Pankey, 69, of Meridian, Idaho, was indicted this month on kidnapping and murder charges. He was arrested Monday and awaits extradition to Weld County to face the charges. The Greeley Tribune reviewed records on Pankey, as well as public statements he’s made, to find out more about his background, his time living in Weld County and any connections to Jonelle’s disappearance the night of Dec. 20, 1984. The Tribune tried contacting Pankey in February as a person of interest before his arrest, but Pankey refused, saying, “I don’t think your paper is very fair to me.”
Pankey was born 1951 in Ventura, California, a coastal city northwest of Los Angeles. According to Pankey’s campaign website for Idaho governor — a seat he sought in 2014 and 2018 — his father was a Youth for Christ leader. A 1993 self-published fictional book by Pankey called, “Graveyards: The Untold Story,” contains many autobiographical elements, using real names of Greeley residents Pankey knew. The character who seems to represent Pankey’s father is depicted as dedicated to his work, giving little attention to his children. Pankey wrote on his campaign website that his father taught traditional 1950s “Christian Liberty minded core values.”
In a 51-minute interview with KTVB, an NBC-affiliated station out of Boise, Idaho, Pankey said his family has a long history of “homosexuals and hellfire/brimstone Baptists.” He said his uncle was killed in 1946 while in police custody on suspicion of a consensual homosexual act.
Pankey graduated from La Puente Alternative High School, according to his campaign website. On Jan. 14, 1975, he enlisted with the U.S. Army in Denver, according to military records obtained by the Tribune. He was discharged exactly one year later in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. After his discharge, Pankey told KTVB, he “left the gay lifestyle” and “repented for that,” suggesting his discharge might have been related to homosexual activity.
Pankey in 1976 found employment as a security guard at the Northern Colorado Detective Agency, 1427 9th St., in Greeley. A 15-year-old student and a 16-year-old student at John Evans told police Pankey maced them at the tunnel after they refused to show him their hands. Pankey countered that it was self defense.
On his campaign website, Pankey said he graduated from Aims Community College with a minor in criminal justice. Asked by the Tribune to confirm and provide a timeline of Pankey’s studies, the college has yet to provide an answer.
Pankey appeared to have financial issues through the years he stayed in Greeley. A trailer park owner filed action against Pankey for debts and in November 1976 reported that Pankey was calling him repeatedly and saying nothing or making threats, including, “Before you get me in court, I’ll take care of you.”
By December 1976, Pankey was working as a car salesman for Edwards Chevrolet, 1310 8th Ave., according to Tribune ads from that time. Pankey told KTVB he became a youth pastor in 1977 at Sunny View Church of the Nazarene, then located at 4100 20th St., in Greeley — a claim the church has disputed — and that he started dating a fellow church member three years his junior. Tribune archives show Pankey played the tax collector in a production put on by the church. The woman he started dating was billed as singing a special part. That woman had an abortion after Pankey impregnated her, he told KTVB, and he told her he was going to tell the church.
The woman accused Pankey of raping her on Sept. 24, 1977, filing a report two days later, according to court records. Pankey names the woman in his 1993 book, in which he depicts her as “extremely knowledgeable about sex.” The character also makes a false rape accusation and gets an abortion. The woman had the case dropped in November, after which Pankey filed a lawsuit against her.
Pankey told KTVB he stopped going to the church after the rape accusation, but police records show he reported an assault May 24, 1978, at the church. He listed his employment at the time as Warren Trucking. A member of the congregation told police Pankey disrupted choir practice even though he was no longer a member of the choir, though he was still a member of the church, according to records. The indictment states Pankey continued attending the church until about June of 1978. About that time, the Matthews family moved to Greeley from California and started to attend the church.
“Shortly after the date rape charge, I was given privileged informed (sic) regarding disturbing intentions relating to Sunny View Church of The Nazarene members. I left the church,” Pankey wrote in a public letter in 2019. “In 1978, church members became Jonelle Matthews (sic) trusted adults.”
In “Graveyards,” Pankey depicts the August 1977 murder of Mary Pierce, calling her “Mary Arrow,” but also once referring to her as “Mary Pierce-Arrow.” In the book, the kidnapping and murder of Pierce was set up by the Rev. James T. Christy, the same name as the real pastor of the Sunny View Church of the Nazarene, which is also named in the book. In the book, Christy heads a secret society called the “Inner Circle,” which the main character joins and later exposes. Pankey also describes the church in one public statement as a “(now defunct) White Nationalist cult.”
