In December 1984, 12 year-old Jonelle Matthews sang in a Christmas concert in Greeley, Colorado then disappeared.
On July 25, 2019, almost 35 years later, her remains were discovered by construction workers.
Now, a 2018 Idaho Republican gubernatorial candidate has been named as a person of interest in the case.
68 year-old Steve Pankey who now resides in Twin Falls, Idaho once lived two miles from Jonelle Matthews. In 1984, Pankey was a 33 year-old married man.
When Matthews disappeared, Pankey claimed to be home with his then wife. They left town the next day and returned on December 26, 6 days after Jonelle disappeared.
Pankey told reporters he was no stranger to law enforcement in Colorado in 1984, having been charged with—in his words—a "date rape" thing in 1977 when he was 26 and the girl was a minor. Prosecutors later dropped the charges—a common occurrence in 1977.
Pankey went on to be charged with what he characterized as little misdemeanors like "battery and harassment by phone" but was never convicted on any of the charges. Another common occurrence in criminal justice regarding crimes against women in the 1970s and 80s.
1984 Greeley cold case given new life youtu.be
Pankey repeated claims he wanted to speak to investigators, but when Greeley Colorado detectives traveled to his home in Twin Falls, Idaho, Pankey refused to speak to them. However with the cooperation of the Twin Falls police department, they were able to obtain a search warrant for Pankey's home.
Pankey also claimed he gave police his DNA, however the Greeley Police Department stated they have never requested his DNA.
In an official statement, Greeley Police Department said:
"Steve Pankey has made repeated efforts to speak with detectives throughout this investigation. Greeley detectives went to Twin Falls, Idaho on August 15 efforting a conversation."
"During the interaction Pankey refused to speak with detectives for reasons unknown. Greeley detectives worked with the Twin Falls Sheriff's Office and obtained a warrant to search Pankey's residence which was executed on September 4 with the assistance of the Twin Falls Sheriff's Office and the Twin Falls Police Department."
"At no point in time was a request made by law enforcement to obtain Steve Pankey's DNA. Pankey remains a person of interest in the murder investigation of Jonelle Matthews."
According to the Idaho Statesman, Pankey was charged in Colorado with as many as 20 "arbitrary" misdemeanors from the time he moved there in 1973 until he moved away in the 1980s. Six cases were dismissed and two others went to trial.
Pankey claims to have won every case that went to trial, but the age of the crimes and the misdemeanor status means little remains in court records to corroborate Pankey's version of events.
FOX31 of Weld County, Colorado where Jonelle Matthews remains were found confirmed eight of the cases in Weld County court records.
People questioned why Pankey was so eager to have the media cover the story.
It appeared Pankey contacted as many news outlets as he could. Police did not release any information until contacted by the media.
Hopefully for Jonelle Matthews family, in addition to the closure they got when Jonelle was finally found after nearly 35 years, they can get some answers about what happened to her.
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