Steve Pankey

Steve Pankey

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BOISE — A former candidate for Idaho governor is a person of interest in the decades-old murder of a 12-year-old girl.

Steve Pankey, who ran as a Constitution Party candidate for governor in 2014 and again as a Republican in the 2018 primary, told the Idaho Statesman this week that he is under investigation in the death of Jonelle Matthews, a Greeley, Colorado, girl who was reported missing on Dec. 20, 1984.

Matthew’s remains were found in July by a crew excavating an area of rural northeast Colorado, according to a press release from the Greeley Police Department.

Throughout the investigation, Pankey, who lives in Twin Falls, Idaho, has made “repeated efforts to speak with detectives,” the press release said.

Greeley Police Lt. Roy Smith told the Idaho Press that officers traveled to Twin Falls last month to speak with Pankey, and when they arrived, he refused to talk with them. Officers executed a Sept. 4 search warrant of Pankey’s residence with the assistance of the Twin Falls Sheriff’s Office and the Twin Falls Police Department, according to the Greeley Police Department release.

While Smith confirmed Pankey is still a “person of interest,” he said Pankey isn’t the only person of interest in the case.

“On a 34-year-old case, unfortunately there’s several persons of interest,” Smith said.

Multiple detectives had handled the case over the years, Smith said, and each had ideas about it.

Smith, however, said he did not believe there was probable cause to arrest Pankey on suspicion of the crimes.

“If we had probable cause, we’d be arresting him,” Smith said.

Additionally, Smith denied Pankey’s claims to media that officers had asked him for a DNA sample, even though he voluntarily provided one.

Pankey told the Idaho Statesman he was talking to the newspaper because he wanted to be transparent. He said he’d given law enforcement his DNA and offered to take a polygraph test, and was shocked when authorities searched his Twin Falls apartment last week.

“At no time did any law enforcement agency — us or Twin Falls — ever ask for a DNA sample,” Smith said.

Neighbors told KTVB that the Greeley Police and the Twin Falls Sheriff’s Office came to the apartment building twice, once in August and again in early September.

Investigators told the other residents that Pankey was a “person of interest” in a 1984 homicide, they said. One woman described police carrying “big brown sacks” of evidence out of Pankey’s unit.

Several people described Pankey, who owns the apartment building where he lives, as friendly and known to wave to his neighbors.

Jonelle was reported missing after returning home from performing a Christmas concert with her classmates. Pankey lived in Greeley about two miles away from her house at the time.

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