Cracking open Colorado’s cold case files

by Angelica Leicht

On the night of December 20, 1984, Jonelle Matthews returned home to an empty house after performing Christmas carols at a local nursing home. The 12-year-old Greeley, Colorado, resident wasn’t supposed to be home alone for long. Her father was just down the road at her sister’s basketball game. Her mother was out of town to help an ailing grandfather.

Jonelle had been dropped off at her home at about 8:15 p.m. on December 20 by a family friend. She was seen walking into her home, where she spent at least a few minutes answering the phone and taking a message for her dad.

That was the last time anyone heard or saw Jonelle for nearly three decades.

It only took about an hour or so for her father and sister to return home from the basketball game. He found her shoes and shawl near a heater in the family room, a place she often sat, but found no other signs of Jonelle in the home.

When the police arrived a few hours later, they found footprints in the snow around the house, a sure sign that someone was looking into the home’s windows. There were no signs of forced entry or a struggle, though it seemed unlikely that Jonelle would go somewhere without her shoes.

Jonelle’s case made national news, with people across the nation searching for the young girl. President Ronald Reagan mentioned her case in remarks to reporters in 1985, imploring them to amplify stories of missing children.

Still, even with the interest in Jonelle’s case, the trail into the young girl’s whereabouts would grow cold. It would remain that way until mid-2019, when the skeletal remains of a young girl were unearthed by excavators installing a pipeline just 15 miles from Jonelle’s home.

They were identified as Jonelle Matthews’ remains. She’d been shot in the head, the victim of homicidal violence.

As is often the case, finding Jonelle’s body was the key to solving her murder and disappearance. Police had long suspected a former neighbor named 69-year-old Steven Pankey, a former Greeley resident who ran for governor in Idaho in 2014 and 2018, and for lieutenant governor in 2010, as the perpetrator in Jonelle’s case.

Without evidence or a body, though, it was tough to crack Jonelle’s murder and put Pankey behind bars. With Jonelle’s body, that all changed.

In late 2020, Pankey was finally arrested for Jonelle’s murder, nearly four decades after the young girl went missing. Investigators now believe that Pankey, who had made a number of disturbing comments about Jonelle’s case over the years, was the person who forced her from her home at gunpoint on December 20, 1984. Once he had the young girl outside of her home, investigators believe Pankey shot her in the head and buried her body just 15 miles from her home.

Pankey, who now lives in Idaho, had been indicted on charges of first-degree murder and kidnapping in Jonelle’s death. He was arrested in late 2020 in Idaho.

After three decades, Pankey has been more forthcoming with police on the details of the case. He told law enforcement personnel that a rake had been used to cover up tracks in the snow the evening she was taken, according to the indictment. Pankey had also watched children walk home from the middle school that Jonelle attended, it stated.

There is still a long way from arrest to conviction in Jonelle Matthews’ case, but with the potential resolution of this one cold case murder, it begs the question of what other Colorado cold cases are out there waiting to be solved.

From Connie Paris’ brutal murder in Englewood, Colorado, to the case of Beth Miller, Colorado’s missing teen jogger, here are some of Colorado’s most intriguing and baffling cold cases.

Connie ParisWho killed the Englewood High School senior?Englewood, COConnie Paris was just 18 years old when she disappeared from a bus stop near her home in Englewood, Colorado. A regular on the bus, Connie knew how to navigate the routes around the Denver metro area — and how to maneuver between the five or six blocks from the bus stop to her home.

A straight-A student, Connie was known as a fun-loving and dependable teen girl who loved the Beatles and high school football games. That all changed on March 26, 1968, when Connie went missing after spending the afternoon researching for a term paper.

On the morning of March 26, Connie boarded the bus from Englewood to downtown Denver. She had plans to work a term paper at the Denver Public Library, and had taken enough money with her to buy a bus ticket, a hamburger, and make a call to her mom from the pay phone across the street from the bus stop near her home.

While the downtown library certainly wasn’t the most convenient location for Connie, who had a 45-minute commute from her home to the downtown library, her teacher had suggested that the students use this location due to its copious research resources. Connie obliged.

