GROVE, Okla. — Delaware County cold case investigators met today (Wed. 4/19) to lay out their plans to resume the retrieval of a 55-gallon drum from Grand Lake, which they believe holds the remains of a Grove woman missing since 1998.
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, Peggy’s husband, is considered by Delaware County authorities as a “person of interest” in the disappearance and presumed death of his wife.
Telephone calls to James Sweeten and his current wife, Debra, were not returned.
After spending two days with underwater drones and cameras, divers located a 55-gallon drum standing upright in about 15 feet of water next to a boat dock in the cove where the Sweeten’s lived.
“With the divers finding the drum standing upright shows there is something significant like concrete or rocks in the bottom of the barrel,” said Delaware County Sheriff James Beck.
Investigators believe Sweeten’s remains are either in the barrel or close by, he said.
Approximately one foot of the barrel is submerged in lake silt. Beck described the barrel “as a burn barrel with holes in it.”
Tim Knight, Nautical Adventures Scuba owner, met with Grand River Dam Authority divers and investigators with the state Medical Examiner’s office, Cherokee Nation Marshal, Delaware County Sheriff’s Office, Delaware, and Ottawa County Cold Case Unit on Wednesday.
Knight specializes in search and recovery activity. He recommended building a retaining wall, 4-feet in diameter, around the drum and using a hose to blow out the silt leaving materials that investigators can sift through to look for evidence.
Jim Sweeten told family and friends that Peggy left with a man she met online.
Jim, a former Kansas superintendent, was having affair with Debra Hammond, a teacher in another district, according to a 2011 search warrant.
That search warrant notes that Jim refused to submit to a polygraph test and to a non-invasive search of his property. Officials said Jim told them he thought “he should consult an attorney,” when questioned in 2011.
“James appeared to be deceptive and evasive” and “appeared to be attempting to find out how far the investigation had progressed and what [the investigator] knows and what direction the investigation was headed,” the search warrant stated.
Jim filed for divorce on Feb. 9, 1998, less than a month after Peggy’s disappearance. Since Peggy didn’t attend the divorce hearing Jim was granted an uncontested divorce on April 6, 1998. Jim Sweeten’s divorce lawyer told investigators in 2011 “James’s main concern and rush about the divorce was to get the property in his name,” according to a search warrant.
Shortly after Peggy disappeared and just before the Sweeten’s divorce was granted, Debra Hammond divorced her husband on April 1, 1998. Her job concluded in June 1998 and she and Jim moved in together at the Sweeten’s Grove house. The couple were married on Dec. 27, 1998, in Las Vegas, according to the search warrant.
Investigators plan to return to that Grand Lake Cove on May 15 to start the process of bringing up the 55-gallon drum.