JAY, Okla. – Investigators comb through the cell phone of a man who was the primary suspect in his ex-wife’s disappearance and presumed death 25 years ago.
A preliminary search of Jim Sweeten’s cell phone shows inconsistent statements were given to state investigators at the time his wife, Peggy Sweeten, went missing in 1998.
Jim Sweeten died May 18 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was living in an RV park in Weslaco, Texas with his second wife, Debbie Sweeten. Just days before his suicide, investigators searched the waters of Grand Lake in a cove where the Jim and Peggy lived before she disappeared.
In the three days leading up to his death, Jim’s cell phone showed numerous searches for news articles related to Peggy’s disappearance, and the efforts to recover her remains from the Grand Lake.
The day before Jim’s death, phone data shows a text from Jim to Debbie at 11:45 a.m. The text contains generalities about the couple’s finances, like what credit cards to use to pay the water bill and items of that nature.
“It appears Jim Sweeten was getting his finances in order,” said Mark Wall, Delaware County Cold Case Unit investigator.
The last phone call made on Jim’s cell phone was around 8:05 a.m. on May 18.
Authorities said Debbie Sweeten had left their home before Jim made that call to the Weslaco Police Department saying he was going to harm himself. Police arrived at the residence and when they could not find him, they searched an outbuilding or shed and found Jim Sweeten’s body.
We made repeated calls and sent numerous text messages to Debbie Sweeten for comment. She responded in a text message, requesting that KSN/KODE and Fourstateshomepage.com not contact her. She also declined to provide the name of her attorney.
As part of the investigation federal authorities took possession of Jim’s cell phone to search the data. They were looking to close Peggy Sweeten’s case, or in the alternative clear Jim Sweeten as a suspect, Wall said.
Authorities say there was a Google search for a secluded Grand Lake RV park in the phone’s data.
Another item officials found on Jim’s phone was a journal titled “14 Years Ago.” Investigators say glaring inconsistencies about Peggy’s disappearance were found in that journal.
According to police reports, Jim Sweeten was working as a Kansas school superintendent when Peggy disappeared in 1998. He told the authorities when he returned from a Kansas School Superintendent conference, he found a note from Peggy saying she had left him. When investigators checked Jim’s alibi, the Department of Education in Kansas confirmed there was no such conference held during the time Peggy disappeared.
Investigators also say the circumstances are muddy surrounding the note Peggy reportedly left for Jim.
In Jim’s phone, there is an entry referenced “Early January, 1998.”
In the entry, it talks about Jim showing Peggy’s farewell note to a divorce attorney, but when asked about the note, Jim told investigators he didn’t keep it.
That left investigators believing Peggy’s note must have been handwritten because family and friends all said Peggy didn’t have an email account and was basically computer illiterate.
But the phone’s journal entry leaves the impression the note Jim claims to have found, was written on a computer.
The note said Peggy “had been unhappy for a long time” and that Jim “never had time for her” due to his job and “she had found the happiness she wanted” supposedly with another man.
The journal entry states the computer was still on and there was an email from a man saying he was on his way. Investigators say at this point, the note is irrelevant.
“The note was never found and there hasn’t been any activity associated with Peggy Sweeten’s social security number since Jan. 1998,” Wall said.
The entry references Peggy Sweeten left Jim Sweeten during a two- or three-day period when he was working late at a small rural Kansas school.
“This is completely different from what Jim told investigators in 2011,” Wall said.
The entry also noted Jim was staying at the couple’s rental house and he had to stay there for “political reasons.”
The entry continues that Peggy had taken her clothes, and sentimental furniture and left her wedding dress and wedding rings and she hoped Jim “could find someone who could live that way” and he “could make them happy.”
Jim’s conflicting statements lead Wall to wonder if any of those scenarios are true.
There were also journal entries about a 2011 search on Jim’s Grove property and his meeting with investigators.
Jim had refused to submit to a polygraph test and refused to allow a search of his Grove property when questioned by investigators in 2011 about Peggy’s disappearance.
“James appeared to be deceptive and evasive;” “appeared to be attempting to find out how far the investigation had progressed;” ”what the investigators knew;“ and “what direction the investigation was headed,” the 2011 search warrant stated.
A journal entry shows Jim didn’t trust authorities not to set him up for Peggy’s disappearance and presumed death, Wall said.
In other entries, Jim paints the former 52-year-old former special education teacher and grandmother in a bad light regarding extramarital affairs. He also mentions the innocent manner he and Debbie started their relationship.
In 2013 someone had sent Debbie Sweeten’s school employer news articles regarding the affair Jim and Debbie were having at the time of Peggy’s disappearance, another journal entry notes.
Debbie Sweeten, who was known as Debra Hammond, was a teacher in another district, and according to a 2011 search warrant, she and Jim were having an affair.
Twenty-seven days after Peggy disappeared Jim filed for divorce and was granted an uncontested divorce on April 6, 1998, court records show. Debbie Hammond divorced her husband in April 1998 and in June 1998 she and Jim moved in together at the Grove lake house. The couple was married in Las Vegas approximately 11 months after Peggy disappeared.
While a preliminary search of his phone did not reveal concrete information, investigators plan a deeper dive into Jim Sweeten’s phone data, Wall said.