A former Idaho government Republican candidate is reportedly under investigation in connection with the death of a 12-year-old Colorado girl.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, Jonelle Matthews disappeared on December 20, 1984, after attending a Christmas concert at Franklin Middle School in Greely, Colorado. A friend and her father dropped Jonelle off at home after the concert and watched her until she walked inside.
Jonelle’s father and sister were at a basketball game when she arrived home, and her mother was at out of town. When the family came home, Jonelle was missing. The shoes she wore at the concert were left behind.
At the time Jonelle’s disappearance, Steve Pankey, who ran for Idaho governor for the Constitution Party in 2014, then ran again in the 2018 Republican primary, lived around two miles away from the girl.
In July 2019, 34 years after her disappearance, a construction crew found human remains at an oil construction site over 20 miles away from Jonelle’s home. Officials later confirmed the remains were positively identified as Jonelle’s.
According to the Idaho Statesman, Pankey, who was also a youth minister at Sunny View Church of the Nazarene in Greeley, claimed that he’s on police radar because of previous run-ins with the law.
In 1977, Pankey was accused of “date-rape” by a 23-year-old woman. He was prosecuted but the charges were later dropped. Pankey claimed the sex was consensual.
“Once you’re accused of something like date rape, you’re forever stigmatized,” Pankey told the outlet.
Pankey said on the night Jonelle disappeared, he was at home with his former wife. The couple reportedly left for an out of town function the following morning, and when he returned home on December 26, he learned that Jonell had vanished.
“I never met Jonelle, I never met her family, I didn’t know she existed or disappeared until Wednesday, December 26 ,” Pankey told the outlet.
On August 15 of this year, FBI agents found Pankey at his new home in Twin Falls, Idaho. Pankey claimed that authorities asked him to take a DNA test and he complied.
Authorities later obtained a search warrant for Pankey’s home. According to the warrant, investigators wrote that they had probable cause to think that Pankey kidnapped and murdered Jolene.
Pankey told the outlet that he thought authorities would leave him alone after the supposed DNA test. He decided to talk openly about the case after detectives continued to investigate him.
“I’m trying to be transparent,” Pankey reportedly said.
The search warrant indicates that authorities seized Pankey’s electronics, including his computer and all accessories, along with his cellphone. Investigators are specifically looking for emails, diaries, journals and memoirs that could possibly provide details on what happened to Jonelle.
FOX 31 reports that detectives started investigating Pankey before Jonelle’s remains were found. Detectives previously visited Pankey’s former in Greely and asked the current owner about the septic tank before digging up three areas in the home’s front yard.
Greely police reportedly said that although Pankey previously cooperated with law enforcement, when they arrived at his Twin Falls home, he became uncooperative. Greely authorities also said that Pankey has never been asked to submit a DNA sample by law enforcement.
“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,” Greeley authorities said.
“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.”
So far, no arrests have been made in the case. Check back for further details.
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[Feature Photo: Jonelle Matthews/Handout]