Steven Pankey Part 3

Part 2 ended with Steven Pankey contacting the FBI and relaying his story about how his father in law had been approached by a cop to bury a body around the time that Jonelle Matthews disappeared. We left Steve, still living in Greeley Colorado with his wife and son in 1984.

Getting Out of Colorado

Now, it is a bit difficult to find much more about Steve Pankey until 1989, however, in his interview with Unfound (linked at the end of this post) they left Colorado in 1986. He actually says he wanted to move because “in 1986 Angie was pregnant with the second child. And at that point, it was a few years later (from the Jonelle Matthews disappearance) so you can assume the child is no longer alive so I did not feel overly safe with my kids there”. He ended up moving them to Texas, then Oklahoma where he says “Carl was born and we wanted Christians to deliver our second child then we moved to Hot Springs Arkansas, then to Big Bear Lake, CA to be near my folks, then Portland Oregon, where I was going to formerly go to mortuary school but that did not work out”.

Arriving in Idaho and Writing a Book

In 1989 he and his family moved to Ketchum, Idaho. Just to give geographical context Ketchum is at the North End of Blaine County Idaho.  Blaine county encompasses the well known high-end resort area of Sun Valley and also the cities of Hailey and Bellevue in Southern Central Idaho.   It’s actually a really beautiful area, one of my personal favorite places to visit, ski and fish in Idaho. Steve claims that when they arrived in 1989 he was working for a mortuary. It is possible, but we cannot verify that. In the mid 1990’s he was definitely working in property management for a company in Sun Valley.   In 1993 he wrote and self-published a book called “Graveyards:  The Untold Story”.  This book contained autobiographical elements.  Places are real and in several cases he uses actual people’s names, in others he just uses very similar names. The protagonist, which he named “David Darkson”. is absolutely based on himself.  To summarize the plot; James T. Christy, the pastor of  Sunny View Church in Greeley Colorado (yep he uses the real names and location) heads up a secret society called the “Inner Circle” which is comprised of other pastors and church leaders who commit “rape-murders”.  Do you recall when I told you to put a pin in his statement about “the church members became Jonelle’s trusted adults”?  It seems like with this book, he is trying to put forth a theory as to who might have abducted the girl and why.  It seems like Pankey was super fascinated with this case, or to some observers he comes across as a perpetrator who is delighting in showing superiority over the “ignorant police” Either way, in the book, the Inner Circle tries to recruit the main character, but Darkson exposes them instead.  

So, in case I have not been clear enough or more likely there has been so much to digest here – you may not recall but at this point, Steve Pankey has pointed somewhat suggestively to Russ Ross as a possible perpetrator (Ross was a prominent member of the church, but cleared by the police early on in the investigation) and far more directly to a “cop” being involved in the kidnapping and some late night request to get help disposing of a body (and he has not been subtle mentioning John Gates specifically)  and now with his book, he is making not really veiled references to a secret evil society of murdering rapists at the local Greeley church.

What Does Jon Benet Ramsey Have To Do With It?

In another strange story, Pankey claims that around 1997 he was contacted again by the FBI. This time, he says it was either related to, or spurred on by, the death of Jon Benet Ramsey. In his own words he states, “In December of 1996 Jon Benet Ramsey made international news dying in her house in Boulder, CO that grew attention back to the Jonelle Matthews case because they were both Colorado, they were both young girls, they were both Christmas time and it caused police to want to interview me again and I refused to talk to them”.

A little later he says he was in a bank in Sun Valley Idaho and he “accidentally vomited in the bank”. According to Steve, he was arrested for disturbing the peace and ended up getting convicted and spending 10 days in jail. His explanation for how a simple act of throwing up in a bank could result in criminal charges and jail time was that one of the tellers in the bank was married to a police officer and they were retaliating against him for refusing to talk to police after the Jon Benet Ramsey murder.