It turned out to be the wrong move for Connie, who would make it to the Denver Public Library safely that afternoon, but would not return that night.

After spending several hours on her research, Connie signed out a book from the library at about 8:30 p.m. She then boarded the bus from the downtown library to hitch a ride to the bus stop near her home in Englewood.

She was seen exiting the bus in Englewood by an acquaintance from her school, but shortly after that, she vanished.

It didn’t take long for her parents, Jim and Mary Lou, to notice that their daughter was missing. Mary Lou had been expecting Connie to call from the Englewood bus stop pay phone to let her know that she needed a ride. When that call never came, Mary Lou became increasingly worried.

And, when neither of her parents had heard from her by 10 p.m., they called the police to report Connie missing.

Unfortunately, the police policy at the time was to delay the search for teenagers until the day after they went missing, and in turn, the police did nothing that evening. The officer who took the call told Connie’s parents that she had probably stopped to visit a friend and would be home soon.

Connie’s parents knew better, though. Their daughter was dependable and never went anywhere without calling them first. They opted to head out and retrace Connie’s steps rather than wait for the police to get involved.

Jim started by driving to the library and then back to Englewood. They zigzagged the streets near the bus stop, searching for their daughter until after 3 a.m. With no trace of Connie to be found, her parents filed an official missing persons report the next morning.

This time, the cops got more serious about the call. They conducted an exhaustive search of the area around Broadway and Girard streets near the bus stop in Englewood. A short time later, they found the clothes Connie had been wearing the night before. They’d been discarded, alongside some school books, on the banks of Dry Creek, a shallow creek behind some buildings off of Broadway. It was just two blocks from the bus stop she’d been seen at the previous night.

There was no trace of Connie at the Dry Creek, though. She was still missing, and would be for several more days.

The search for Connie continued, with police using horseback, cars, and even helicopters to try and find the missing high school senior. Her nude body was finally located in a ravine west of Englewood, just a few feet away from Fort Logan National Cemetery, just five days later.

Connie had been disrobed, sexually assaulted, and strangled to death. Her battered body had car cigarette lighter burns on it, and there were signs that she had been beaten and strangled. before she was tossed into a ravine west of Englewood, just a few feet away from Fort Logan National Cemetery.

Police initially suspected that a security guard who worked in Englewood along Broadway was responsible for the crime. The security guard had told police he’d seen Connie get into a 1957 Ford sedan with more than one passenger on the night of March 26th, in the parking lot next to the pay phone she frequented.

The lead turned cold, though, when the security guard was ruled out as a suspect. Police also found DNA at the crime scene, but thus far, it hasn’t matched up with any DNA in the Colorado Department of Corrections database.

Englewood Police Department still consider the investigation into Connie Paris’ death to be open. If you have any information, call the department’s cold case unit at 303-761-7410.

Beth MillerWent missing after a jog in 1983Idaho Springs, COElizabeth Miller, known to her friends and family as Beth, went missing from Idaho Springs, Colorado, in the fall of 1983 and has not been seen for the last four decades.

Beth Miller had just turned 14 years old when she went missing while on a jog in a small mountain town just west of Denver on August 16, 1962. Beth, a baseball player who was known to jog regularly to stay in shape, always left a note behind to let her parents know when she would return.

This day was different, though. Beth, who would usually go on jogs with her sister, went out on her own on a run in Idaho Springs at about 10 a.m. that morning. She didn’t leave a note for her parents, nor did she take any belongings with her on her run.

Even more troubling, Beth did not return home after her jog.

In the days following Beth’s disappearance, hundreds of volunteers on foot and horseback searched for her, but she was never found. Police suspect that Beth was abducted at some point on her run.

According to witness reports, Beth was last seen at a park near her home shortly after leaving for her run. Witnesses say she was talking to a man in a red pickup truck with a white camper and black or blue lettering and a brown stripe down the side. The truck did not have Colorado license plates.

Unfortunately, police never found the right red truck or the person who was driving the red truck that Beth was seen near the morning she went missing, but finding the owner of that mysterious truck could be the key to solving Beth’s case.

