Prosecutors play podcast interview
Pankey’s about three-hour-long interview with true crime podcaster Ed Dentzel, host of the Unfound podcast, was also played Thursday. Dentzel explained Pankey reached out to him for the interview, which was unusual for the podcast, where Dentzel normally interviews family members of people who went missing.
Like other interviews, Dentzel said, Pankey agreed on an outline for the interview prior to speaking with Dentzel.
In the podcast, Pankey said he didn’t know Jonelle nor her family at all, with no interactions other than maybe passing them at a grocery store. He also recounted his evening on Dec. 20, 1984, saying he and his wife were packing the car to head out to California early the next morning. He said the trip was planned.
Pankey said he first heard about the case on the way back from California. After returning to Greeley, he said his father-in-law showed up after not speaking with Pankey nor Hicks for a couple years due to a money dispute. Pankey said his father-in-law said a cop came to the cemetery where he worked as head groundskeeper and talked to him about having a body that needed to be buried.
Dentzel asked Pankey if he ever discussed this conversation with Hicks, but they never discussed it. Pankey said he was trying to avoid conflict. Despite not telling his wife, Pankey did speak to the FBI about the conversation, on the advice of his attorney who expressed a concern about obstruction of justice.
In the podcast, Dentzel asks Pankey if he thinks Russ Ross, the family friend who dropped Jonelle off the night she disappeared, was involved in her murder. Dentzel asked Pankey how he first knew who dropped Jonelle off that night, and Pankey said from local reports. Dentzel noted he wasn’t able to find local reports naming Ross in the days following her disappearance, but Pankey challenged it may have been from broadcast reports.
Pankey said he thinks Ross is a “total jerk,” but couldn’t imagine him being involved in Jonelle’s disappearance. He added he looks at Ross as a victim in the case, saying Pankey himself would feel bad if he dropped a middle school child off and she disappeared.
“I think I would feel guilty for the rest of my life,” Pankey said.
Dentzel said Pankey sent a file that seemed to paint Ross in a more suspicious light than he was in the interview. The two then began discussing Pankey’s belief police knew where Jonelle’s remains were the whole time, drawing a connection between Ross and Greeley Mayor John Gates, then a police officer whose family owned the building where Pankey and Ross had a labor dispute.
Pankey said he didn’t think a cop just went to Jonelle’s house and abducted her, but that there was a confrontation with at least one trusted adult that resulted in injury or death, and that police had ties to the Sunny View Church of the Nazarene attended by Ross and the Matthews.
The remainder of the interview will be played Friday morning as the trial continues at 8:30 a.m.
To listen to the interview Dentzel conducted with Pankey, go to youtu.be/5MgE6s96OZ8.Reid, Trevor. “Steve Pankey trial Day 7: Former Idaho police recount Pankey’s suspicious statements” Greeley Tribune. 10/21/2021