Wednesday, 21 Oct 2020

Jonelle Matthews case: DA to make “major announcement” in 1984 disappearance and death

Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke said he will make a “major announcement” at 3 p.m. Tuesday in the 1984 cold-case disappearance and death of 12-year-old Jonelle Matthews.

The girl disappeared in 1984 in a case that captivated the region, drew national attention and baffled investigators for more than three decades.

On July 24, 2019, her remains were found in a rural field in Weld County. The following month, authorities announced a grand jury would investigate her death.

Jonelle was dropped off at her Greeley home on Dec. 20, 1984 after singing Christmas carols at a nursing home. She went inside, took off her shoes, turned on the TV and flipped on a space heater.  She answered the phone and took a message for her father, scrawling a note.

And then she was gone.

The now 35-year-long investigation into Jonelle’s disappearance began at about 9:30 p.m. that night, when her father came home to find the house lights on and the TV on — but Jonelle gone. He called police right away.

Over the years, the case took many turns. Immediately, authorities found footprints around the house. The friend and her father who dropped Jonelle off at her home that night told police they’d noticed the garage door had been open.

Thousands of missing person posters were printed, a $5,000 reward was offered. More than 600 volunteers searched 4,000 square miles in Weld County. In March of 1985, President Ronald Reagan mentioned the case during a speech about missing children.

Ten years after Jonelle disappeared, her family had her declared legally dead. In 1997, the girl’s birth mother — Jonelle had been adopted at one month old — contacted Jonelle’s parents and asked about reconnecting with the girl, unaware she’d been missing for 15 years.

In September 2019, a former candidate for Idaho governor said he was under investigation in the 12-year-old’s killing. Steve Pankey claimed he was shocked when authorities searched his home, and said he cooperated with them, giving his DNA and a polygraph test.

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