1984 Greeley cold case given new life as former Idaho gov. candidate comes under investigation

Data pix.

GREELEY, Colo. — A cold case may have been given new life after it was revealed that a former candidate for Idaho governor is under investigation for the killing of a 12-year-old Greeley girl 35 years ago.

The home of 68-year-old Steve Pankey was searched last week and was served a warrant that said investigators have probable cause to believe he kidnapped and killed the girl, Jonelle Matthews, according to the Idaho Statesman.

He provided the newspaper with a copy of the search warrant recently conducted on his home. That search warrant is sealed to the public.

In it, detectives stated they were looking for diaries, journals, emails, and memoirs that might give details of Matthews’ murder. Police were also searching for computers and similar items that might shed light on her possible kidnapping or murder.

FOX31 has learned police may have been investigating Pankey before Matthews body was found.

Pankey once lived in a home off West 10th Street in Greeley.

The current tenant of that home tells FOX31, four to five months ago detectives started visiting it and asked questions about the septic system. The tenant also said investigators dug up three areas on the front lawn.

That home is two miles from the home where Matthews went missing.

Both Pankey and Matthews attended the Sunny View Church of the Nazarene, possibly at the same time.

Matthews sister told FOX31 she and her family did not know Steve Pankey.

Pankey ran in the 2018 Republican primary and told the newspaper that the search came roughly a month after he gave police a DNA sample however Greeley Police told FOX31 that "at no point in time was a request made by law enforcement to obtain Steve Pankey's DNA."

Additionally, the department said, "Steve Pankey has made repeated efforts to speak with detectives throughout this investigation.  Greeley detectives went to Twin Falls, Idaho on August 15 efforting a conversation.  During the interaction Pankey refused to speak with detectives for reasons unknown.  Greeley detectives worked with the Twin Falls Sheriff’s Office and obtained a warrant to search Pankey’s residence which was executed on September 4 with the assistance of the Twin Falls Sheriff’s Office and the Twin Falls Police Department. At no point in time was a request made by law enforcement to obtain Steve Pankey’s DNA.   Pankey remains a person of interest in the murder investigation of Jonelle Matthews."

Pankey has been on Greeley police's radar since the 70's. He moved to the small Colorado community in 1973 and was accused of what he called "date rape" in 1977.

Pankey denied the allegations but was charged with a crime; the charge was later dismissed. The Idaho Stateman reports that Pankey was charged in Colorado with as many as 20 "arbitrary" misdemeanors, including battery and harassment by phone.

All of the cases date back to the 1970s and 1980s, but due to their age, very little information still exists in the court filings.

Six cases, including a sex assault from 1977, were dismissed. Two other cases- including one involving a harassment charge- ended with not guilty verdicts.

Pankey said he "won" all cases that went to trial. He said he left Greeley in 1987 and hasn’t been back to Colorado since.

The FOX31 Problem Solvers confirmed there are eight Weld County court cases in which Steve Pankey was involved, but all were either dismissed or ended with not guilty verdicts.

Data pix.

Most of the court paperwork provided to the FOX31 Problem Solvers did not include information about the circumstances of each case or the charges.

Pankey told the Idaho Statesman newspaper that he is being investigated as a person of interest in the homicide of Jonelle Matthews, who disappeared in 1984.

He provided the newspaper with a copy of the search warrant recently conducted on his home. That search warrant is sealed to the public.

In it, detectives stated they were looking for diaries, journals, emails, and memoirs that might give details of Matthews’ murder. Police were also searching for computers and similar items that might shed light on her possible kidnapping or murder.

“I never met Jonelle, I never met her family, I didn’t know she existed or disappeared until Wednesday, Dec. 26 (1984),” Pankey said. He claims he first learned of the young girl's disappearance announced on the radio the day after Christmas 35 years ago.

For decades, Jonelle Matthews’ family could only wonder what had happened to the 12-year-old girl whose disappearance attracted the attention of the White House and shocked the small town.

They have faced false alarms over the years whenever human remains were found or police interviewed someone new for information about Jonelle.

In July, the family finally learned what happened to their daughter and sister — a construction crew discovered her remains, and police officially labeled her death a homicide.

After singing in a holiday concert at her middle school on Dec. 20, 1984, Jonelle was taken 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.

Their father arrived home from Jonelle's sister's basketball game about an hour after Jonelle but he found an empty house, The Greeley Tribune reported.

Their mother had left earlier that day to visit family in another state.

Despite an intense search that started that night, no one was ever arrested.

Jonelle’s disappearance was among the cases highlighted by then-President Ronald Reagan as his administration launched a national effort to find missing children.

AlertMe
Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.