving escort/massage services. Some of the phone numbers, contacts and email addresses stored in his phone also appeared to be linked to escort advertisements.
Tim’s attorney, Charlie Rittgers, said his client never contacted any of those services. He said one of the services got a hold of his phone number and shared it. Tim continued to receive emails and other messages until he blocked his number, Rittgers said.
One text detectives found on Tim’s phone simply listed an address, and read: “park in my driveway.” There was no name or any other information with the number. Detectives went to the address and the resident told them the previous owner caused a lot of problems because she ran a massage business out of her home.
Police found the former owner, Christina Davis, and interviewed her at her new home. She immediately recognized a picture of Tim and identified him as one of her regular clients. She said Tim told her he does not have sex with his wife anymore.
Davis denied anything sexually oriented about the services she provided Tim. She said he was always on time for appointments and would cancel if there was a chance they would run late. She described Tim as “well dressed, polite and (a) very nice guy.”
Rittgers said Davis is a skin-care therapist Tim used for acne on his back. He said Susan was the one who provided him with the her phone number and reiterated there was nothing sexual about it.
Henson used to work with Tim at a car dealership. About a month before Susan’s death, the two reconnected on Facebook and messaged frequently. They sent almost 200 messages back and forth in about a month, talking about the car business and their families.
They also talked about rumors they were romantically involved when they worked together, with Tim saying he was never able to convince people they weren’t. The messages seemed to be flirty at times, but Henson actually filed a lawsuit against Tim in 2011.
She said he was involved in fraudulent behavior at the car business. When it came to light, Henson said, Tim wanted her to take the blame for it and eventually fired her. She was awarded a settlement in the case.
“(Tim) was polite and always nice — even when he was doing things like lowering her pay or trying to get her fired,” Officer McCormick wrote in a narrative report of his interview with Henson. “She was amazed at how untruthful he was and how calm he was while telling lies which were detrimental to her life.”
Last year, when her son from the military was home for the holidays, Susan walked into his room with an Airsoft gun. It looked real, Tim told police toward the end of his second interview.
Michael Sparks was “sound asleep.” She stood over him and held the gun on him. He woke up.
“He’ll tell you he talked her down,” Tim said. “She, if she was here, would tell you it was a joke.”
Susan Sparks died on March 30 after a struggle with her husband that authorities cannot fully explain, even after a five-month investigation. Her hand rests against the couple’s mattress while police document the scene of the incident. (Photo: Provided/Mason Police Department)
Susan had recently started participating in bible study, which family members told police helped improve her relationship with Joseph, who believed his mom was harder on him because he was more politically liberal than her.
“I raised you better than that,” she would say, Joseph told police.
Susan’s dad died when she was 22, around the same time she married Tim. He would have turned 99 the week before she died. Her brother called Tim after Susan’s death and said he would talk to Susan every year on their dad’s birthday.
They talked for an hour last year. But this year, he called her three times and she didn’t answer.
“He couldn’t figure it out,” Tim told police.
Tim also struggled to put together the pieces. He said his son Michael summed it up best:
“Dad, she’s fragile,” he said. “She’s just fragile.”
Interviews with neighbors, friends and family paint a picture of an introverted woman who kept to herself – one who didn’t like social functions with people she didn’t know. Her children said she was a private person, even with them.
One neighbor knew Tim and the family for 12 years but only saw Susan once. A week before her death, Tim told police she stayed in their basement for a week and didn’t come out.
Not many people claimed to know her. A woman who did Susan’s nails for three years said she knew “everything” about her clients’ lives, but did not discuss the same things with Susan because she seemed a “little prudish.”
She described her as “southern proper.”
Although multiple relatives said Susan had problems, police did not find a suicide note or any other evidence to suggest she planned on hurting herself. Her iPad history shows she was browsing shopping websites before going to sleep the night before her death.
Text messages even document her plans with friends for several days after she died. She agreed to go to Easter services with Dianna Vaughn, walk around a mall with an old friend from high school and visit an antique store in Lebanon.
In one of her final text messages, she said, “Look forward to seeing you!”