Jonelle Matthews: Former Idaho governor candidate Steve Pankey held for murder of girl, 12, missing since 1984

Pankey, who was arrested after the FBI conducted a DNA test, was charged with first-degree murder and related charges


                            Jonelle Matthews: Former Idaho governor candidate Steve Pankey held for murder of girl, 12, missing since 1984
(Weld County District Attorney’s Office)

A former Republican gubernatorial candidate from Idaho has been imprisoned and is facing kidnapping and murder charges in connection with the death of 12-year-old Jonelle Matthews. Authorities have dedicated decades attempting to solve the mystery death of Jonelle from Colorado. The little girl disappeared on December 20, 1984 after attending a Christmas concert at Franklin Middle School in Greeley, Colorado. Jonelle's friend and the friend's father, after the concert, dropped her home and had even watched her walk inside. The little girl's father and sister were at a basketball game when she arrived home and her mother was out of town. When the family reached home, they found her missing. Jonelle's shoes, which she wore at the concert, however, were left behind. The child's remains were found nearly 34 years after her disappearance in July 2019. The remains were discovered by a crew at an oil construction site 20 miles away from Jonelle’s home.

Weld District Attorney Michael Rourke, on Tuesday, October 13, announced that Steve Pankey, who ran for Idaho governor for the Constitution Party in 2014, has been indicted by a grand jury in the case on October 9, according to NBC News. Pankey, at the time of Jonelle's disappearance, lived around two miles away from her house. He also ran for the Republican primary in 2018. Pankey was arrested in Idaho on Monday after the FBI conducted a DNA test and was charged with first-degree murder and related charges.

Greeley Police Chief Mark Jones, in a statement, said that Pankey’s arrest was “36 years in the making.” Jones said: "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 for the murder of Jonelle Matthews, some of these questions are starting to be answered.”

Pankey, in 1977, was accused of a "date-rape by a 23-year-old woman; he was prosecuted on the case but the charges were later dropped. He had reportedly claimed that the sex was consensual. He reportedly told the outlet: "Once you’re accused of something like date rape, you’re forever stigmatized." He also insisted that  he was at home with his former wife on the night of Jonelle's disappearance. The couple reportedly left for an out of town function the next morning and when he returned home on December 26, he learned that the girl had disappeared. His timeline of the particular night, however, differed from his ex-wife's, who told the authorities that they took the unexpected trip on December 22, 1984, which was two days after Jonelle's disappearance, the indictment stated. 

She reportedly also suggested that Pankey looked for news on the radio and updates on the Jonelle case, which she found very uncharacteristic of him. Pankey reportedly forced her to read newspaper articles about Jonelle when they returned home. He also allegedly "began digging in their yard” and disposed of a vehicle on their property, saying it had "caught fire." His former wife also heard him say something unusual at the funeral of their son, who was murdered in 2008. She told the investigators that she heard him say: "I hope God didn’t allow this to happen because of Jonelle Matthews," according to the indictment. 

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