Former Idaho governor candidate indicted in 1984 killing of 12-year-old girl


DENVER (NewsNation Now) — A former Idaho gubernatorial candidate has been indicted in the murder of Jonelle Matthews, a 12-year-old girl who went missing in Colorado after a holiday concert in 1984, officials said Tuesday.

Steve Pankey ran as a Constitution Party candidate for governor in 2014 and as a Republican in the 2018 primary. He contacted the Idaho Statesman in September 2019 to tell his side of the story, fearing a possible arrest.

He did not immediately return phone or email messages from The Associated Press on Tuesday. Last week, he told the Times-News in Twin Falls, Idaho, that he was being framed in the case.

Pankey lived near Jonelle’s family when she disappeared, the newspaper reported. His family attended church with hers, but at different times. He said those are the only connections he has to her or her family.

According to the official indictment from Weld County, Pankey kidnapped Jonelle Matthews at gunpoint from her home in Greeley between the hour of 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Dec. 20, 1984. The document says Pankey shot Matthews in the head and used a rake to cover up foot tracks in the snow.

Pankey inserted himself into the investigation and repeatedly claimed he had knowledge of the crime which ended up being inconsistent and incriminating, the document says.

Pankey argued in a 1999 pleading filed with the Idaho Supreme Court, 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.” He also wrote, “without a deal, this case will never be solved.”

The indictment says Pankey submitted an ‘alibi’ document to law enforcement in 2013 claiming he had a family trip planned on Dec. 21, 1984, the day after Matthews went missing.

According to Pankey’s ex-wife, Angela Hicks, the family trip was unexpected on Dec. 22, 1984, when Pankey “dumped” their family dogs before the trip and were never seen again. She claims on the ride home he listened to the radio for news about Matthews. When they got home, he forced her to read him newspaper accounts on the case.

In the indictment, Hicks says on Dec. 26, 1984, when they returned home, Pankey began digging in their backyard. She said a car on their property burst into flames two days later and Pankey disposed of it at a local salvage yard.

In 1985, Pankey muttered “false prophet” under his breath at a church service when the minister mentioned Matthews would be found safe and returned to home, according to Hicks. He became so agitated that parishioners had to remove him from the church, according the indictment.

At his murdered son’s funeral in 2008, Hicks claims she heard Pankey say, “I hope God didn’t allow this to happen because of Jonelle Matthews.”

The indictment says Pankey searched for information about Matthews on the internet and he attempted to delete evidence of his searches after Greeley police contacted him in 2019.

Pankey was arrested in Idaho and arraigned on an extradition charge. During that hearing, he told a judge that he is willing to come to Colorado to face the charges but has not been able to get in contact with his attorney.

NewsNation affiliate KDVR contributed to this report.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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