An Interesting Statement on Record

Over time he has filed many criminal and civil pleadings.  In 1999 he wrote an argument that included the statement “in case of certain rulings by the court, it is reasonable for appellant to believe he would get the death penalty for revealing the location of Jonelle Matthews body”.  He was the appellant.  Keep in mind, this means he filed a case against someone else. This was not a criminal proceeding against him. In another filing in 2002 he said “the family should be informed that Jonelle died before crossing 10th st. and not to give the family hope” and that “without a deal, this case will never be solved”.  Incidentally, he repeatedly makes this statement in various interviews or public statements throughout the years.  He repeatedly references that a deal needs to be made.

Present At Another High Profile Murder Scene

In September of 2003, Steven Pankey was present at the crime scene of a very high profile Idaho murder case which we will cover at some point.   It’s the case of then teenaged Sarah Johnson who was convicted of murder and given two life sentences for the shooting deaths of her parents. Alan and Diane Johnson were murdered in the home they shared with Sarah in Bellevue Idaho on September 2, 2003.  Pankey later stated in affidavits that he was the deputy coroner for Blaine County and also that he was an apprentice mortician’s assistant.  The coroner’s office confirmed that Pankey was in training as a mortician for Wood River Chapel in Hailey at the time, but they deny that he was a “deputy coroner”.  Russell Mikel who was Blaine County’s Coroner at that time said that Pankey was at the Johnson crime scene primarily as a laborer helping with moving and lifting during removal of the bodies.

As with the earlier unconfirmed claims of having an Associates Degree in Criminal Justice, this is just another example of Steven Pankey trying to inflate his expertise or association with law enforcement and criminal investigation.  And then, he really started to push that narrative. 

“No Hankey With Pankey”

By 2004  he had divorced Angela (2001) moved to Shoshone, Idaho which is part of Lincoln County where he ran as a write-in candidate for Lincoln County Sheriff.  During a speech he said, “You need to know, there’ll be no hankey with Pankey”. He lost.  At the time, a Times-News article said that Pankey was, “a mysterious new arrival to Lincoln County who suddenly became a regular at public meetings in the area.  When asked what he did for a living, he reportedly told people he was a board member of two family trusts”.  Four years later, in 2008, he ran as a Constitution Party candidate for Lincoln County Sheriff, and while he did get 12% of the vote, he lost again.

In 2009, going back a bit to what I told you about the Sarah Johnson murder case, Pankey inserted himself into her subsequent legal quest for a new trial by filing an affidavit saying that when he was at the crime scene in 2004, he overheard Sheriff Walt Femling saying “Well, I guess I’ve got to move evidence to make a case”.  Femling denies this and in a 2009 article published in the Idaho Mountain Express, it states that a review of court records shows that 26 civil cases had been filed against or by Steven Pankey since 1994.  The most recent was a tort claim filed by Pankey in May of 2009 which named various government officials, entities, businesses and individuals as part of the primary claim which is that Idaho Governor Butch Otter acted to keep plaintiff Steven Pankey from becoming a candidate for the 2010 governors race and that Governor Otter “failed to prevent injustice in the Sarah Johnson murder trial”.

The Prosecutor for the Johnson case wrote to the newspaper saying “Pankey is well known to me as someone who has made and continues to make outrageous claims and fabrications”.

Running For Governor of Idaho

In 2010, he tried to get the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor of Idaho.  He was not nominated, but he did get 14% of the vote against Lt. Governor Brad Little.  Then, in 2014 he declared that he was gay, though emphasizing that he was celibate and a christian.  He said, “I did my best to be straight, but I can’t think that way.  I am Christian, but I am gay.  Discussing his departure from the republican party he said, “I haven’t felt welcome in the Republican Party.  They’re polite but not real welcoming.  I think they want a candidate for governor who has a first lady.”  He then ran for Governor of the State of Idaho as a Constitution Party candidate.  

He lost the election and was denounced by the Constitution party after he wrote a letter to the Attorney General in support of gay marraige.  Somehow, he managed to get back on the ballot in 2018 and ran in the Republican primary for Governor.  

