Disappearance of Jonelle Matthews

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Jonelle Matthews
Jonelle Renee Matthews

February 9, 1972[1]
DisappearedDecember 20, 1984 (aged 12)
Body discoveredAlong a rural route southeast of Greeley, Colorado
EducationFranklin Middle School
OrganizationMember of Sunny View Church of the Nazarene and Franklin Middle School Choir
Height5 ft 3 in (160 cm)
  • Jim Matthews (father)
  • Gloria Matthews (mother)
RelativesSister Jennifer

Jonelle Matthews was a 12-year-old girl, who disappeared on December 20, 1984.[3] She remained missing for 34 years, until her remains were discovered on July 24, 2019 by workers constructing a new pipeline.[4]


Jonelle was a member of the Franklin Middle School Choir, which performed at IntraWest Bank of Denver[5] in the evening of December 20, 1984.[6][7] Jonelle's father was at his other daughter's basketball game.[7] Jonelle's mother had flown east to be with Jonelle's grandfather, who was ill.[8] At 8:15 PM, Jonelle arrived at her home in Greeley, Colorado, after getting a ride from her friend DeeAnn Ross and DeeAnn's father. Shortly after 8:30 PM, Jonelle answered a phone call and took a message for her father.[7] That phone call was the last time anyone heard from Jonelle.

Her father arrived home at 9:30 PM and found the garage door open, but no one was home, although Jonelle's shoes and a shawl were near a heater in the family room, where Jonelle often sat.[7] Jonelle's sister got home at 10:00 PM, but had not seen her. Their father began to worry, and called police. The police arrived at 10:15 PM. They found footprints in the snow, indicating that someone had been looking in the windows. There were no signs of a struggle or of forced entry. With snow on the ground, her father thought it unlikely that she would go far without shoes.[9]


Jonelle Matthews lived at 320, 43rd Avenue Court in Greeley, Colorado (coordinates 40°25′47″N 104°44′57″W / 40.4298503°N 104.7492455°W / 40.4298503; -104.7492455)[10] with her adoptive parents Jim and Gloria Matthews, and her older sister Jennifer. Her father was the principal of Platte Valley Elementary School (coordinates 40°23′28″N 104°33′31″W / 40.3912474°N 104.5586412°W / 40.3912474; -104.5586412) in Kersey, Colorado.

For several weeks after the disappearance, the police placed Jonelle's birth mother Terri Vierra-Martinez under surveillance, without ever telling her that her daughter had gone missing. Ten years later and after Jonelle was declared legally dead, Gloria received a letter from the birth mother, requesting permission to visit the child she gave up for adoption, something Jonelle always wanted. The birth mother had used a search consultant to help locate the child. The adoptive parents notified the birth mother about what happened, and the families became friends.[2]

Jim and Gloria Matthews, retired and moved to Costa Rica. Jonelle's older sister moved to Washington state, living under the name Jennifer Morgensen.

Public interest[edit]

The disappearance attracted public interest, including the president and members of congress. President Ronald Reagan mentioned Jonelle Matthews in a speech on March 7, 1985, in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.[11] She was mentioned in the Congressional Record for the United States House of Representatives on April 2, 1985, page 7224. In 2010, the Greeley Tribune published another summary of the missing child—still not found.[12] As recently as 2018, Greeley Police have been re-contacting witnesses and applying the latest forensic advances to learn what happened to Jonelle.[13] She appears in the International Center for Unidentified and Missing Persons' database.[14]

A chokecherry tree was planted nearly 30 years ago in front of Franklin Middle School. The tree is now gone, along with a plaque inscribed with Jonelle's name.

