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Monday, October 19, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Former Idaho governor candidate investigated in 1984 killing

UPDATED: Sat., Sept. 14, 2019

Steve Pankey (S-R archive)
Steve Pankey (S-R archive)
Associated Press

BOISE – A former candidate for Idaho governor says he’s under investigation in connection with the 1984 killing of a 12-year-old Colorado girl.

Steve Pankey, who ran as a Constitution Party candidate for governor in 2014 and again as a Republican in the 2018 primary, told the Idaho Statesman last week that he’s under investigation in the death of Jonelle Matthews of Greeley, Colorado.

Pankey said he reached out to the newspaper because he is a public figure, and he wants his story to be heard in case he is arrested. He said he’s concerned that police mistrust him.

“I’m trying to be transparent,” he said. “I have nothing to hide.”

Matthews was reported missing on Dec. 20, 1984, after returning home from performing a Christmas concert with her classmates. Her body wasn’t found until earlier this year, when construction workers excavating for a pipeline in a rural part of Weld County, Colorado uncovered her remains.

Pankey and his former wife lived about 2 miles from her home when Matthews disappeared in 1984. On the night she went missing, Pankey said he was home with his then-wife, their 1980 Toyota Corolla already packed for an early morning trip the next day to visit family in Big Bear Lake, California.

They returned home to Colorado on Dec. 26, 1984, Pankey said, and heard the news of a missing child on the radio.

“I never met Jonelle, I never met her family, I didn’t know she existed or disappeared until Wednesday, Dec. 26 (1984),” Pankey said.

Pankey said he’d had previous brushes with the law in Colorado, charged with what he called a “date rape” in 1977 at the age of 26. He said the sex was consensual and the charge was later dismissed by prosecutors. He also said he’d been charged with several other misdemeanors over the years – including battery and harassment by phone – but won after going to trial multiple times.

The Statesman was unable to verify those claims because Colorado courts do not have an online records system, and requested copies of documents related to the criminal charges had not yet arrived via U.S. Mail on Friday afternoon.

In a prepared statement released Friday, the Greeley Police Department said although Pankey had made repeated efforts to talk to detectives throughout the investigation, he refused to talk to detectives when they visited him in Twin Falls, Idaho, on Aug. 15.

Pankey also said law enforcement asked him for a DNA sample on Aug. 19, which he provided. The Greeley Police Department, however, says they have never sought DNA from Pankey.

The Greeley Police Department worked with law enforcement in Twin Falls to search Pankey’s Twin Falls home on Sept. 4. The Greeley Police Department says he remains a person of interest in the case.

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