By Rick Sallinger

GREELEY, Colo. (CBS4) — A $5 million bond has been set for an Idaho man charged in a nearly four-decades-old case that gripped Colorado. It involved the disappearance of a young girl from her home.

Jonelle Matthews (credit: CBS)

Wearing a mask, suspect Steve Pankey who is charged with kidnapping and murder, walked into the courtroom on Friday showing no emotion. Prosecutors quickly reminded the judge what happened 36 years ago this month.

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It was Dec. 20, 1984 when 12-year-old Jonelle Matthews sang in a concert and was dropped at home by a friend and the friend’s father. She was last seen at 8 p.m., entering the ranch-style home where she lived with her father, Jim; mother, Gloria; and sister. But when her father returned from her sister’s basketball game an hour later, Jonelle was gone.

Pankey lived nearby and attended her church. Prosecutor Robb Miller said Pankey inserted himself into the case over a period of years.

Steve Pankey (credit: CBS)

“He went into the Greeley Police Department, told them he was an ordained Baptist Minister and said he had information from one of his parishioners about the murder,” said Miller.

He said Pankey was not a minister and tried to implicate one.

The search for Jonelle was relentless. Rewards failed to turn up clues. Jonelle was considered missing until workers digging a pipeline in July 2019 discovered human remains matching her dental records in a rural area southeast of Greeley, a city about 50 miles north of Denver. Police then labeled her death a homicide. The investigation zeroed in on Pankey.

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Miller told the court, “This defendant knew of a crucial piece of evidence known only to law enforcement.”

He did not reveal that evidence in the courtroom.

But the defense countered that Pankey was merely obsessed with the case.

(credit: CBS)

“This is about more than Jonelle Matthews’ murder. That’s what they charged Mr. Pankey with, but ultimately what they charged Mr. Pankey with is being an irascible, prickly guy.”

Members of Jonelle Matthews’ family watched and listened to the hearing remotely.

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The judge ordered Pankey held on $5 million bond. He is due back in court Dec. 30.

Rick Sallinger