In December 1978, Pankey was employed by 7 Up Bottling Company for delivery and repairs. Pankey accused then-Greeley Police Officer, now-Greeley mayor John Gates of trying to get Pankey fired from 7 Up in 1979, when Pankey’s wife was pregnant with their first child. Pankey said Gates told management that Pankey had a “homosexual history” and that he’d been accused of date rape. Gates’ father owned the building the 7 Up was located in, according to a statement by Pankey.
Pankey joined the union and was accused of organizing to get others to join. He accused area manager, later sales manager, Russ Ross of retaliating by cutting Pankey’s routes and mistreating him. Pankey filed a lawsuit with the National Labor Relations Board in June 1980. He won the case in the summer of 1981. It would not be the last time Pankey had a run-in with Ross, according to records. In a public letter from 2019, Pankey describes Ross as having been “Steve Pankey’s abusive supervisor.”
“Gates and Ross had an ongoing thing for Pankey,” he wrote.
In 1982, Pankey was cited after a verbal disagreement with two people at the front doors of a Kmart at 2829 10th St. Ross is listed as a witness in the case, in which Pankey was ordered to pay Kmart about $15 restitution.
Two years later, Pankey exchanged several harassment complaints with family members due to a dispute over the ownership of Pankey’s home.
“For a year now S Pankey has been harassing me,” Pankey’s aunt wrote in a report. “He is my nephew and gained control on some property I released. He wanted the tenants of this property removed at that time and became unhappy they were not immediately removed. Since then S Pankey has followed me to the bank, to the post office, etc. On one day I received 58 phone calls from him.”
Family accused him in April 1984 of making repeated phone calls. In a report for that complaint, Mountain Bell Security showed there were three calls made from the Weld Mental Health Center, 1306 11th Ave. In a statement connected to the dispute, a woman wrote her parents let Pankey live with them. She said in the statement Pankey tried raping her when she was a teen and that Pankey had stayed at a mental hospital in the past. A portion of Pankey’s self-published book is set in a psychiatric ward.
Jim and Gloria Matthews were living in Camarillo, California, about an hour north of Los Angeles, when they decided to try adopting. In March 1972, they adopted Jonelle just six weeks after her birth. After Jim Matthews taught for three years in Beirut, the family returned to California. In 1978, Jim took a job at Dayspring Christian Academy in Greeley, where the family moved and started attending Sunny View Church of the Nazarene.
In December 1984, Jonelle was a 12-year-old seventh grader at Franklin Middle School. She sang in the choir in school and at church. Pankey watched students walk home from Franklin Middle School, according to the grand jury’s indictment. The indictment doesn’t offer any further details about when Pankey was observing students or how law enforcement came to learn this.
On Sunday, Dec. 16, a news brief was published in the Tribune advertising a concert by the Franklin Middle School choir and strings from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Monday at the school gymnasium. It’s not clear whether Jonelle sang at the Monday concert, but she did sing at a Franklin honor choir performance Thursday night at IntraWest Bank, 1025 9th Ave., in Greeley. The performance was broadcasted live by Cablevision.
The day before the concert, financial issues appeared to cause trouble for Pankey. He was arrested Wednesday, Dec. 19, 1984, at Norbel Credit Union, 1220 9th Ave., on suspicion of harassment and trespassing. Pankey refused to leave unless he got “his money,” according to records, but the teller would not release it for financial reasons. The manager asked Pankey if he was going to pay $1,200 in back payments owed to the bank, according to records. Records show Pankey was repeatedly warned to leave the teller alone, but he continued to approach until he was arrested.
The Matthews family met about 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 20, 1984. After the meeting, Gloria, Jonelle’s mom, headed for a flight to Los Angeles to surprise her parents for Christmas. Jennifer, her 16-year-old sister, left for Greeley Central High School, where she was playing a basketball game that night. Jim and Jonelle grabbed a quick burger dinner at McDonald’s before the concert. After dropping Jonelle off for the choir concert, Jim went to the Greeley Central basketball game.
