GREELEY, Colo. — A former Idaho gubernatorial candidate was indicted for the 1984 murder of his 12-year-old neighbor whose disappearance had been a mystery for more than three decades, officials announced.
Steven D. Pankey, 69, was arrested Monday morning in connection with the abduction and murder of Jonelle Matthews on Dec. 20, 1984, in Greeley, Colo. He faces two counts of first-degree murder, kidnapping and crime of violence and was awaiting extradition to Colorado, officials said in a news announcement.
Jonelle died from a single gunshot wound to her forehead, Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke said. Her remains were not discovered until 2019.
“Always in the back of your mind you might have a little bit of hope,” Jennifer Mogensen, her sister, told the Associated Press. “We’re extremely grateful we’re getting this next step toward justice.”
In the decades since Pankey lived in Colorado, he has run as a Constitution Party candidate for Idaho governor in 2014 and in the Republican primary in 2018. This is the same time investigators began looking at him for the cold-case homicide.
Pankey previously told the Times-News in Twin Falls, Idaho, that he was being framed in the case. He said his family had few connections to Jonelle or her family.
The two families worshiped at the same church in Greeley, and Pankey had made statements to police revealing “intimate knowledge about the commission of the crime” that was not public information, Rourke said.
Jonelle disappeared on Dec. 20, 1984, after being dropped off at home by a friend and the friend’s father. She was last seen at 8 p.m., entering the ranch-style home where she lived with her father, Jim; mother, Gloria; and sister. But when her father returned from her older sister’s basketball game an hour later, Jonelle was mysteriously missing, Fox News reported.
“For over three decades, the disappearance of Jonelle Matthews has left our community with many unanswered questions and a void that has not been filled. With the arrest of Steve Pankey … some of these questions are starting to be answered,” said Greeley police department Chief Mark Jones.
The big break came in July 2019 when workers digging a pipeline discovered human remains matching Jonelle’s dental records in a rural area southeast of Greeley, which is about 50 miles north of Denver. As a result, police categorized her death a homicide.
Detectives with the Greeley Police Department were present when officers from the Meridian, Idaho Police Department arrested Pankey Monday morning.
Because this is an active investigation, authorities did not disclose further incriminating evidence, which led to Pankey’s arrest.
He is currently in custody at the Ada County Jail in Idaho. A court date in Colorado has not yet been set since he needs to be extradited.