A former candidate for governor in Idaho has been arrested and charged with first-degree murder in connection with the kidnapping and slaying of 12-year-old Jonelle Matthews of Greeley in 1984. 

Steve D. Pankey, 69, was arrested at his home in the 6000 block of Borgnine Lane in Meridian, Idaho, shortly after 9:30 a.m. Monday, Stephany Galbreaith, the public information officer for the Meridian Police Department told The Denver Gazette.

Pankey has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder, second-degree kidnapping and two counts of crime of violence, and is being held with no bond in Ada County jail in Idaho, according to the indictment. 

"Today's press conference is 36-years in the making, 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," Greeley Police Chief Mark Jones said Monday on the steps of the Weld County Courthouse in Greeley. "With the arrest of Steve Pankey for the murder of Jonelle Matthews, some of these questions are starting to be answered.'

On Dec. 20, 1984, a family friend took Jonelle to her home at 320 43rd Ave. Court and left her there alone, according to court documents. Jim Matthews, Jonelle's father, arrived later that evening and filed a missing persons report after his daughter couldn't be found. 

In July 2019, an oil worker found Jonelle's remains 10 miles north of what had been the Pankey's home at the time of the crime. 

Pankey is awaiting extradition to Colorado. 

He did not immediately return phone or email messages Tuesday from The Associated Press, but last week told the Times-News in Twin Falls, Idaho, he was being framed in the case. Jonelle had once been a neighbor, but he said he had few other connections to her family. 

Pankey and the Matthews family were both parishioners at Sunny View Church of the Nazarene in Greeley until June of 1978, according to the indictment. 

Authorities now believe Pankey forced Jonelle from her home at gunpoint and killed her by shooting her in the forehead, the document shows. 

In 2008, while attending the funeral of his murdered son, Pankey's ex-wife, Angela Hicks, heard Pankey say "I hope God didn't allow this to happen because of Jonelle Matthews," according to the indictment.

Information on Pankey's candidate website shows he graduated from Aims Community College in Greeley with a minor in criminal justice. The site notes "Steve's criminal justice studies included the study of people who acted without a conscience. Could the news media be a study in people who act without a conscience?" 

The case came to the attention of then-President Ronald Reagan as his administration launched a national effort to find missing children. Jonelle's picture was printed on milk cartons across the U.S. as part of a project by the National Child Safety Council.

In 2014, Pankey was a Constitution Party candidate for governor in Idaho with "traditional core values with biblical and constitutional perspective," according to his campaign site. He received 5,219 or 1.2 percent of the total votes in the 2014 gubernatorial election, according to ballotpedia. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Load comments