Remains of girl missing since 1984 discovered near Greeley
After 34 years, seven months and five days of searching, the Greeley Police Department announced Thursday morning bones discovered earlier this week at an oil and gas site in rural Weld County are the remains of Jonelle Matthews.
Matthews disappeared Dec. 20, 1984, after performing in a Christmas concert with the Franklin Middle School Honor Choir in Greeley. She was last seen about 8 p.m. that night when she was dropped off at her home at 320 43rd Ave. Court by a friend and her friend’s father.
Matthews was 12 years old when she disappeared, said Sgt. Joe Tymkowych, spokesman for Greeley police, who confirmed about 8 a.m. Thursday the remains are of Matthews. She would be 47 today.
At 4:50 p.m. Tuesday, oilfield workers digging a pipeline about one quarter of a mile northwest of Weld County Road 49 and Weld 34 1/2 reported to law enforcement they had discovered human remains. The Weld County Sheriff’s Office, Weld County Coroner’s Office, Greeley police and Weld District Attorney’s Office all responded to inspect the scene Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Greeley Tribune received an anonymous message containing pictures taken at the oil and gas site. At the request of law enforcement, the Tribune did not print those pictures in a story that appeared Wednesday at GreeleyTribune.com.
And out of respect for Matthews and her family, the Tribune won’t publish the photos now nor at any time in the future. However, in the interest of keeping the public as informed as possible given the circumstances — and after discussing it with investigators — a compromise of describing the photos was reached.
The Tribune received two photos. The first is a picture of a small hole, about the circumference of a basketball hoop. Above and slightly to the left of the hole is a human skull. To the right of the hole is what appears to be tattered red- and blue-colored clothing.
The second photo is a close-up of the lower jaw, which is separated from the rest of the skull. It was still resting inside the hole when the photos were taken. The jaw appears to have all of the teeth still intact. The teeth are outfitted with braces.
In December, on the 34th anniversary of Matthews’ disappearance, Greeley police announced it was ramping up its investigation into the three-decades old cold case. As part of that announcement, authorities released for the first time video of the Christmas concert Matthews performed in as a 7th grader at Franklin Middle School.
Matthews was wearing red- and blue-colored clothing during the concert, according to video footage. She also wore braces.
Greeley police plans to release additional, albeit limited, information about the case later today. When asked if authorities were any closer to a suspect following Tuesday’s discovery, Tymkowych said, “we’re still chasing down leads.”
Anyone with information about this case is asked to contact the Det. Robert Cash at (970) 350-9601 or the Greeley police tip line at (970) 351-5100.
Greeley native Evan Sitchler, 47, said Thursday nearly all of the air left his lungs when he heard the news police had recovered the remains of Jonelle Matthews. Now living in Denver, Sitchler said he didn’t attend Franklin Middle School with Matthews, but that didn’t prevent her case from affecting him and much of the Greeley community.
“She was exactly my age and when she disappeared, everyone was on edge,” Sitchler said. “I don’t think we ever got over it.”
The early 1980s was a strange time, Sitchler said, as it seemed stories about missing children were far too common throughout the country.
“Stories about missing kids was something you were seeing all the time in the media back then,” Sitchler said. “That was such a scary thing. We were scared all of the time for a long time after that (Matthews’ disappearance).
“I can’t even fathom what the family must be going through after all this time.”
Case reaches White House
Matthews’ missing persons case transcended Greeley and Weld County. In a March 7, 1985, speech to members of the National Newspaper Association, President Ronald Reagan referenced Matthews to highlight the founding of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
A portion of that speech reads:
“I’d like to suggest one especially tragic area where your newspapers can do a great deal of good: the problem of missing children.
“Well over a million American children disappear from their homes or neighborhoods every year causing, as we can all understand, heartbreaking anguish. Parents cry out for help, many through letters to me. For example, I learned about Jonelle Matthews of Greeley, Colorado, who would have celebrated a happy 13th birthday with her family just last month. But 5 days before Christmas, Jonelle disappeared from her home.
“Letters like these touch us deeply, and we’ve tried our best to help. Last June we opened the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which runs a toll-free hotline and gives other aid as well. But a President can only do so much. So, today I’d like to ask for your help.”
This continues to be a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available. Check back this afternoon to GreeleyTribune.com for more.
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