Part 1 ended with the 2020 arrest and the most recent hearing this year which resulted in a large cash bail amount set and upheld for Steven Dana Pankey after the remains of Jonelle Matthews were found near where she was kidnapped in Greeley, Colorado. Pankey’s arrest came more than 35 years after the 12 year old girl disappeared.
Now, we are going to do our best to walk you through the odd life and strange times of Steven Pankey.
Steven Dana Pankey was born in 1951 in Ventura, CA. According to his own website, his father was a Youth For Christ Leader. He doesn’t talk much about his mother, but generally gives the impression that he was raised in a very religious family. His father was dedicated to his work, gave little attention to his children and taught “Traditional 1950’s Christian Liberty minded core values”. According to Medium.com, “Pankey was a conservative christian who descended from a line of men in positions of authority. His great-grandfather was B.F. Pankey, lieutenant governor of New Mexico. His grandfather was an evangelist and served as pastor of Greeley Colorado’s Bethel Baptist Church in the 1940’s. His father followed suit and also became a minister”. In his interview with Idaho’s KTVB Channel 7, Steve said that his family has ” a long history of homosexuals and hellfire Brimstone Baptists” which clearly caused a divide. He also claims that in 1956, he had an uncle that was arrested on a consensual homosexual charge and was subsequently killed in police custody. Steve also begins that same interview announcing he himself “used to be in a gay lifestyle”.
I just want to say, there is a reason we are pointing out all of Steven Pankey’s references to homosexuality and even religion. It comes into play a lot when he is telling stories to various sources about what he thinks happened to Jonelle Matthews and why he has behaved in ways some would find suspicious. I want to emphasize that we are only discussing these aspects of Pankey’s life because he himself puts a big focus on them. We absolutely support his lifestyle of choice in any capacity so please don’t think we are religion bashing or prejudiced about his sexuality or anything else.
According to the Greeley Tribune, Pankey graduated from La Puente Alternative High School in Southern CA and then enlisted in the US Army in 1975. He was discharged one year later in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. In the KTVB interview he says that after his discharge, he “left the gay lifestyle” and “repented that”, later on one of his websites he states he was “honorably discharged by the Army for homosexuality“. However, I looked it up and it appears that being discovered as gay would have lead to either a “general” discharge if no homosexual acts had occurred, or if they had, his discharge would likely have been an “undesirable” discharge. I only point this out because as you will see, Steve Pankey has a pattern of embellishing stories and sometimes just outright lying.
By 1976, he was living in Greeley, Colorado and employed as a security guard at the Northern Colorado Detective Agency. He had complaints filed against him by two students who were 15 and 16 years old. They told authorities that Pankey maced them in a tunnel after they refused to show him their hands. Pankey countered that it was in self defense. During that same time period, he also experienced some money troubles, and had a local trailer park owner file action against him for harassment and death threats. Pankey claims that around this time, he graduated from Aims Community College in Greeley, with a minor in Criminal Justice. Media sources have yet to confirm if this is actually true.
By December of 1976, Pankey was working as a car salesman for Edwards Chevrolet. He claimed in various press interviews that in 1977 after he had given up his “gay lifestyle” he was a Youth Pastor at the Sunny View Church in Greeley. It is worth noting that the church itself has disputed that Steve was actually a Youth Pastor. However, it can be confirmed that he was a member of the church and during that time he was dating a woman who was a fellow Sunny View Church choir member. Steve told KTVB that he got her pregnant and that she went to Europe to get an abortion. He also said that when he found out about the abortion he threatened to tell the church about it. On September 24, 1977 the woman accused Pankey of raping her. This is verified by court records. Pankey implies she only did this in retaliation for his threat to disclose her abortion. In November of that year, the case was dropped. According to one article it was after Pankey filed a suit against her. According to Steve, in an interview he did with Unfound in 2019, he took a lie detector test and passed, but she refused the test so authorities dropped the case. He said in a later interview, “It was consensual sex, but that was 1977 so when you’re the youth pastor and you get accused of date-rape, I’ll tell you you’re no longer youth pastor and you’re not wanted in that church so I was out of there”.
Even though he claims he left the church after the rape accusation, in May of 1978, Pankey reported that he was assaulted while attending the church. A member of the congregation told police that Pankey had disrupted choir practice even though he was no longer a member of the choir. Records do show that he attended Sunnyview Church until about June of 1978. He later wrote in an open letter to the public, “shortly after the date rape charge, I was given privileged information regarding disturbing intentions relating to SunnyView Church of the Nazarene members. He also said, “In 1978, church members became Jonelle Matthews’ trusted adults”. (You will want to put a pin in that as it does come back later in his story.)
Some other controversial incidents from around that time included several run-ins with people of authority where he accused them of conspiring against or trying to undermine him. In 1978 Pankey became employed by the local 7-Up Bottling Company. In 1979 when Pankey was married and his wife was pregnant with their first child, he accused then Greeley Police Officer, now Greeley mayor – John Gates (who we talked about in part 1) of trying to get him fired. Basically, Pankey claimed that Gates had told 7-Up management that Steven Pankey had a “homosexual history” and that he had been accused of rape. In another bizarre tie to people who we talked about in Part 1, Steve’s area manager and later sales manager at 7-Up was Russ Ross (remember, Jonelle’s friends’ father who drove her home the night she went missing?). According to Steve, because he had joined a union and was encouraging other employees to join as well, Russ Ross retaliated by cutting his routes and treating him poorly. Pankey filed a lawsuit with the National Labor Relations Board in June of 1980, which he actually won. In his public letter from 2019, Pankey wrote that at 7-UP Ross was his “abusive supervisor” and he also said that both John Gates and Russ Ross had been out to get him the entire time he was in Greeley.
