THE husband of missing Peggy Sweeten has killed himself after police made a major breakthrough in the investigation into her disappearance.
Jim Sweeten, 79, was found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in an RV park in Welasco, Texas, on Wednesday.
He was the prime suspect in his wife’s mysterious 1998 disappearance despite claiming she had run away with a paramour she’d met online.
The former school superintendent shockingly called police on Wednesday and said he was going to kill himself.
Sweeten was found dead at the scene, authorities announced, adding another layer of mystery to the decades-old cold case.
Just two days before he took his own life, cops revealed they had discovered a 55-gallon metal drum in a lake near the Oklahoma home the couple shared before Peggy vanished.
Detectives said the pair’s son, Patrick, had told investigators the barrel abruptly went missing in wake of his mother’s disappearance.
He is said to have quizzed his father about its whereabouts, but Sweeten was dismissive and said he didn’t know anything about it.
Cold case detective Mark Wall said: “We were reviewing the old police reports and investigative reports again and a statement by Patrick Sweeten, Peggy’s son, caught my eye.”
Law enforcement launched an underwater search on Monday and used an underwater drone and a magnetic locator to try and find the metal drum.
They eventually tracked down the sludge-covered barrel and used mesh buckets to haul out some of its contents above the surface.
Authorities said no human remains were found in the barrel, but they still needed to return with more advanced equipment to safely recover it without losing any potential evidence.
Delaware County Sheriff’s Office said of the search: “Law enforcement returned to the former Sweeten home this week to conduct an underwater search and retrieve a metal barrel that was discovered a few weeks ago and could possibly have been a burn barrel that was noticed to be missing around the same time as Peggy’s disappearance.”
Sweeten’s suicide has invited more speculation about his alleged involvement in Peggy’s disappearance.
The 52-year-old special education teacher was last seen on January 17, 1998, and her husband suggested she had run away with a lover she had met online.
But their son Patrick insisted his mother didn’t use email – while none of her personal belongings, including her car, were missing.
Sweeten stopped cooperating with investigators and reportedly quickly married his mistress soon after Peggy vanished.
He filed for divorce from the missing teacher three weeks after she went disappeared, which was granted in April 1998, and later moved to Texas.
The warrant stated that Sweeten had told his son he had received a call from Peggy informing him she wasn’t coming back.
He also refused a polygraph test and a property search, with a detective noting he “appeared to be deceptive and evasive”.
Sweeten was identified as a “person of interest” on a 2011 warrant when cops searched underneath a tool shed on the property that was built shortly after Peggy went missing.
But the two-day hunt did not uncover anything.
Police have long assumed Peggy was dead after all leads went cold.
However, her son and numerous other relatives have been vocal about their suspicions that Sweeten was involved in her disappearance.