A former gubernatorial candidate in Idaho said he is under investigation for the murder of a 12-year-old girl in Colorado, the Idaho Statesman reported.
Authorities served Steve Pankey, 68, with a warrant last week, saying they had probable cause to believe that he kidnapped and killed Jonelle Matthews in 1984. Pankey ran for governor in 2014 under the Constitution Party and again in 2018 in the Republican primary.
Matthews was reported missing from her Greeley, Colo., home in December 1984, the Denver Post reported. Pankey and his then-wife lived about two miles away from her house. He now lives in Twin Falls, Idaho.
Matthews's body was found on July 23, 2019, by a construction crew in Weld County, Colorado. Police later announced that the case was now a homicide investigation, according to the Idaho Statesman.
Authorities served the warrant and a SWAT team searched his home and car about a month after he provided police a DNA sample, Pankey told the newspaper. Police in Twin Falls, Idaho, confirmed to the Idaho Statesman that they searched Pankey's home.
No criminal charges have been filed against him, but Pankey said he decided to describe the events to the newspaper in case he is arrested.
Pankey said he was charged with sexual assault after a 1977 accusation, but the charge was later dismissed by prosecutors. He said that incident led to a fraught relationship with law enforcement, and he alleged that he has been charged over the years with as many as 20 “arbitrary” misdemeanors.
After the sexual assault charge, Pankey stepped down from his position as a youth minister. He said he attended a church with people who knew the Matthews family, but contends that he did not know any of the family members.
Pankey said he was at home with his then-wife when Matthews went missing, shortly before they went to California over the Christmas holiday. He said he didn't hear about her disappearance until after he returned home.
He said he met with an FBI agent at the Greeley police station after hearing about Matthews’s death because his father-in-law, who worked for a cemetery, said someone asked about getting rid of a body, the Idaho Statesman reported. Pankey left Greeley in 1987 and has not returned to Colorado.
“I never met Jonelle, I never met her family, I didn’t know she existed or disappeared until Wednesday, Dec. 26 ,” Pankey told the Idaho Statesman.
The Hill has reached out to the Twin Falls Police Department for comment.