He Keeps Getting Into Trouble
Still in Greeley back in the early 80’s Steve continued to get in trouble or be associated with it. In 1982 he got in an argument with some people in front of the K-mart store and was ordered to pay the store $15 in restitution – of course that would be more like $40 today (this is my very personal shout out to Karen and Georgia from MFM ). Not that either amount seems like a huge punishment. Two years later, in 1983, there were harassment complaints filed between Steve and some family members. His Aunt wrote in her complaint that Pankey had stalked her by following her around town and calling repeatedly. On one day, she said he called 58 times. He was again accused of similar behavior including making repeated phone calls in April of 1984. In that complaint a woman gave a statement in connection with the dispute saying her parents had let Pankey live with them, and at that time, when she was just a teenager, he had tried raping her. She also mentioned that Pankey had stayed at mental hospitals in the past. Apparently Steve was not convicted in any of these cases.
It is worth noting that this man has had a history of strange behavior and run-ins with the law. Whether or not it could be considered attention seeking, or part of a deeper mental health issue I don’t know. What I do know is that in December of 1984, when Jonelle Matthews went missing, Steven Pankey was living with his wife, Angela Hicks and their young child in a house that was only 2 miles away from the Matthews home. He also had a used car dealer’s license and had been selling cars from his property at that residence, (I am noting this because as you will see later there will be some theories about how having the used cars on his property could have aided him in concealing a body) Steve verified he did have a few used cars left in December of 1984, though he was in the process of closing that operation.
December 20, 1984
So, now let’s get to Steve’s story regarding what happened on the night Jonelle Matthews’ disappeared and during the following weeks. Much of this is paraphrased from the KTVB interview he gave in October of 2020.
In the interview he says on the night of December 20, 1984 he was home with his then-wife and 5 year old son. Their car was parked in their driveway and packed nearly full as they were scheduled to leave for Big Bear Lake in California early in the morning. Because his wife and son went to bed early, Steve said that he had no radio or television on. As he was getting ready to head to bed, he looked out a front facing window and saw an unmarked sheriff’s car and a pick up truck pulling down his driveway. Because he had multiple problems with local law enforcement, his first thought was “great, here comes another arbitrary charge”. But then they turned around to leave. Before driving away, the cars flashed their lights towards Pankey’s house and also toward the house next door. Pankey says he thought nothing more about it and he went to bed. At around 3 or 4 in the morning, his family woke up and got into the car for their road trip. Because it was so early, his wife and son were sleeping so he left the car radio off. The family enjoyed their holiday in California and drove back arriving home on December 26. He is adamant that he did not know a little girl had gone missing from Greeley until the next day, December 27.
A Strange Story Is Told
His story of how he found out Jonelle was missing goes as follows. On December 27th, (the day after he got back from California) Steve’s father-in-law came over and because Steve was not on speaking terms with him, he was caught off guard by the visit. His father-in-law happened to be a groundskeeper at the local cemetery and on that day, he told Steve that some days prior, a local cop had come to him and said that he had a body that needed to be buried in a casket and that it would look bad for Steve, so could the father-in-law help. Steve thought this story was really weird but because he felt harassed and disliked by local law enforcement he wanted to do a little sleuthing around to be sure he was not being set up. He checked all over his own property and also checked the area where he saw the sheriff’s car flashing lights on December 20. He did not find anything. His father-in-law never said whether this body was a man, woman or child, but Steve got a newspaper and the only thing he saw was the news about Jonelle Matthews being missing.
( A little side note here, in this interview, which I really encourage you to watch, he is talking about first finding out about Jonelle Matthews 6-7 days after she went missing. But what actually says is “I got a copy of the newspaper and the Jonelle Matthews thing was all over it and was the only murder in the area at that time” You can see him catch himself and then stumble a bit trying to find the right words. He regroups and says “uh disappearance” and then he stammers a little more before getting back on track with his story. Obviously there was no way he could have known she was murdered back on December 27 of 1984 unless he had been involved, but by the time he did this interview in 2020, it was public knowledge that her murdered body had been found so maybe it was just an honest mistake… I just found his mannerisms after he said murder really seemed suspicious)
The long and the short of this is that he ultimately claims that because he had such a bad relationship with the Greeley police, he reached out to the Fort Collins, Colorado FBI office and left a message saying that he thought he might have information relevant to the Jonelle Matthews case. The FBI set up a meeting with him that took place at the Greeley police station. Steve would not speak with Greeley detectives but he relayed his story about what his father-in-law had said to the FBI agents. He also said that he told the FBI that he, Steve Pankey, knew that Russ Ross and his daughter were the last people to see Jonelle and that Ross had it out for Steve because he had won a labor relations lawsuit against him. He ended his conversation saying that was all he knew about the Jonelle Matthews disappearance. To be clear, there is nothing released to the public that would verify whether or not the conversation with the FBI ever happened, nor if the conversation about a cop needing to bury a body ever happened. I am just relaying Steven Pankey’s version of events and there will be more of his story in Part 3.
In Part 3, we have links to a few podcasts that have covered this case. These podcasts had Steven Dana Pankey as a Patreon supporter!
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