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News >  Idaho

Former Idaho Republican gubernatorial candidate charged with murder, kidnapping in 1984 Colorado case

UPDATED: Tue., Oct. 13, 2020

By Ruth Brown Idaho Statesman

Former Idaho Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Pankey, of Twin Falls, has been indicted in a Colorado cold case involving the 1984 kidnapping and killing of a 12-year-old girl.

The case revolves around Jonelle Matthews, who went missing from her parents’ Greeley home on Dec. 20, 1984. Her body wasn’t discovered until July 24, 2019, in a field in rural Weld County. Greeley, north of Denver, is in Weld County.

The Weld County Sheriff’s Office’s warrant list on Tuesday showed outstanding warrants for Pankey, who ran for Idaho governor in 2018. A grand jury indicted him on Oct. 9 on charges of first-degree murder after deliberation, felony murder in the first-degree, second-degree kidnapping and two counts of a crime of violence.

Pankey was arrested at his home in Idaho, taken into custody and is at the Ada County Jail awaiting extradition to Colorado, prosecutors said.

In September 2019, Pankey, 69, was interviewed by the Idaho Statesman and repeatedly said that he had nothing to do with the girl’s disappearance. He maintained that he had never met her.

Pankey lived in Greeley in the 1980s with his then-wife. Last year, the Twin Falls Police Department verified that it had executed a search warrant on Sept. 4, 2019, at Pankey’s condo in the 300 block of Elm Street North.

The search warrant was issued after a Colorado construction crew found Jonelle’s remains while excavating.

The Greeley Police Department previously called Pankey a person of interest in the case.

According to a copy of Pankey’s indictment, he is accused of taking the girl from her Greeley home on the night of Dec. 20, 1984, sometime between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. He fatally shot her in the head sometime during the kidnapping, it says.

The indictment goes on to allege that Pankey used to watch children walk home from Franklin Middle School, where Jonelle was a student, and had an intimate familiarity with the neighborhood.

Pankey went to the same church as Jonelle’s family at the time of the girl’s death, according to a copy of the indictment. The document alleges that Pankey knew of a crucial piece of evidence that came from the Matthews home that was withheld from the public – a rake that was used to hide footprints in the snow.

Authorities allege that Pankey “intentionally inserted himself into the investigation many times over the years, claiming to have knowledge of the crime which grew inconsistent and incriminating over time,” according to the indictment.

In 2013, Pankey allegedly sent an “alibi” document to law enforcement, claiming that he was in California on Dec. 21, 1984, the morning after Jonelle went missing. “The document contained false statements and superfluous details,” according to the indictment.

Pankey told the Idaho Statesman a similar story in September 2019.

The indictment also cites repeated statements that Pankey allegedly made about Jonelle’s disappearance or death over the years, dating back to the 1980s.

Jonelle’s body was recovered about 10 miles away from Pankey’s former home, according to the indictment.

In May, Pankey unsuccessfully ran for Twin Falls County sheriff.

In August, Pankey verified that he planned to testify before a grand jury in Colorado. He told the Statesman that he’d been waiting for 35 years to tell his story, and was confident he was not a suspect.

“I am being transparent. I am not running from this,” he said in August. “I am more than eager to answer any questions under oath.”

Pankey was a Constitution Party candidate for governor in Idaho in 2014. He also ran in the 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary, won by current Gov. Brad Little.

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