Man in custody in connection with 1984 death of Jonelle Matthews

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GREELEY, Colo. (KDVR) — It has been 35 years since Jonelle Matthews was last seen alive, but on Tuesday, the Weld County District Attorney’s Office announced that 69-year-old Steve Pankey has been taken into custody in connection with the case.

Jonelle was 12 years old on Dec. 20, 1984 when she was dropped off at home after a holiday concert.

Her remains were found in July 2019 by a construction crew working in the area.

Charges against Pankey include first-degree murder – after deliberation, first-degree murder – felony murder, kidnapping with a weapon, and two counts of use of a weapon in a violent crime.

According to the official indictment from Weld County, Pankey kidnapped Matthews at gunpoint from her home in Greeley between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Dec. 20, 1984. The document says Pankey shot Matthews in the head and used a rake to cover up foot tracks in the snow.

Pankey inserted himself into the investigation and repeatedly claimed he had knowledge of the crime which ended up being inconsistent and incriminating, the document says.

Pankey argued in a 1999 pleading filed with the Idaho Supreme Court that if the court ruled in a certain fashion, “it is reasonable for the appellant to believe he would get the death penalty for revealing the location of Jonelle Matthews’ body.” He also wrote, “without a deal, this case will never be solved.”

The indictment says Pankey submitted an ‘alibi’ document to law enforcement in 2013 claiming he had a family trip planned on Dec. 21, 1984, the day after Matthews went missing.

According to Pankey’s wife, the family trip was unexpected. On Dec. 22, 1984, the family headed to California. Before they left, Pankey “dumped” the family dogs, which were never seen again. She claims on the ride home he listened to the radio for news about Matthews. When they got home, he forced her to read him newspaper accounts on the case.

In the indictment, Hicks says that on Dec. 26, 1984, when they returned home, Pankey began digging in their backyard. She said a car on their property burst into flames two days later and Pankey disposed of it at a local salvage yard.

In 1985, Pankey muttered “false prophet” under his breath at a church service when the minister mentioned Matthews would be found safe and returned to home, according to Hicks. Pankey became so agitated that parishioners had to remove him from the church, according to the indictment.

At his murdered son’s funeral in 2008, Hicks claims she heard Pankey say, “I hope God didn’t allow this to happen because of Jonelle Matthews.”

The indictment says Pankey searched for information about Matthews on the internet and he attempted to delete evidence of his searches after Greeley police contacted him in 2019.

Pankey was arrested in Idaho and arraigned on an extradition charge. During that hearing he told a judge that he is willing to come to Colorado to face the charges but has not been able to get in contact with his attorney.

Just two months ago, the Problem Solvers learned a grand jury investigation would be conducted in Weld County.

During a press conference Tuesday afternoon, the Greeley Police Department said it does not have a definitive DNA link between Pankey and Matthews.

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