GROVE, Okla. — Dive teams were preparing throughout Monday morning for this dive as new developments were announced.

Delaware County Sheriff James Beck confirmed that after different kinds of searches of the barrel and the area surrounding it, they have not discovered any remains or artifacts that indicate a crime.

Beck still questions the position of the barrel.

When first located the barrel was standing upright partially submerged in the Grand Lake cove.

“Something had to weigh it down for it to be upright all these years,” Beck said. “What probably has happened is whatever has weighted it down has been has been washed away.”

Sheriff Beck says other information has been brought to light, hopefully providing other leads to pursue in this case.


Divers set to retrieve 55-gallon drum from Grand Lake on Monday; searching for missing woman’s remains

GROVE, Okla. — Could greed and fear be the key to the disappearance and presumed death of a Grand Lake woman?

Patrick Sweeten and many of his relatives believe so.  

Peggy A. Sweeten, Patrick’s mother, 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, Patrick’s father, is considered by Delaware County authorities as a “person of interest” in the disappearance and presumed death of his wife. In April, those state and local authorities located a 55-gallon drum in a cove near Sweeten’s former Grand Lake residence. 

Investigators and divers begin the retrieval process on Monday morning to pull that drum from the murky waters of Grand Lake, where they believe the remains of Peggy Sweeten lay in a watery grave.   

In an exclusive interview with Fourstateshomepage.com, Jim Sweeten’s own sister, Carolyn Houston, and her daughter, Missy Bender, talked about how they believe Peggy’s demise came at the hands of her husband.  

“Patrick and Peggy were very close,” Bender said. ”Patrick took time off from his Navy career to look for his mother in 2000.”

Mother’s Day is bittersweet, she said. “There are no texts, no phone calls, no visits.”

Several messages left for Jim Sweeten and his current wife Debra were not returned.

Sex and Money

Rumors of Jim’s affairs plagued the Sweetens’ turbulent 33-year marriage.

While a divorce would have been a simpler way for both parties to go on with their lives investigators believe the ageless evil of greed may have cut Peggy’s life short.  

“At one point in Patrick’s life he was going through some marital problems and was questioning his father about legal issues relating to property,” Bender said.

Jim reportedly said it was easier “to put a bullet in her head than go through a divorce,” Bender said.

Missy Bender, May 14, 2023 interview

Bender said the younger Sweeten was speechless.

Patrick Sweeten believes his mother confronted his father when he returned from an educational seminar about a renewed affair with Debra Hammond, who later became Jim’s wife. During the argument, the younger Sweeten believes his mother probably threatened to expose his father’s alleged shady financial dealings involving Patrick’s great-grandmother, Edith Swift.

Some of the questionable dealings included allegations of fraudulently obtained property and stock certificates.

Edith Swift began working as a telephone relief operator at the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company in Neosho, Mo. in 1914. She stayed with the company until 1961 and in those 46 years, she purchased 827 shares of stock. At the time of her retirement, she was in the top 13% of employee and non-employee shareholders in the Bell System, according to an Oct. 2, 1961, story in the “Telephone Times.”

Carolyn Houston, Swift’s granddaughter, wonders if the stocks were transferred into her brother’s name and if they were sold, who authorized the transfer and sale?

“There is great secrecy and mystery surrounding the stock,” Houston said. “Even to this day.”  

“My grandmother was not legally capable of selling the stock when she entered the nursing home in 1975,” Houston said. “She was diagnosed with dementia in 1976,” she said.

Jim lived at his grandmother’s home for several months during the late 1970s while the elderly woman was in a Neosho nursing home. 

The deed to Swift’s home leaving it to Jim was signed in Kansas nine months before Swift’s Oct. 31, 1986, death, Houston said.  

“The signature on a deed transferring property to Jim was inconsistent with her normal signature,” Houston said.  

“The deed transferring Swift’s home to Jim, listed the married man as ‘a single person’ and it was notarized by a woman who lived in Coffeyville, Kansas who worked at the college where Jim taught adjunct classes,” Houston said.