Discovery of Remains[edit]

After almost 35 years, excavators installing a pipeline discovered human remains at 4:50 PM on Tuesday, July 23, 2019 near the intersection of county roads 34.5 and 49, at coordinates 40°14′23″N 104°36′09″W / 40.239848°N 104.602514°W / 40.239848; -104.602514, about 15 mi (24 km) southeast of Jonelle's home. Based on DNA evidence, the Weld County Coroner’s Office positively identified the remains as Jonelle Matthews.[15][16] As of July 29, 2019 the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has not released any information about how Matthews might have died, but have stated that the case is being treated as a homicide. Authorities are searching historical records to determine who owned or lived on the land where the remains were found.[17]

On September 13, 2019, Greeley Police Department announced a "person of interest" of Jonelle Matthew's abduction and murder. The person of interest is named, Steve Pankey, who ran for governor in Idaho in 2014 and 2018, and for lieutenant governor in 2010. His home in Colorado was searched under a warrant that stated investigators had probable cause to believe that Pankey abducted and murdered the girl that night. Pankey and his former wife lived only 2 miles away from the Matthews home where Jonelle was last seen. Greeley Police Commander Roy Smith stated that Pankey “had made repeated efforts to speak with detectives” about the Matthews case. But after detectives traveled to Twin Falls Idaho on August 15, 2019, Pankey refused to answer questions. Commander Smith stated Pankey has not been charged with Jonelle’s murder, but he is being investigated in relation to her death.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Missing Children". The Greenwood Commonwealth. Greenwood, Mississippi. 2 June 1985. p. 26. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
  2. ^ a b Kirk Mitchell (July 26, 2019). "Jonelle Matthews investigation: Chronicling the 34-year search for missing Greeley 12-year-old—The vivacious 12-year-old disappeared in 1984. Her remains were found this week". The Denver Post. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
  3. ^ "Jonelle Renee Matthews (12) - Greeley CO, 1984". Websleuths. Retrieved July 26, 2019.
  4. ^ P. SOLOMON BANDA (July 26, 2019). "Remains ID'd as those of Colorado girl missing 34 years". KUTV. Retrieved July 26, 2019.
  5. ^ Joe Moylan (August 18, 2019). "Jonelle Matthews discovery provides closure for family, but new chapter is only just begun". Greeley Tribune. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
  6. ^ "Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI)—COLD CASE FILES—Jonelle Matthews". Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved July 29, 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d Peters, Mike (2 January 2010). "Greeley girl's disappearance still a mystery after 25 years". Fort Collins Coloradoan. p. A2. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
  8. ^ Peters, Mike (7 December 1989). "Colorado girl's disappearance still a mystery". Rapid City Journal. Rapid City, South Dakota. (Greeley Tribune). p. 10. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
  9. ^ Mike Peters (January 8, 2015). "Jonelle Matthews disappearance anniversary: Timeline of events". Swift Communications. Retrieved July 26, 2019.
  10. ^ Carol McKinley (October 29, 2019). "After haunting Colorado for three decades, there is new hope in the Jonelle Matthews case". The Colorado Sun. Retrieved January 24, 2020.
  11. ^ Ronald Reagan (January 1, 1988). Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Ronald Reagan, 1985. Best Books On Corporation. p. 253. ISBN 1623769442. Retrieved July 27, 2019.
  12. ^ "25 years after Greeley girl vanished, no clues". Greeley Tribune. January 1, 2010. Retrieved July 27, 2019.
  13. ^ Joe Moylan (December 20, 2018). "Greeley PD taking a new look Jonelle Matthews case". Greeley Tribune. Swift Communications. Retrieved July 27, 2019.
  14. ^ "198DFCO—-Jonelle Renee Matthews". The Doe Network. Retrieved July 29, 2019.
  15. ^ Detective Robert Cash (July 25, 2019). "Remains Found in Weld County Identified". Greeley Police Department. Retrieved July 27, 2019.
  16. ^ Kieran Nicholson (July 25, 2019). "Remains of Jonelle Matthews dug up by work crew 34 years after she vanished, Greeley police say—Then 12-year-old disappeared after middle school Christmas concert". The Denver Post. Retrieved July 27, 2019.
  17. ^ Joe Moylan (July 26, 2019). "Greeley police processing new evidence in Jonelle Matthews case, sending to CBI for forensic analysis". The Greeley Tribune. Swift Communications. Retrieved July 29, 2019.
  18. ^ https://www.idahostatesman.com/news/local/crime/article234982707.html