Thirty-five years after 12-year-old Jonelle Matthews went missing from the town of Greeley, Colorado, in 1984, her remains were finally found in a desolate field southeast of the town, according to the Greeley Police Department. In 2019 her death was ruled a murder by the local coroner.
Nearly 36 years after Jonelle went missing, a man who once ran for governor of Idaho, Steven Pankey, 69, was indicted for killing the child by shooting her in the head, court records filed in October 2020 show.
Pankey ran for governor in 2018 and said in his campaign bio that he studied criminal justice in Greeley. He ran as a Republican who called himself a “Christian conservative” and “ardent defender of the Constitution” who supports “President Trump’s Nationalist Policies.”
Pankey Lived Near Jonelle in 1984 & Often Inserted Himself in the Investigation to Her Disappearance
According to the indictment, Pankey was somewhat obsessed about the case, inserting himself at times. In fact, the indictment alleges many unusual behaviors from Pankey following December 20, 1984, when Matthews was reported missing from her home after family friends dropped her off following a Christmas concert she sang in, according to the Colorado Sun.
The indictment says Pankey used to watch kids walk home from the middle school Jonelle attended. After she went missing, Pankey’s ex-wife, Angela Hicks, said on December 22 the family abruptly went on vacation, and when they returned four days later Pankey started digging in his yard. About two days later their car “burst into flames” and Pankey got rid of it at a salvage yard.
Then in 1985 during a church service, the pastor said during a sermon that Jonelle was safe and would be back, but according to Hicks, Pankey called him a “false prophet” and things got so heated he was kicked out of the church that day.
He also “intentionally inserted himself in the investigation many times over the years claiming to have knowledge of the crime which grew inconsistent and incriminating over time,” court records say.
He wanted immunity for sharing whatever information he claimed to have and wrote, “Without a deal, this case will never be solved,” according to the indictment.
Over the years he never stopped bringing up Jonelle. Hicks and Pankey had a son who was murdered, according to the indictment, and at his funeral in 2008, Pankey said to Hicks, “I hope God didn’t allow this to happen because of Jonelle Matthews.”
The indictment also says that Pankey often searched her name on the internet and in 2019 when Greeley Police contacted him with questions he attempted to erase all those searches.
Pankey Knew a Detail About the Case That Police Never Released to the Public
Beyond Pankey’s obsession with the Jonelle Matthews case, the indictment says that he knew too much.
Pankey “knew of, and discussed, a crucial piece of evidence from the Matthews house withheld from the public by law enforcement; specifically, a rake was used to obliterate shoe impressions in the snow.”
Police did not have a lot to go on without a body. Greely Mayor John Gates, a 25-year veteran of the Greeley Police Department, told the Colorado Sun, “DNA was not a thing. We were working hard and not getting anywhere.”
The Colorado Sun reported that there were no witnesses, no fingerprints and no tire tracks to go on, but Gates also didn’t get the feeling the child had run off on her own.
Still, according to Greeley Police, “Early in the investigation, Steven Dana Pankey was identified as a person of interest.”
Greeley Police said in a press release:
For over three decades the disappearance of Jonelle Matthews has haunted our community. … During those decades, generations of Greeley police officers have never forgotten Jonelle, many living in torment over the possibilities of what may have occurred that grim evening in 1984, and what could be done to solve this mystery. In 2015 detectives began a renewed investigation into Jonelle’s disappearance. In the process, additional officers, retired and newly minted, offered vital assistance.
Pankey’s charges include murder in the first degree after deliberation, second-degree kidnapping and two counts of a crime of violence.