by Mike Peters
Two and a half decades later, there are still no answers.
The 12-year-old girl who disappeared during Christmas week in 1984 is still gone, and there is no real hope that she will ever be seen again.
On the night of Dec. 20, 1984, Jonelle Matthews sang Christmas carols with her school choir and was taken home by a friend. When her father came home an hour later, she was gone.
No trace has ever been found of Jonelle; no arrests, no evidential DNA, no answers.
This year, police have made arrests in two of Greeley's longtime murder mysteries: the Mary Pierce murder and the Tina Tournai Sandoval disappearance. Those two cases will likely go to trial next year.
But not the Jonelle Matthews case. There are still too many unanswered questions.
Her parents, Jim and Gloria Matthews, had Jonelle officially declared dead in 1994 — 10 years after her disappearance. There was a funeral service, and dozens of family friends said goodbye.
But in recent years, little has happened with the Matthews case. It's still considered an open case in the Greeley Police Department.
“We occasionally get a tip on the case, but that usually involves a body that was recovered somewhere,” said Lt. Brad Goldschmidt. “If the body was old enough, they might contact us because Jonelle is still considered a missing person. But we haven't had anything for a few years.”
Goldschmidt said Jonelle's DNA is on the national database
now, in case something turns up, but they had no DNA from a suspect at the scene of her abduction. Her photo — and an “age progressed” photo of what she would look like at 37 years old — can be found on the Web site for The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
On the night she disappeared, Jonelle was driven home from a middle school concert by a friend and her mother. They dropped Jonelle in front of the house in the 300 block of 43rd Avenue in the Pheasant Run subdivision, and noted that the garage door already was open. The friends watched her walk into the house. They were the last people known to have seen the girl.
While she was home, she took a teacher's message for her father, who was the principal at Platte Valley Elementary School in Kersey.
Jim Matthews came home about an hour later, after attending a basketball game for his older daughter, Jennifer. He found Jonelle's shoes and a shawl near a space heater in the family room. Usually, when she watched TV, Jonelle would sit close to the heater.
When he couldn't locate his daughter, Jim Matthews called police. They stayed at the house most of the night, finding no signs of a struggle. There were footprints in the snow around the house.
The girl's disappearance exploded into one of the biggest mysteries in Greeley history. Hundreds of volunteers showed up to search all around Greeley for her body or any evidence. At a time when child abductions seemed prevalent, the story of Jonelle Matthews made headlines around the country.
Her parents appeared on national TV talk shows and programs about missing children. President Reagan mentioned Jonelle in one of his national addresses.
But nothing helped. Little came in about the missing girl:
» Jonelle had been adopted by the Matthews, and her birth mother was checked to see if there was any connection to the girl's disappearance. Police do not consider her a suspect.
» In 1992, South Dakota police reported they'd arrested a man who had newspaper clippings about Jonelle and other missing children. Greeley detectives went to South Dakota, only to discover the man couldn't have been in the Greeley area at the time of Jonelle's disappearance.
» In 1994, a body found in Florida was similar to Jonelle's, but when police compared dental work and discovered the woman had tattoos, they knew it wasn't the 12-year-old.
» About five years ago, police learned of a man who lived in the same neighborhood as Jonelle, who was a truck driver at the time. He came to The Tribune, saying he was a suspect in the case. Police could find no evidence linking him to the crime, and found he had mental problems. They decided he was just seeking publicity.
Jim and Gloria Matthews now live in the Philippines, where Jim teaches. They could not be contacted for this story, but have spoken many times about their daughter:
Jim, in 1994, when they had Jonelle declared officially dead: “People might say now that we're just giving up hope. But if you put your head and heart together, it will bring some finality. This time, we're saying she's not coming back.”
Gloria, also in 1994: “We had 10 years without a reason, 10 years without a motive, 10 years with no answers. In all this time, don't you think the person who took her has said anything to anyone? At least someone could give us evidence that would prove she is dead, or tell us where her body is, so we can bury her.”
The Matthews still remember Jonelle's birthday, and still have the Christmas ornaments she made in elementary school. They hang them on the tree each Christmas.