Beth’s sister told investigators that a man in the same pickup red truck had flirted with Beth in the days prior to her abduction. The year of the truck could be 1975 or 1976, according to investigators, and the man driving the truck was described as being fair skinned with collar length light brown hair put off to the side. He weighed approximately 175 pounds at the time.

According to witness reports, the man in the truck called himself “Claude.” He wore prescription eyeglasses with blue tinted photo grade lenses, and according to at least one report, he appeared to be angry after Beth refused to have a conversation with him.

While Beth’s whereabouts are unknown, one thing is certain. Investigators do not believe that the young girl left on her own. Police found all of her personal belongings, including money she earned from a babysitting job, at her home.

There have been several suspects in Beth’s case over the years. One name that came up shortly after Beth’s disappearance was Robert Arnold Storm, an 18-year-old man who was named a suspect about a year after Beth went missing.

Storm was being held in the El Paso County Jail at the time he was named in the case. He had shot and killed Shawna Webb, his 17-year-old coworker at a local movie theater. Storm allegedly wrote graffiti on a wall in Colorado Springs that asked if police wanted to know the location of Beth’s body. It said that her body was near a King Soopers.

Storm later denied writing the message, stating he knew another girl with the same name as Elizabeth. It’s unclear whether Storm is still considered a suspect in the case.

Another potential suspect was a New Mexico man named Edward Apodaca.

Two witnesses stated they had seen Apodaca talking to Beth approximately three days before she disappeared. According to witness statements, the two were seen inside of the red pickup truck with the camper shell. The license plates given to police were from New Mexico, and a matching license plate with the numbers was later found on Apodaca’s property.

Apodaca’s former girlfriend also claimed that she assisted Edward in burying Elizabeth’s body in the mountains near Idaho Springs. The area indicated by the girlfriend was searched with cadaver dogs. The presence of human remains was noted in the area but no remains were found during the search.

No further questioning can be done of Apodaca at this point, though. He was murdered by his wife and her mother in 1990.

He is not the only person who has been investigated for involvement in Beth’s disappearance, either. An unidentified Ohio man has also been investigated as a suspect in the case.

A confessed serial killer from Mississippi also confessed to killing Beth in 1995, but authorities do not consider his story to be credible. It’s unclear if he’s still considered a suspect in the case.

Thomas CarpenterA Colorado State Trooper murder mystery 40 years in the makingMontebello, COIt has been more than 40 years since Colorado State Patrol Trooper Thomas Carpenter was murdered near the on-ramp of the Boulder Turnpike. A former marine, Officer Carpenter was a husband and a father to three young kids, one of whom was just 9 years old when his father was killed.

On December 27, 1973, Officer Carpenter made a fatal mistake while working the Interstate 25 corridor just north of Denver. He stopped to help what appeared to be two men in a broken down car near the on-ramp on the Boulder Turnpike.

It should have been a routine stop, but it would turn out to be anything but. The car wasn’t broken down; it was stolen — and the interaction with the two men would leave Officer Carpenter dead before his shift was up.

The details of what happened during Carpenter’s interactions with the men are unclear, but what is clear is that it ended with four bullets to the back of Carpenter’s head from his own gun.

It appears that Officer Carpenter was ambushed by the two men in the vehicle, who got a hold of Carpenter’s gun at some point during the interaction. The two men then forced him into his patrol car and then made him drive around at gunpoint.

“I think one of them walked up in front of them, walked up behind him and that’s what they did, they wrestled him to the ground, took his gun and forced him to drive away,” said Ken Sniff, a former Colorado State trooper and friend of Thomas.

The men, one white and one Black, forced Thomas to drive to Denver’s Montbello neighborhood. Then, they stopped in the parking lot of some apartments and did the unthinkable. They murdered Officer Carpenter with his own gun.

“He was murdered. He was shot four times in the back of the head,” said Col. Matt Packard of the Colorado State Patrol.

Officer Carpenter was found in his patrol car shortly thereafter, with four bullets in the back of his head.

Despite having a good description of the men — both were young, one white with shaggy hair, the other black — no break has been made in the case over the last four decades.

Detectives searched the snow for days and months on end for clues but found nothing. Officer Carpenter’s gun remained missing, and the murderers have never been caught.

