An Idaho man who had made two long-term offers for governor was arrested and charged with the kidnapping and killing of 12-year-old Jonelle Matthews, who disappeared in 1984 and whose remains were found in rural Colorado last year.
69-year-old Steven Pankey was arrested in Idaho Monday after being charged with first degree murder and other charges by a grand jury in Weld County, Colorado, the Weld County District Attorney said.
Jonelle disappeared from her Greeley, Colorado home on December 20, 1984 after performing at a Christmas concert. Her remains were found in a rural area of Weld County that is now dotted with oil and gas wells in July 201
The arrest that week was “36 years in progress,” said Greeley police chief Mark Jones.
“For over three decades, the disappearance of Jonelle Matthews has filled our community with many unanswered questions and a void that has not been filled,” Jones said at a news conference Tuesday.
“With Steve Pankey’s arrest for the murder of Jonelle Matthews, some of those questions are beginning to be answered,” he said.
Jonelle died of a gunshot wound to the forehead, and Pankey is charged with shooting her in the course of the kidnapping, according to Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke and the prosecution.
Rourke called the discovery of the remains significant but said Pankey has been a person of interest since 2018.
The case went to a grand jury in August, Rourke said. The jury returned the charges on Friday and an arrest warrant was issued for Pankey, he said.
Pankey apparently knew he was an interesting person last year. He told Idaho Statesman in September 2019 that he was being investigated into the murder of Matthews and that a search warrant had been issued.
He then told the newspaper that he didn’t know Jonelle or her family or anything about the girl until six days after their last visit. “I have nothing to hide,” he said to the statesman.
Pankey told the Times-News from Twin Falls, Idaho, last week that it was framed.
Pankey attended the same church as the Matthews in 1978, and he might have known it from that, Rourke said.
Pankey, who has run for Idaho governor twice in the past, has been held in Ada County, Idaho Jail without bail, Rourke said.
Jonelle’s disappearance was mentioned by then-President Ronald Reagan in 1985 when he urged the National Newspaper Association to regularly publish information about missing children as a “Mission of Mercy,” according to records from the President’s library and museum.
Jonelle’s information was one of the first in the National Child Safety Council’s national milk carton program, which put photos of missing children and other information on the cartons, Rourke said.
Pankey is being extradited from Idaho to Colorado on charges, the prosecutor said.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Pankey had a lawyer to speak for him Tuesday night. A number for his home in Meridian, Idaho, where he was arrested on Monday, was not immediately found.
Pankey alleged to the Idaho statesman last year that Jonelle was home with his wife, whose car was loaded for a visit to California to visit the family for Christmas, the night he disappeared, and they were planning to leave the next day.
Among other things, upon returning a case against Pankey, the grand jury examined that his now ex-wife said the trip began on December 22, 1984, two days after Jonelle disappeared, and that the trip was unexpected, according to the indictment.
The ex-wife said that on the way back Pankey was listening to the radio unusually and looking for news of the girl’s disappearance. When they returned to Greeley on December 26th, he forced them to read newspaper articles about the case.
Upon returning home, Pankey “started digging” in her yard and a car that was on her property caught fire and was dumped in a junkyard, the indictment said. They lived about two miles from Matthew’s house at the time.
The ex-wife said she heard Pankey say at the funeral of his murdered son in 2008, “I hope God didn’t allow this because of Jonelle Matthews,” the prosecution said.
Pankey was charged with first degree murder – after deliberation; a count of murder in the first degree – criminal murder; Second degree kidnapping; and two violent crime cases known as penal amendments.
The Associated Press contributed.