Some Extremely Strange Web Site Content

Pankey’s campaign web sites have contained some truly interesting content. Some of his sites are still up and we will link them at the end of this post. In the “About” section of one site he wrote “Steve regularly watched the popular Superman children’s TV show. On TV adults never seemed to get it that ‘mild mannered’ reporter Clark Kent was really Superman in disguise. Steve watched as both children and adults beliefs and televisions beliefs slowly but surely became one and the same.  Could Americans be led astray by a mild mannered television reporter? “

And he says “Steve’s criminal justice studies included the study of people who acted without conscience.  Could the new media be a study in people who act without conscience?

Apparently that content was not compelling as he lost again, and this time with only a little more than 1% of the vote.

It was in the year following this last failed campaign that Jonelle’s body was found.  As you might remember from part 1, she was found in July of 2019. 

Maybe He Really Is Just A Murderino?

In August of 2019, Steve Pankey became a Patreon supporter of the podcast Unfound which is hosted by Ed Dentzel. Unfound covers missing persons and does interviews as part of the format.   Steve also became a Patreon supporter of the podcast “The Trail Went Cold” which is hosted by Robin Warder.  Unfound had not covered the Jonelle Matthews case, but “The Trail Went Cold” did have an episode covering her disappearance that was released January 25, 2017.   On October 1, 2019 Steve Pankey reached out to Ed Dentzel via email through Patreon.  He wanted to be interviewed for the Unfound podcast, which is interesting because they literally only cover cases where the people are still missing – hence the name “unfound”, but Dentzel did finally agree and released a special episode on November 4, 2019 that includes his full interview with Pankey.  I absolutely recommend you listen to this episode ( though be careful about the volume, it gets quiet when Pankey is talking and super loud when Ed is talking). I was really impressed with Ed’s questions though. He did a great job. I have linked the Unfound podcast, as well as Robin Warder’s “The Trail Went Cold” , in our social media and at the end of this post. In his interview on Unfound Pankey references other podcasts related to the Jonelle Matthews case and seems to have actively listened to them.

Any Publicity Is Good Publicity?

By fall 2019, Steven Pankey was named a person of interest and also he was personally fully aware he was the primary suspect and under investigation in the Jonelle Matthews case.  It was at this time he gave the interview that was released on October 13, 2020 by Idaho’s KTVB Channel 7.  

It can be seen fully on YouTube or on the KTVB website and I published a link to it under Part 1 of this story.  I will link it again at the end of this post. Steven Pankey starts off this interview, which is happening in front of his residence in Twin Falls, Idaho. Looking rather disheveled, wearing a bright pink button up shirt and sunglasses, which might be transition lenses (I know there is a whole audience of True Crime listeners who feel that only serial killers wear transition lenses) he seems very calm and nonchalant which feels strange since he is being interviewed purely because by this time, he has been named as at least a “person of interest” if not a full blown suspect in the kidnapping and murder of a 12 year old girl.  His body language along is almost deliberately calm and as if he doesn’t have a care in the world. I highly recommend you watch this interview because it fully encapsulates how bizarre this man can be. 

Person of Interest In The Kidnapping/Murder of a Child? Why Not Run For Sheriff?

In June of 2020, after his home had been searched, after evidence was seized, and after he was clearly named a suspect  for the kidnapping and murder of Jonelle Matthews, Steve Pankey again ran for sheriff, this time in Twin Falls county.  His website “Sheriffpankey.com” is still up and contains more odd content including this headline “Steve wants to improve the system by working within the system creating new more effective, efficient law enforcement methods that quickly — justly resolve criminal cases.  Steve demands justice for crimes against children, crimes against senior citizens, and white collar crimes in the State of Idaho”