The closest they came to a break in the case was when Carpenter’s gun was found in Ne
Mexico, though it’s unclear how or why it was in that state. Otherwise, the case has gone cold.

If you have any information that could help solve the murder of Thomas Carpenter, please call Crime Stoppers at 720-913-7867.

Stephanie Hart-Grizzell and Nick KunselmanColumbine High School students murdered at Subway one year after the mass shootingLittleton, COThe tragic mass shooting at Columbine High School was the worst the nation had ever seen. Two Columbine High School teenagers, 16-year-old Stephanie Hart-Grizzell and her boyfriend, 15-year-old Nick Kunselman, managed to survive the school shooting as students at the high school. Less than a year later, though, they were dead.

It had been less than a year since 12 of Nick and Stephanie’s classmates and a teacher were killed during the mass shooting at Columbine High School. The two high school sweethearts were happy together despite the devastation they’d experienced, and helped each other weather the aftermath of the terrible ordeal.

Stephanie and Nick first met in middle school and became fast friends. After the Columbine shooting in April 1999, they became even closer, Stephanie’s mother, Kelly, told the Denver Post.

“Although they had just gone through the tragedy at the high school, they were coming through it so good and they were so happy,” Kelly Grizzell said. “We just really felt like that might be the last hard thing that we went through.”

On the night of February 13, 2000, Nick, who worked at a Subway on Coal Mine Avenue, was nearing the end of his shift at the sandwich shop. Stephanie, who was in her car just outside of the shop, was patiently waiting for her boyfriend to finish up.

It was nothing out of the ordinary, other than maybe the fact that Stephanie snuck out of her home to meet Nick at his job, but the routine ordeal was fated to take a turn for the worst just a short time later. Neither Nick nor Stephanie would make it home from Subway that night.

Just past midnight on February 14, 2000, a fellow employee of Nick’s at the Subway drove past the restaurant and noticed the lights were still on. When they went inside, they found Stephanie and Nick behind the counter. They’d been shot to death by one or more intruders, but nothing was stolen from the scene.

Other than those basic details, it’s unclear what happened between the time that Stephanie was waiting for Nick in the parking lot and the shooting in the Subway restaurant. Rumors of after-hours drug deals at the Subway initially prompted investigators to look into whether the crime was drug-related, but the leads didn’t pan out.

And neither did any other leads, either. Police released a description of a suspect shortly after the murders. According to police, the suspect is a 5’7” white man between the ages of 16 and 20 years old, who weighs between 150 and 170 pounds and has light blond hair.

There were plenty of tips shortly after the crime occurred, but none of them panned out. No further breaks have been made in the case over the last two decades.

The couple’s friends spoke to Denver7 in 2017 about the difficulty of not knowing why the teens were murdered.

“It’s just hard because they were so young and we just don’t understand,” said Amanda Williams. “Going through Columbine and then having to kind of relive all these bad things…we had to do it all over.”

Anyone with any information on the case is encouraged to submit a tip by contacting the Metro Denver Crime Stoppers by phone at 720-913-STOP or by submitting an anonymous tip online.

Nora CourseyWent missing from a child’s birthday partyWestminster, COAppearances were everything for the Coursey family, who lived in Westminster, Colorado, in the late 1950s. From the outside, the Courseys — Harold, Nora, and their four kids — were your everyday American as apple pie family.

But, as we all know, looks can be deceiving. Nora “Lois” Coursey, a doting mother to her four children and a well-known member of the community, was known for having a few extramarital affairs. Her husband, Harold, knew about her activities and blamed himself for her actions.

Nora’s strong libido and wandering eye had caused issues for the family before. They’d moved a few times over the years to look for a fresh start to their marriage before finally settling in Westminster. The affairs picked up just as quickly in their new Colorado town, though — and it appeared to Harold that same old trouble followed them.

This time, though, it wouldn’t just end in a romp in the hay. It ended in murder.

Nora’s last day on earth was June 19, 1957, when she took her oldest daughter to a birthday party at a friend’s house. Shortly after arriving at the party, Nora left to pick up birthday napkins that someone else had forgotten to purchase for the party.

