Idaho man charged in murder of Colorado girl who disappeared 36 years ago

Last year, an excavation crew working on a pipeline uncovered the girl's remains at a remote oil and gas site in Weld County, police said.

Police tape. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Police tape.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
DENVER - A former two-time candidate for governor of Idaho has been charged with the abduction and murder of a Colorado girl who vanished in 1984 and whose remains were found last year, authorities said on Tuesday.

Steven Pankey, 69, was indicted by a grand jury on first-degree murder and kidnapping charges in the slaying of 12-year-old Jonelle Matthews, Weld County, Colorado District Attorney Michael Rourke said at a news conference.

"He (Pankey) is currently being held without bond at the Ada County (Idaho) jail where he will await extradition back to Colorado to face these charges," Rourke said.

Pankey's lawyer was not immediately available for comment.

Matthews vanished in December 1984 after she was dropped off at her home in Greeley, Colorado, about 50 miles north of Denver, after singing at a Christmas concert.

Pankey lived in Greeley at the time Matthews disappeared and watched the girl and other children walk home from a nearby school, according to the indictment.

Pankey abducted Matthews from her home and shot her "during the course of the kidnapping," the indictment said.

Last year, an excavation crew working on a pipeline uncovered the girl's remains at a remote oil and gas site in Weld County, police said.

Pankey's name surfaced as a person of interest in the cold case because he "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," including evidence that had not been publicly disclosed, the indictment said.

The Idaho Statesman newspaper reported that Pankey twice unsuccessfully ran for the governor of Idaho. In 2014, he ran on the Constitution Party ticket, and in 2018 he was a candidate in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Pankey faces a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole.