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Crime and Courts

Former Idaho gubernatorial candidate being investigated for 1984 Greeley cold-case murder of 12-year-old girl

Jonelle Matthews disappeared Dec. 20, 1984, after a Christmas choir concert at a nursing home

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A failed two-time Idaho gubernatorial candidate says he is being investigated in the disappearance and death of a 12-year-old girl in Greeley 35 years ago.

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Steve Pankey, who previously lived in northern Colorado, told the Idaho Statesman that the first time he heard about the murder case of Jonelle Matthews was the day after Christmas that year.

“I am not against them solving it. OK …  I’m for solving it,” the 68-year-old Pankey told the newspaper. He also said he wants his story to be heard in case he’s arrested. So far, there have been no arrests in the cold case murder, and Pankey has not yet responded to messages from The Colorado Sun seeking comment.

He told the Statesman that the Twin Falls, Idaho police department searched his condominium and car on Sept. 4 and that they retrieved financial documents and electronics. He told the newspaper that he had submitted a DNA sample a month before investigators launched the search.

The Twin Falls Sheriff Office and Twin Falls Police Department in Idaho confirmed to The Sun that they conducted the search on Sept. 4.

The Greeley Police Department said in a prepared statement Friday that law enforcement officers have never made a request to obtain Pankey’s DNA, The Associated Press reports. The department says Pankey remains a person of interest in the investigation.

Matthews disappeared Dec. 20, 1984, after a Christmas choir concert at a downtown bank. She’d been dropped off at her home at around 8:30 p.m. Her mother was out of town, and her sister and father were away from the house, at a basketball game. Police at the time believed that she was abducted from her home some time after 9:30 that night.

Jonelle Matthews was 12 years old when she went missing in 1984. Her body was recently found near Greeley (Handout)

Her body was discovered on July 23 this year by construction crews digging for a pipeline in rural Weld County, Greeley police said.  

“Her dad was under suspicion at first, as parents often are in these kinds of cases,” said former Greeley Police Chief Jerry Garner, who is now a chief in Corinth, Texas. 

“It’s a case which has haunted me,” he told The Sun.

Pankey was a 2014 Constitution Party candidate for governor who also ran in the 2018 Republican primary.

At the time of Matthews’ disappearance, Pankey and his now-ex-wife lived two miles from the child’s Greeley family home. 

Greeley police did not respond to messages from The Sun seeking comment on Friday. The Weld County District Attorney’s office said all questions should be routed through Greeley police.

Editor’s note, 9-29-19: This story has been updated to correct the location of Jonelle’s final concert and the distance that Pankey lived from her family.

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