In August, the Weld County District Attorney's Office revealed that a grand jury "has accepted the investigation into the death of Jonelle Matthews," a twelve-year-old who vanished from her Greeley home in late 1984 — although her remains weren't found in a rural Weld County field until 2019.
Attention immediately turned to Steven Pankey, who had been named a person of interest in the case by the Greeley Police Department. Pankey was a resident of Idaho, and a prominent one, having twice run for governor of that state, in 2014 and 2018.
Now, the 69-year-old Pankey has been formally indicted on five counts related to Matthews's death: murder in the first degree after deliberation, murder in the first degree/felony murder, second-degree kidnapping, and two crime of violence charges.
Marijuana Deals Near You
The indictment takes the unusual step of listing the 26 reasons that the grand jury came up with those indictments. Some of the items are accusations, while others offer circumstantial evidence — but those circumstances are jaw-slackening. They include excerpts from unrelated court documents in which Pankey argued that if the court didn't rule in his favor, "he would get the death penalty for revealing the location of Jonelle Matthews's body," and details provided by his former wife, Angela Hicks, about an unexpected trip immediately after the girl vanished, plus the dumping of the family's dogs, an unexplained excavation in their back yard, and a vehicle that inexplicably burst into flames.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation cold-case page on Matthews offers heart-rending details about the girl, noting that she stood five-foot-two and had a scar on her chin, pierced ears and braces. Its summary of her disappearance: "On the evening of December 20, 1984, twelve-year-old Jonelle Matthews was dropped off at her parents' home by her friend's family at approximately 8:30 p.m. When her parents returned home later that night, they discovered that Jonelle was missing. She was last seen wearing a red blouse, dark gray sweater vest, charcoal gray skirt, light blue ski jacket, and house slippers."
The page also includes a photo of what Matthews would have looked like had she grown to be an adult — but she never got the chance. On July 24, 2019, pipeline workers stumbled upon her remains, and that September, Greeley police revealed that they were actively investigating Pankey, who lived two miles from the Matthews home at the time of her disappearance; he later relocated to Twin Falls, Idaho.
While Pankey reportedly gave the cold shoulder to Greeley cops who'd traveled to Idaho to speak with him, he was considerably more talkative with select members of the news media. In the weeks after his name was publicly linked to the Matthews case, Pankey gave an extensive interview to the Colorado Sun in which he denied any wrongdoing but claimed intersections with several of those in the girl's orbit. Pankey told the Sun that he had been a youth pastor at a church her family attended, and added that he'd later been accused of raping the piano player there. He also insisted that Russ Ross, the man who'd taken Matthews home on the night Matthews disappeared, "assaulted him in the 1970s over Pankey's attempt to start a union at the 7UP bottling company where they worked."
Pankey was even more loquacious during a sit-down with Idaho television station KTVB, which posted nearly an hour's worth of unedited conversational footage:
Back in August, the Weld County DA's office wouldn't say if Pankey was the target of the grand jury inquiry. A spokesperson noted that no further information about the grand jury's work could be offered "due to this being an open investigation and because of Colorado grand jury secrecy laws."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Now, suspicions have been confirmed. Pankey is currently in custody at the Ada County Jail in Idaho, presumably awaiting extradition to Colorado; no court date has yet been set.
Here's the 26-item list of accusations against Pankey from the indictment:
1. Steven Dana Pankey took Jonelle Matthews from her family home, 320 43rd Avenue Court, without her consent and against her will on December 20, 1984 between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
2. Steven Dana Pankey was armed with a firearm.
3. Steven Dana Pankey shot Jonelle Matthews during the course of the kidnapping.
4. Steven Dana Pankey shot Jonelle Matthews intentionally and after deliberation.
5. Steven Dana Pankey watched school children walk home from Franklin Middle School where Jonelle Matthews went to school.
6. Steven Dana Pankey demonstrated intimate familiarity with the neighborhood where Jonelle Matthews lived when he stated that two police officers lived in the same block as Jonelle Matthews during an interview in March of 1985.
7. Steven Dana Pankey attended the Sunny View Church of the Nazarene until approximately June of 1978. The Matthews family joined this church in the summer of 1978.
8. Steven Dana Pankey knew of, and discussed, a crucial piece of evidence from the Matthews house withheld from the public by law enforcement; specifically, a rake was used to obliterate shoe impressions in the snow.
9. Upon completion of an autopsy by a forensic pathologist, Jonelle Matthews's cause of death was determined to be a gunshot wound to the head and the manner of death was homicide.
10. Steven Dana Pankey owned a firearm in 1984.
11. Steven Dana 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.
12. Steven Dana Pankey filed pleadings in many cases, both civil and criminal, that contained both direct and veiled statements about Jonelle Matthews.
13. In a 1999 pleading filed with the Idaho Supreme Court, Steven Dana Pankey argued if the Court ruled in a certain fashion, "it is reasonable for the appellant to believe he would get the death penalty for revealing the location of Jonelle Matthews' body."
14. Steven Dana Pankey wrote, "without a deal, this case will never be solved."
15. Steven Dana Pankey repeatedly demanded immunity in exchange for information he claimed to possess about the murder of Jonelle Matthews.
16. Steven Dana Pankey asserted in an April 2003 pro-se court pleading, "the family should be informed that Jennell (sic) died before crossing 10th st. (sic), and not to give the family hope."
17. Steven Dana Pankey stated in a letter dated August 15, 2013, "about a week after the face I realized a blanket, or comforter, or quit, also disappeared from the Matthews house.... Some experiences are hard to forget. But I must realize justice isn't always served and move on."
18. Steven Dana Pankey sent an "alibi" document to law enforcement in 2013. The letter detailed plans for a family trip to California commencing on December 21, 1984, the morning after Jonelle Matthews went missing. The document contained false statements and superfluous details.
19. Angela Hicks described the family trip commencing two days after Jonelle Matthews' disappearance (December 22, 1984) as unexpected. She described that Steven Dana Pankey "dumped" their family dogs prior to this trip and they were never seen again. On the drive home she stated he uncharacteristically listened to the radio, searching for news accounts of Jonelle's disappearance. Upon arriving back in Greeley Steven Dana Pankey forced her to read the newspaper accounts about Jonelle to him. Angela Hicks stated when they finally arrived home on December 26, 29184 he immediately began digging in their yard, and approximately two days later a car on their property burst into flames, which Steven Dana Pankey then disposed of at a local salvage yard.
20. During a church service in early 1985, Steven Dana Pankey began muttering "false prophet" when the minister announced Jonelle Matthews would be found safe and returned home according to his then wife, Angela Hicks. He grew increasingly agitated and had to be removed from the church by parishioners.
21. In 2008 Angela Hicks heard Steven Dana Pankey say at his murdered son's funeral, "I hope God didn't allow this to happen because of Jonelle Matthews."
22. Steven Dana Pankey told Angela Hicks in 1999 that the Sun Valley Police refuse to believe he has information related to Jonelle's disappearance and they refuse to give him immunity in exchange for that evidence. Noticing Angela's confused expression Pankey remarked, "You don't think I could have hurt her, do you? She looked just like you."
23. Steven Dana Pankey repeatedly searched for information about Jonelle Matthews on the internet.
24. Subsequent to contact by Greeley Police detectives in 2019, Steven Dana Pankey attempted to delete all evidence of these searches from his electronic devices.
25. Steven Dana Pankey lived approximately two miles from Jonelle Matthews on December 20, 1984.
26. Steven Dana Pankey lived at 27965 Weld County Road 47.5 in 1980, approximately 10 miles due north of the recovery of Jonelle Matthews' body.
Click to read the Steven Pankey indictment.