His site has a lot about DNA and cold cases. He references several other high profile murder cases and exonerations. Then he says, “Steve Pankey voluntarily uploaded his DNA to a database that is accessible to law enforcement. “ He also makes statements about accepting the fact that without DNA cold cases probably won’t be solved. He even writes that cold cases have a lot of problems like “vindictive ‘witnesses’ ex-wives can be vindictive” and he has a lot to say about how police interrogations should be banned. Steve prefers what he calls “skilled interviews by law enforcement” and finally he mentions protecting what he calls “whistle blowers”. He says, “Reward, protect individuals with real knowledge of real crimes.  Deals lead to knowledge.  Knowledge leads to just convictions.” It is easy to see how he uses this campaign site to reinforce his defense against his being accused in the Jonelle Matthews case. Steve Pankey was not elected Sheriff of Twin County, Idaho.  He was, as you know by now, indicted, charged and then arrested for the kidnapping and murder of Jonelle Matthews.  He is currently in Weld County Jail with an arraignment scheduled for 10:30 am February 3 in Division 11 of the Weld District Court.

Do We Know Who Steve Pankey Is Yet?

So, who is Steve Pankey? Is he just a guy who had a hometown murder and found it exciting so he wanted to insert himself? Is he mentally unstable? Is he a murderer? I certainly don’t know.

His primary narrative seems to be that because he was gay or associated with “homosexual lifestyle” early on, he became a target of the small town Colorado police. That is certainly possible. The late 70’s and early 80’s were not great times to be anything but straight and white in a small town in Colorado (or in many states). He seems to want to imply a set up from the very start, but, so much of his story does not make sense. Recalling part 1, his wife at the time contradicts many of his statements. Yet, it is problematic when your primary accuser is your unhappy ex-wife.

What Steve Thinks Could Have Happened

In several of his interviews whether on television, in news articles or podcasts, Pankey seems to really reiterate the same story of what he “guesses” may have happened. He is very careful to always say he does not know anything, but if he had to speculate this is what might have happened. According to Steve, he is aware from other stories that Jonelle was of hispanic ethnicity, and also that she was “outspoken” and “would not put up with crap”. He believes this might have made her a target for a “trusted adult” who was also a member of the Sunny View Church of the Nazarene in Greeley. He seems to imply they would want to teach her a lesson or otherwise “put her in her place”. Perhaps this adult knew she was alone that night, or maybe not. Either way, he says, ” a trusted adult had an encounter with Jonelle and either hurt her purposely or accidentally. ” He states he does not think the trusted adult was a cop. Pankey has noted that members of the Sunny View Church had good relationships with the police. He thinks it is possible the trusted adult went to a friend in the Greeley police and said something like “I need help, I made a mistake” and then the cop got involved assisting this “trusted adult” in getting rid of the body. This would also be the same cop who approached Pankey’s father in law, though Steve does not believe his father in law would have said yes.

So, Why Focus on Steven Dana Pankey?

Throughout this story you have heard his references to the fact that law enforcement and other authority figures did not like Steve. He even talks about people being out to get him in retaliation for law suits he has won, or because they are prejudiced against him for his “gay lifestyle”. Very little has been released in the press about what prompted Greeley detectives to hone in on Steve, other than his continued attempts to insert himself into the case. There is one big coincidence though. There had been almost no attempt from Greeley or other investigative authorities to contact Steven Pankey or his close friends and relatives in 35 years. Most of the investigation that has been reported to the public seems to have started up again just a few months before Jonelle’s body was discovered. Steve has a theory about this as well. He guesses that some cops knew the location of Jonelle’s body the entire time. At some point they were made aware that the oil and gas company was going to start digging in that area. He thinks that might have given whoever had the knowledge a reason to prompt the detectives to really look hard at him. That way they would have a suspect readily available if the body was found, and of course it was.

This is supposed to be the end of our Steven Dana Pankey story, but given all the open ends, we are going to dive a little deeper and keep an eye on that arraignment coming up on February 3!

More Sources and Informative Links

Check out these two podcasts! Steven Pankey was a Patreon supporter of both Unfound and The Trail Went Cold. The first link is to the special episode of Unfound with the full Pankey interview.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/special-edition-jonelle-matthews-interview-with-the-poi/id1151955197?i=1000455932490

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-trail-went-cold/id1084020770

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