After the concert, Ross, who was a family friend, dropped Jonelle off about 8:15 p.m. at her home at 320 43rd Avenue Court, before taking home his own daughter, who was a friend of Jonelle’s. He was the last to report seeing Jonelle alive. Pankey stated in a public letter that Ross was a member of the Sunny View Church of the Nazarene and that Ross had “special, specific knowledge that Jonelle was to be home alone for a specific period of time.”
Jim returned home after the game about 9:30 p.m. He found Jonelle’s shoes and favorite pillow on the floor next to a quartz heater. After Jennifer returned home about 10 p.m. and said she didn’t know where Jonelle was, Jim called his pastor, Christy. Christy told Jim to call the police, who arrived about 15-20 minutes later.
According to the indictment, Pankey took Jonelle from her home before Jim arrived. He was armed with a firearm and shot her during the course of the kidnapping, the indictment states. The unredacted autopsy report shows Jonelle died of a single gunshot wound to the head.
After the murder
Pankey, who lived at 6086 10th St., about two miles from the Matthews’ home, has stated he didn’t know about Jonelle’s disappearance until Dec. 26 of that year. He said his family was at Big Bear Lake from Dec. 21-26. Angela Hicks, then Pankey’s wife, described the trip as beginning Dec. 22 and said it was “unexpected,” according to the indictment. She also said Pankey “dumped” the family dogs prior to the trip. He was “uncharacteristically” listening to the radio on the drive home, searching for news of Jonelle’s disappearance. When they arrived home on Dec. 26, according to Hicks, Pankey immediately began digging in their yard. A car on their property about two days later burst into flames. Pankey then disposed of it at a local salvage yard, according to the indictment.
The indictment also states Pankey sent law enforcement in 2013 an “alibi” document detailing plans for the trip that contained false statements and superfluous details.
Pankey has stated his father-in-law on Dec. 27 made a comment about a cop who told Pankey’s father-in-law that he needed a body to be buried. Pankey said he met with a special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in January 1985 because the comment disturbed him.
Pankey in one public letter provided a theory of what happened, suggesting Jonelle might have been injured while with a trusted adult and died on the way to the emergency room. The adult or adults then contacted a cop friend, Pankey theorized, starting an unethical plan to conceal what happened.
“For 35 years, the Jonelle Matthews case has never been about Jonelle Matthews, it’s been about white Greeley cops covering for the bad act of a white cop,” Pankey wrote.
The indictment, however, lists a number of incriminating statements Pankey has made in the years since Jonelle’s disappearance, including:
- Demonstrating familiarity with Jonelle’s neighborhood in an interview in March 1985, when Pankey stated two police officers lived in the same block as Jonelle.
- Discussing a crucial piece of evidence previously withheld from the public: a rake was used to hide shoe impressions in the snow.
- Arguing if the Idaho Supreme 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,” in a 1999 pleading.
- Writing, “Without a deal, this case will never be solved.”
- Repeatedly demanding immunity in exchange for information he claimed to have about Jonelle’s murder.
- Asserting in an April 2003 pleading, “The family should be informed that Jennell (sic) died before crossing 10 st. (sic), and not to give the family hope.”
- In an Aug. 15, 2013, letter, he stated, “About a week after the fact I realized a blanket, or comforter, or quilt, also disappeared from the Matthews house. … Some experiences are hard to forget. But I must realize justice isn’t always served and move on.”
The indictment also notes a couple of incriminating statements Hicks reported:
- During an early 1985 church service, Pankey began muttering, “False prophet,” when the minister announced Jonelle would be found safe and returned home.
- In 1999, Pankey told Hicks, “You don’t think I could have hurt her, do you? She looked just like you.”
- In 2008, at Pankey’s murdered son’s funeral, Pankey said, “I hope God didn’t allow this to happen because of Jonelle Matthews.”
Jonelle’s remains were found in July 2019 buried on remote land east of Greeley, about one quarter of a mile northwest of Weld County roads 34.5 and 49. The indictment notes Pankey lived about 10 miles north of the burial site in 1980, at 27965 Weld County Road 47.5.
In September 2019, police executed a search warrant on Pankey’s home in Twin Falls, Idaho. Pankey had repeatedly searched for information about Jonelle on the internet, and tried deleting all evidence of the searches after Greeley detectives contacted him earlier that year, according to the indictment.
According to online Idaho court records, Deputy Public Defender Erin Johnelle Heuring is representing Pankey in his extradition hearing. A review hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Friday, Oct. 23.