Nora left her daughter at the party and headed out, wearing a pink blouse, a gray, pink, and white skirt, and white high heels. She carried a white purse and was last seen getting int her 1950 gray Hudson. She was expected to return quickly with the napkins.

Nora did not return quickly, though — or at all. By the evening of June 19, Nora’s family and husband began to try and find her. It took a week before any break was made in the case of missing Nora Coursey.

On June 27, 1957, Nora’s car was located about eight miles from where she’d last been seen near East Colfax and Elm Street. There was no sign of Nora in the vehicle.

Shortly after, on July 9, 1957, Nora’s body was located under a pile of rocks in Deer Creek Canyon, about 35 miles from where her car was found. A rancher, who’d been out walking his property, was the one to stumble upon Nora’s body. She’d been badly beaten and burned. Her wedding ring and Bulova watch were missing.

The evidence showed Nora had been sexually active, likely consensually, prior to her death. Her skull had been crushed by a rock.

According to investigators, it was likely that she knew her attacker. Her husband was initially the main suspect in the case, but was ruled out after taking lie detector tests and was later cleared completely.

Investigators also looked at several men that Nora was known to have relationships with. Waitresses at a local bar told investigators that Nora had been at their establishment the afternoon she went missing with a man who was not her husband. Multiple lovers were investigated but none were linked to the crime.

There appeared to be a break in 2013, when a person of interest was linked to the murder by cold-case investigators. The investigators released a photo of the man, hoping to get a clue into his identity, but the case remains unsolved to this day, with very few leads.

Anyone with information on the murder of Nora “Lois” Coursey can call (303)-271-5195 or email [email protected].

Lorraine PachecoA tragic end to a troubled lifeDenver, COLorraine “Tiny” Pacheco had been through a lot in her life. When Lorraine was just 16 years old, her mom, Dora Pineda, was killed after being struck by a car. Dora had been at a New Year’s Eve party that night in 1970. After being separated from her friends at the party, Dora was chased by two men across a highway. She was hit by the car while trying to get away and thrown 77 feet into the air.

Less than two years later, at the age of 17, Lorraine was shot in the head by a boyfriend. The shooting left her in a coma for several days and when she awoke, she was completely blind.

Lorraine didn’t let that get in the way of her life, though. She got married just a few years later and started a family with her new husband. The couple had a daughter, but she died shortly after birth at just two days old. Lorraine got married. The couple had a daughter, but she died at only 2 days old.

The death of their child proved to be too much for the couple, who separated shortly after. Lorraine moved in with her sisters and started attending school to learn how to live independently with her lack of sight. She succeeded, later moving into her own apartment.

Then, in 1988, Karen Lynn Nelson, one of Lorraine’s sisters, was murdered. Karen was just 29 years old.

That alone would have been enough tragedy for several lifetimes, but Lorraine’s story doesn’t end there. About ten years after her sister’s death, Lorraine met her own tragic fate at the hands of a murderer.

On May 14, 1997, neighbors in Lorraine’s Denver, Colorado, apartment building, became alarmed when they saw smoke coming from Lorraine’s apartment. According to Denver Police, the neighbors entered Lorraine’s apartment and located her inside the burning building.

They pulled her out of the flames, but it was too late to save Lorraine. The fire was not the cause of Lorraine’s death. She’d been murdered prior to the fire being set in her apartment, according to investigators.

The investigation into Lorraine’s death revealed that she had been raped, strangled, and her apartment set on fire, according to the Denver Post. There was no sign of forced entry, according to investigators, leading to the belief that Lorraine may have known her attacker.

Her small safe, which contained just $40, had been opened.

Police theorize that the shooting that left Lorraine blind may have also affected her memory. She didn’t remember many of the tragedies in her life, and the memory issues may have led her to open the door to an attacker. She loved having company visit and may not have remembered that certain people were a threat to her well-being.

Thus far, no leads or suspects have been named in Lorraine’s case, and the case has officially gone cold since 1997.

If you have information, please call the Denver Police Department at (720) 913-2000 or the Crime Stoppers Tip Line at (720) 913-STOP (7867). Callers may remain anonymous and receive a reward up to $2,000.


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