Former Idaho GOP gubernatorial candidate is charged in 34-year-old cold-case murder of Colorado girl whose remains were found last year
Jonelle Matthews was abducted from her family home in Greeley, Colorado, in December 1984
The search for Matthews became a national cause: Reagan discussed it on TV
Her disappearance was unsolved until her remains were discovered by by oilfield workers in rural Colorado, north of Greely in July 2019
Police said she died from a single shot to the head
Pankey is being held without bail, awaiting extradition to Colorado, and is facing charges of felony murder, kidnapping and two violent crime sentence enhancements
Former neighborhood resident, Steve Pankey, had become a person of interest the year before, He had moved from Colorado to Idaho in 1987, running for political office
Pankey was arrested on Monday and is being held without bail, awaiting extradition to Colorado
He was charged Tuesday with felony murder, kidnapping and two violent crime sentence enhancements
Candidate Pankey an avowed Trump supporter, who presented himself as ‘candidate of principle’ in 2018 promised to ‘drain the swamp in Idaho’ politics
A former youth minister who ran for election in 2018 as Idaho governor has been charged in the 34-year cold-case murder of a 12-year-old Colorado girl whose disappearance shocked the nation in the 80s.
Steve Pankey, 69, was arrested on Monday at his home in Meridian, a suburb of Boise, Idaho for the murder of a pre-teen girl, Jonelle Matthews who lived in his old neighborhood in Greely, Colorado back in 1984.
The arrest was announced on Tuesday by Michael Rourke, Weld district attorney, who said that the former GOP gubernatorial candidate had been indicted by a grand jury on October 9.
Jonelle Matthews was abducted from her family home in Greeley, Colorado, in December 1984. The case remained cold until her remains were discovered July last year.
Rourke said she died from a single shot to the head.
Pankey is being held without bail, awaiting extradition to Colorado, and is facing charges of felony murder, kidnapping and two violent crime sentence enhancements.
An Idaho man and former two-time gubernatorial candidate was arrested this week for the 1984 abduction and murder of a 12-year-old girl whose remains were found in Colorado last year.
Steven Pankey, 69, who twice ran for governor in Idaho, in long-shot bids, was arrested Monday at his home in Meridian, about 12 miles west of Boise, for the death of Jonelle Matthews, 12.
The arrest came after a Weld County, Colo., grand jury indicted him Friday, according to Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke.
Pankey is charged with one count of murder in the first degree felony murder, second-degree kidnapping, and two counts of crime of violence described as sentencing enhancements.
It took exactly 34 years, seven months and five days of searching, before the Greeley Police Department announced last year that the bones discovered earlier that week at an oil and gas site in rural Weld County are the remains of Jonelle Matthews.
Following her disappearance in December 1984, a search ensued, which caught the attention of the nation including President Ronald Reagan.
Reagan referenced Jonelle during his March 7, 1985 address asking newspaper editors to regularly publish photos and articles about missing children so police could better solicit leads on their whereabouts.
At the time, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children which was founded and opened six months before Jonelle’s disappearance, as well as, the National Child Safety Council used her image as one of its early campaigns, with her face appearing on milk cartons, to publicize the search.
The suspect Steve Pankey was born in Ventura, California, before moving to Colorado where he was living in a house two miles from the Matthews residence.
He was a youth minister at Sunny View Church of the Nazarene, attended by the Matthews family, and had watched children from the Jonelle’s middle school walk home, according to charging documents. in 2007 He moved states from Colorado to Idaho where he twice ran for the highest office in that state.
On December 20, 1984, the missing girl was last been seen entering the family home after being dropped off from a holiday choir concert that evening around 8pm.
When her father returned from her older sister Jennifer’s basketball game an hour later, Jonelle was gone. Her shoes sat by a chair. Her stockings were thrown over the couch, but Jonelle was gone.
Two months after the discovery of the remains, investigators served a warrant on Pankey in Sept 2019. He was told he was a ‘person of interest’, and prosecutors had ‘probable cause’ to believe he had kidnapped and killed Jonelle, Pankey said in an interview with the Idaho Statesman.
He was home with his now ex-wife the night Jonelle went missing, their car packed for an early-morning trip the next day to visit family in California, Pankey told the paper.
They took the trip and returned home six days later and first heard the news of a missing child on the radio, he claim.
The suspect’s ex-wife told prosecutors the trip was unexpected.
On the way home, Pankey ‘uncharacteristically listened to the radio, searching for news accounts of Jonelle’s disappearance,’ according to the indictment.
The community in Greeley, 50 miles north of Denver, continued to search, eventually abandoning their efforts.
That all changed around on July 19, 2019 when oilfield workers who were digging a pipeline about near Greeley unearthed a small hole containing a child’s skull, bones, and severed jaw fit with braces, according to the Greeley Tribune, which obtained photos of the remains.
Police who recovered the body from the scene confirmed that the remains, which were found with what appeared to be tattered blue and red clothes, belonged to Jonelle, who also wore braces before her disappearance.
Police then labeled her death a homicide.
On Tuesday Rourke, the Weld district attorney, in Idaho, announced that Jonelle died from a single gunshot wound to her forehead.
In 2008, according to prosecutors, his former wife heard him say at his son’s funeral: ‘I hope God didn’t allow this to happen because of Jonelle Matthews.’
In his interview last year with the local newspaper, which he said he did to clear his name, Pankey insisted he was innocent.
‘I didn’t know she existed or disappeared until Wednesday, December 26 ,’ Pankey said.
Pankey argued that Greeley police had a vendetta against him. He recalled that in 1977, four years after moving to Greeley, Pankey, then aged 26, he was accused of the ‘date rape’ of a 23-year-old woman he was seeing.
The sex was consensual and prosecutors dropped the charges, he says, but authorities in Greeley never forgot him because of the allegations.
‘Once you’re accused of something like date rape, you’re forever stigmatized,’ he told the Statesman.
Greeley police, according to Pankey, slapped him with about 20 ‘arbitrary’ misdemeanors, including battery and harassment by phone.
He said he was taken to court several times, and claimed victory in every case.
He admitted, however, that he had refused to speak to Greeley police, without an attorney present.
Pankey’s 2018 campaign website states his staunch support for President Donald Trump and details how he studied criminal justice, and became convinced that ‘globalists’ were manipulating people’s minds through the media.
‘Steve’s criminal justice studies included the study of people who acted without a conscience. Could the news media be a study in people who act without a conscience?’ the website states.
He is described on the site as ‘the principled choice for Idaho governor’.
His arrest was celebrated by Matthews’ sister, Jennifer Mogensen, who was in high school when her sister vanished.
‘I’m learning new things and I have to process that,’ said Mogensen.
‘But mostly I’m super grateful that this first step toward justice was taken. It will be a long journey but we’re just really excited and grateful that this is happening.’
Their parents, Jim and Gloria Matthews, are retired and living in Costa Rica.