“Edith Swift’s signature was forged,” Houston said.

The family tracked down the notary and she admitted she didn’t witness the elderly woman sign the document, Bender said.

Houston said there is no record of her brother having power of attorney over the grandmother’s estate.

The Disappearance, Affairs and Remarriage  

The last known conversation Peggy had was with Patrick’s former wife, Michelle, on Jan. 12, 1998.  She was saying she was “upset and anxious” and she and Jim “were having problems and that she needed to get away,” said Patrick Sweeten.  

After several weeks of trying to reach his mother by long distance, his father told him in March or April 1998, that Peggy left him with a man she had met online. 

Patrick told investigators in 2011, “he didn’t believe that his mother ever used email because he, nor any other family member had ever been contacted by email from Peggy,” according to an eight-page search warrant. “Peggy would either write a letter or telephone and she never had an email address that Patrick was aware of,” the search warrant states.

Jim said he returned from a superintendent’s conference and found that Peggy had left a note along with her wedding band and engagement ring, Patrick Sweeten said.

Jim also told a private investigator Peggy took furniture, including her grandmother’s hutch, and antiques.

Again, there was never any evidence to back up Jim’s claims, according to investigators.

“The note said she had found someone else,” Jim Sweeten told his son.

At Patrick’s insistence, Jim said he filed a missing person’s report in June 1998. However, there is no record of a missing report filed with the Delaware County Sheriff’s Department.

“The room where some of the old records were stored was flooded years ago,” said Mark Wall, cold case investigator.  “It is possible the report was destroyed in the flood, but there is no record of a partial missing persons’ report.”

Jim also told his son on June 12, 1998, he had received a telephone call two weeks earlier from Peggy saying she was living in Texas, and she wanted nothing from him, no money, no furniture, nothing.

Perhaps to deflect the infidelity claims, Jim Sweeten told his son that his mom had an affair with her employer when she worked in the private sector during the 1970s, and perhaps this was the man she ran off with.

A private investigator hired by Patrick Sweeten filed a report with the family showing there was no evidence of an extra martial affair by Peggy at the time of her disappearance, Bender said.

Jim refused to submit to a polygraph test and refused to allow a non-invasive search of his property and thought “he should consult an attorney,” when questioned in 2011 by investigators.

“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.  

Jim filed for divorce on Feb. 9, 1998, less than a month after Peggy’s disappearance.  Because Peggy didn’t attend the divorce hearing Jim was granted an uncontested divorce on April 6, 1998.

Jim Sweeten told investigators a lawyer suggested he divorce Peggy.

However, the search warrant paints a different picture.

The 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, Debra Hammond divorced her husband on April 1, 1998.  Her job concluded in  June 1998, and she and Jim moved in together at the lake house.  The couple got married on Dec. 27, 1998, in Las Vegas, according to the search warrant.

According to Jim and Debra’s Christmas letters for the next couple of years after their marriage, the couple lived a charmed life; spending Christmas in Key Largo, taking snow skiing trips to the Colorado Rockies and Breckenridge, vacations to Yellowstone, an Alaskan cruise, and spending nine days in Switzerland.

Some of that time they worked as educators in Bentonville, Ark., where they rented an apartment and kept the Sweeten home on Grand Lake, according to a Christmas letter.

Debra Hammond’s former husband told investigators he learned of his former wife’s affair with Jim in the fall of 1997, the search warrant states.  Family members think the affair started earlier and that Peggy and Jim moved to Grove around 1995 to avoid the embarrassment of the infidelity rumors.

This was around the time Jim told people he returned to the military on a special commission and worked as a military spy for years. 

Patrick Sweeten checked his dad’s claims.

“I checked with Army officials when I was in Washington, D.C. and there is no pay record of dad returning to duty after 1964,” Patrick Sweeten said. 

The younger Sweeten believes the spy story was a cover for his affair with Debra.

“He could say he was going out of town on a mission when he’d really go see Debbie,” said Patrick Sweeten.

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) 787-5381 in Grove.