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Former Gubernatorial Candidate in Idaho Arrested for 1984 Murder of 12-Year-Old Girl

Former Gubernatorial Candidate in Idaho Arrested for 1984 Murder of 12-Year-Old Girl

Steve Pankey, two-times former Idaho gubernatorial candidate, was arrested in his home on Monday and charged for the murder and kidnapping of a 12-year-old girl, Jonelle Matthews. The girl was kidnapped in her home in Weld County, Colorado, on December 20, 1984, when she was last seen. The remains of Matthews were discovered in an oil and gas site in July 2019.

A district attorney in Weld County, Michael Rourke, stated during a news conference on Tuesday that the arrest is coming 36 years after the crime was committed. He said the officers of the Meridian Police Department arrested Pankey on Monday and he is being held in Ada County Jail, awaiting extradition to Colorado.

“This arrest should have been made 36 years ago,” Greeley Chief of Police, Mark Jone, told news reporters on Tuesday. “It’s been thirty years since Jonelle Matthews disappeared leaving so many questions we had no answers to. The arrest has provided answers to some of our questions.”

Rourke stated that a grand jury in Colorado indicted Pankey for shooting Matthews and forcefully taking her from her home. Pankey had shot Matthews on her forehead while trying to kidnap her, Rourke revealed. Matthews had died from the gunshot wounds to her head. Rourke said that Pankey had been a person of interest in the case since 2018 before the remains were found. Pankey had stated during an interview last year that he was being investigated in the murder of the girl.

He denied knowing anything about Jonelle or having any knowledge of her disappearance until December 26, 1984, six days after she was believed to have disappeared. He told reporters last week that the police department in Colorado is only trying to frame him for a crime he knew nothing about. News of Jonelle’s disappearance was published in national newspapers when President Ronald Reagan initiated the “mission of mercy” program.

Anthony Viorst, Pankey’s attorney, announced that the indictment took 36 years because of a lack of evidence. He added that his client will be acquitted of all charges against him. “I anticipate he will be exonerated of all charges,” he said.

Pankey told investigators in Idaho last year that he was at home with his family on the night Jonelle disappeared. He stated that the family was preparing to visit a relative in California for Christmas. His now ex-wife however stated that the unexpected journey to California happened two days after Jonelle disappeared and that Pankey had been very interested in the disappearance.

He had listened to news reports of her disappearance during the journey and had asked her to read newspaper reports of Jonelle’s disappearance to him.

The indictment also states that after the trip, Pankey had “dug their yard”. Also, a car on the property had burnt and had been taken to a salvage yard. Pankey and his family lived about two miles always from Matthews’s home and he had attended the same church with them in 1978.  The indictment also reports that Pankey’s ex-wife had said at the funeral of their son who had been killed, that “I hope God didn’t allow this to happen because of Jonelle Matthews.”


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