GREELEY, Colo. (CBS4) – Steve Pankey has been arrested in the 1984 murder of 12-year-old Jonelle Matthews from Greeley. Her remains were found last year. Investigators made the announcement during a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
Investigators in the case had previously identified Pankey, a former candidate for governor of Idaho, as a person of interest in the case.
Pankey is now being held at the Ada County jail in Idaho on a fugitive warrant out of Colorado — and appeared in court Tuesday afternoon.
Greeley Police Chief Mark Jones said Tuesday’s news conference was 36 years in the making.
“For over three decades, the disappearance of Jonelle Matthews has left our community with many unanswered questions,” Chief Jones stated. “Some of these questions are starting to be answered. I trust this new development helps the Matthews family, their friends and our community to receive some closure and healing from this horrific crime.”
“We continue to pursue justice for Jonelle and her family. We have never forgotten Jonelle and we never will,” Jones said.
Read the arrest affidavit here.
In an interview in Dec. 2019, Pankey told CBS4 Reporter Kelly Wertmann that he had nothing to do with her death.
But investigators said Pankey made a number of statements, over the course of time, to courts and to law enforcement, indicating that he had involvement in the crime.
Investigators say Pankey “indicated some very intimate knowledge about the condition of the crime, information that the general public and the media was not privy to.”
“A lot of the statements were made in the 2000s and the 2010 decade,” officials said. “It’s really a matter of these detectives taking all of that information putting it together and really doing the follow up investigation that needed to be done.”
Investigators said they have spoken to the Matthews family several different times.
“The best way to describe their reaction was one of genuine relief and, and just excitement,” investigators said.
Pankey remains in custody without bond.
Matthews was last seen at her home in Greeley on Dec. 20, 1984. Oil field workers found her remains on July 23, 2019 at an oil site in Weld County. In June, CBS4 and the Greeley Tribune filed requests for copies of the autopsy report which was sealed by the Weld County Coroner’s Office. The county opposed the request, arguing it could compromise their investigation. District Court Judge Shannon Lyons approved a partial release and ruled that details that could potentially compromise the ongoing investigation would not be released while the investigation is continuing. The redacted information includes the cause and manner of death. However, the report states states Matthews’ skeletal remains were mixed with “abundant dirt and debris” when they were delivered to examiners. The skull and mandible were “largely intact.” Dental records helped investigators identify the remains as that of Matthews.