Steve Pankey

Courtesy: Ada County Jail

An Idaho man and former candidate for governor has been arrested in connection to a 1984 cold case murder in Colorado.

Colorado law enforcement and the district attorney made the announcement on Tuesday.

In Dec. 1984, 12-year-old Jonelle Matthews returned to her home in Greeley, CO after attending a school choir concert. A family friend dropped her off at home but an hour later when her father got to the house, Matthews had disappeared. It’s the last time Matthews was seen alive.

Police held numerous searches but never got any answers in the case.

Then, in July 2019, officials said construction workers found Matthews’ remains in a rural field in Weld County.

“She was dressed in the same clothes she was wearing in 1984 at that bank building just down the street,” said Michael Rourke, Weld County District Attorney.

According to Rourke, Steve Pankey first became a person of interest in the case in 2018. Pankey is a former Idaho gubernatorial candidate and currently lives in Meridian. He was questioned in 2019 after Matthews’ remains were found. In interviews with multiple media outlets following the discovery of the remains, Pankey declared his innocence and even claimed police might be framing him.

He was recently indicted by a grand jury for kidnapping and murdering Matthews. Police arrested him at his home in Meridian on Monday.

He is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, one count of second-degree kidnapping and two counts of enhancing violent crimes.

Pankey is currently being held without bond at the Ada County Jail and is awaiting extradition back to Colorado.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Rourke declined to give many details because it’s an ongoing case. But he did say that evidence such as Pankey’s ties to the Matthews family and his “intimate” knowledge of the case were part of what led to his arrest.  

Members of the Greeley Police Department were also in attendance at the press conference.

“Today’s press conference is 36 years in the making,” said police chief Mark Jones. “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. I trust these new developments will help the Matthews family, friends and this community receive some closure and healing from this horrific crime.

“I am truly proud of the Greeley Police Department and every officer that played a role in this case,” Jones added. “To the Matthews family, I pray that this news brings you some closure and hope as we continue to pursue justice for Jonelle and your family. We have never forgotten Jonelle and we never will.”

During the press conference, Rourke also talked about how significant this case has been on a national level. He said Matthews’ name was mentioned in a speech by then-President Ronald Reagan in 1985.

“Her picture and identifying information was one of the first to be put on milk cartons that was put out in all of the schools nationwide by the National Child Safety Council,” he said.

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