WESLACO, Texas -The 25-year mystery surrounding the disappearance of a Grove, Oklahoma woman is not over even though her husband took his own life, said Delaware County Sheriff James Beck on Friday.
James Lee Sweeten, 79, died Thursday at his home in Weslaco from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was considered, by Delaware County authorities, as a “person of interest” in the disappearance and presumed death of his first wife Peggy A. Sweeten.
Jim 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” and “appeared to be attempting to find out how far the investigation had progressed and what” the investigators knew and “what direction the investigation was headed,” the search warrant stated.
Peggy A. Sweeten was last seen on Jan. 13, 1998. The 52-year-old former special education teacher and grandmother disappeared from her Grand Lake residence without a trace, leaving her car, clothing, photos and personal mementos behind.
Jim Sweeten was working as a superintendent at a Kansas school and told investigators many times he had returned from an educational conference and found a note reportedly written by Peggy saying she was leaving her marriage of 33 years to be with a man she met online.
Recent leads prompted Delaware County Cold Case investigator Mark Wall and Sheriff Beck to search a Four Seasons boat dock that was adjacent to where Jim and Peggy Sweeten once lived.
On Monday (May 15) dive teams brought up a partial 55-gallon drum, but no remains were discovered, Beck said.
Wall believes Jim Sweeten’s story began to unravel and that threatened him.
“We were able to poke a hole in his alibi,” Wall said.
The United School Administrators of Kansas confirmed the only conference held in January 1998 was two weeks after Peggy disappeared, he said.
“No one ever saw the note Peggy allegedly wrote and there hasn’t been any activity associated with her social security number since Jan. 1998,” Wall said.
Investigators were never able to confirm Peggy Sweeten had an email account either, he said.
On Friday Debbie Sweeten, Jim’s second wife, met with Texas law enforcement officers.
“Debbie Sweeten is not a ‘person of interest’ or a suspect in the disappearance of Peggy Sweeten, but we do think she might provide answers,” Wall said.
Jim filed for divorce on Feb. 9, 1998, less than a month after Peggy’s disappearance and was granted an uncontested divorce on April 6, 1998.
Debbie Sweeten (previously Hammond) also divorced her husband in April 1998 and in June 1998 she and Jim moved in together at the Grove lake house. The couple got married on Dec. 27, 1998, in Las Vegas, according to the search warrant.
Wall declined to say if Jim Sweeten left a note after his death.
What we do know is his second wife Debbie left that morning and Jim called the Weslaco Police Department at 8:05 a.m. 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, Wall said.
“At this time our highest concern is for Patrick Sweeten,” said Missy Bender, Jim Sweeten’s niece.
Patrick Sweeten is the only son of Jim and Peggy Sweeten.
“It appears Jim decided to take this action and carry the secret with him in the process,” Bender said. “He failed to take responsibility for what he did [to Peggy] and show us where Peggy’s remains are.”
Bender said finding Peggy Sweeten’s remains is the family’s top concern. Our family would like to talk to anyone or encourage anyone who has knowledge about Peggy’s remains to contact the Delaware County Sheriff’s office,” Bender said.
If you, or someone you know, is in a domestic violence situation please reach out to the Delaware County Sheriff at (918) 253-4531, the Community Crisis Center at (918) 253-3939 in Jay or (918) 787-5381 in Grove.