Former gubernatorial candidate from Idaho charged with kidnapping and murder of 12-year-old girl

35 years ago, Jonelle Matthews disappeared in Greeley, Colorado. On Monday, Steven Pankey, former Idaho governor candidate, was arrested on charges of kidnapping and murder in connection with the case, as stated by District Attorney Michael Rourke.

Court documents said that Pankey was indicted on 9 October by a grand jury. The charges included one count each of first-degree murder and second-degree kidnapping as well as crime of violence charges.

Rourke said that he is being held in Ada County Jail without bond, pending extradition to Colorado. He also stated that there were “no definitive” DNA links between Pankey and the remains of Matthews.

Pankey allegedly lived two miles from Jonelle’s home at the time of the disappearance. He also was reported to live not far from where her body was discovered many years later. He owned a gun at the time she disappeared and it was said that he watched children return home from the school the girl attended.

The indictment stated that Pankey “intentionally inserted himself in the investigation many times over the years claiming to have knowledge of the crime which grew inconsistent and incriminating over time”.

In an interview with the Idaho Statesman in September 2019, Pankey said that he was under investigation for the murder even though he was not acquainted with the victim or her family. He had run for governor the previous year.

The remains of the body were found at a pipeline site in July 2019 by a worker. The cause of death was ruled to be homicide via a gunshot to the head.

Colorado Police Chief Mark Jones stated that the announcement on Tuesday was “36 years in the making”. He added, “For over three decades the disappearance of Jonelle Matthews has left our community with many unanswered questions and a void that has not been filled. With the arrest of Steve Pankey for the murder of Jonelle Matthews, some of these questions are starting to be answered.” He further hoped that it would bring some relief and a sense of closure to her family and the community as a whole.

Jonelle’s sister was believed to have been present in the courtroom during the indictment.

Family friend Russ Baxley said, “It’s closure, it’s the beginning of closure, it’s justice”.