Remains ID’d As Those Of Colorado Girl Missing 34 Years

Jul 25, 2019, 9:04 PM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 5:03 pm

In this December 2018 photo, a victims advocate in Greeley, Colo. posts a flyer of a missing person...

In this December 2018 photo, a victims advocate in Greeley, Colo. posts a flyer of a missing persons poster for Jonelle Matthews, a 12-year-old girl who disappeared after a holiday concert on Dec. 20, 1984. Greeley police said Thursday, July 25, 2019, human remains found at an oil and gas construction site in northern Colorado are those of Matthews. (Joe Moylan//The Greeley Tribune via AP)

(Joe Moylan//The Greeley Tribune via AP)

GREELEY, Colo. (AP) — The disappearance of 12-year-old Jonelle Matthews shortly after singing “Jingle Bells” with classmates at a 1984 Christmas concert stunned this rural town in northern Colorado. Her case attracted the attention of the White House, and came at a time when the faces of missing children across the nation were being placed on milk cartons.

On Thursday, police announced that human remains found by construction workers earlier this week were that of the little girl who would have been 47 now, answering one question that has haunted police and others for decades but reigniting a gnawing mystery of what exactly led to her demise.

Jonelle, a member of the Franklin Middle School Honor Choir, stood on a garland-adorned staircase during the concert, sporting short, thick dark hair and smiling slightly, perhaps shyly. She was a 7th grader, active at the Sunny View Church of the Nazarene.

After the concert, Jonelle was taken home by a friend and the friend’s father.

She was last seen at 8 p.m. on Dec. 20, entering her family’s simple ranch-style home with a detached garage, the front yard blanketed by snow. No one was ever arrested. Jonelle lived with her father, Jim, her mother, Gloria, and a sister, Jennifer.

Months later, the lack of answers surrounding the case of Jonelle and other missing children was taken up by then-President Ronald Reagan, whose administration helped open a national center for missing children that ran a toll-free hotline. More than 1 million children disappeared each year, Reagan said, urging members of the National Newspaper Association to publish pictures of the nation’s missing children as a “mission of mercy.”

Jonelle, Reagan said, “would have celebrated a happy 13th birthday with her family just last month. But five days before Christmas, Jonelle disappeared from her home.”

Three years earlier, a Florida boy, Adam Walsh, vanished and was later found murdered, sparking his father John Walsh to become a crusader for the plight of missing children.

Tuesday’s discovery near Jonelle’s hometown of Greeley was the first significant development since police announced last December — on the 34th anniversary of her disappearance — that they were ramping up their investigation and hoped to use modern technology to solve it, The Greeley Tribune reported .

At the time, police released a video of Jonelle and classmates at the Franklin Middle School holiday concert in a plea for more information.

Greeley police Sgt. Joe Tymkowych said Thursday he could not comment on how authorities were able to identify the remains as those of the young girl so quickly. He also declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.

Jonelle’s sister, Jennifer Mogensen, remembered Jonelle as “a strong, independent, opinionated 12-year-old.”

“She knew what she wanted and how things should be done,” Mogensen told The Associated Press Thursday.

Mogensen, who was a junior in high school at the time, said she was playing varsity basketball the night her younger sister disappeared. The family’s house was empty when Jonelle was brought home because their father was at the game and their mother was out of state, Mogensen said.

Jonelle was missing when their father arrived home about 8:30 p.m., Mogensen said.

“I’m grateful for this closure after 34 years,” she said. “It does bring up some old wounds and some more questions, maybe, of what happened. But we’ve received so much love and support already.”

Mogensen, who lives in Washington state, said their parents, Jim and Gloria Matthews, are retired and living in Costa Rica.

“They’re sad,” she said. “They’re grateful for all the hard work the Greeley Police Department has done.”

Mogensen said she and her parents would travel to Greeley at some point but their plans were not certain.

The Tribune reported Wednesday that workers were constructing a new pipeline when they discovered bones Tuesday night. Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams said his deputies were treating the case as a homicide investigation.

Greeley is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Denver. The remains were found along a rural route southeast of Greeley.

“Parents cry out for help, many through letters to me,” Reagan told editors in 1985. “But a president can only do so much.”


Associated Press writers James Anderson and Dan Elliott in Denver contributed to this story.


Information from: The Tribune of Greeley, Co, http://greeleytribune.com

KSL 5 TV Live


An unidentified white male in his 40-50's, wearing a blue shirt and black pants, approached a newbo...

Associated Press

Man pleads guilty to picking up Yellowstone bison calf that was rejected by herd, euthanized

A man from Hawaii pleaded guilty to a charge alleging he picked up a bison calf in Yellowstone National Park, causing the animal's herd to reject it.

1 day ago

Former President Donald Trump, Greg Norman, LIV Golf CEO, right, and Paul Myler, deputy head of mis...

Associated Press

Reports: Prosecutors have tape of Trump discussing holding onto classified doc after leaving office

Prosecutors have reportedly obtained a recording of former President Trump in which he talks about holding onto a classified document.

1 day ago

Debris is spread out in front of a convenience store, Tuesday, May 30, 2023, in Columbia, S.C. Rich...

Associated Press

Store owner charged with murder in shooting has shot at suspected shoplifters before

A store owner in South Carolina charged with murder this week after shooting a teen he wrongly thought stole water has shot at suspected shoplifters two other times in the past eight years and not faced charges, authorities said.

1 day ago

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., walks to the House chamber at Capitol Hill, Tuesday,...


House OKs debt ceiling bill to avoid default, sends Biden-McCarthy deal to Senate

Veering away from a default crisis, the House approved a debt ceiling and budget cuts package late Wednesday.

2 days ago

(KSL TV)...

SAM METZ Associated Press

Adult filmmakers ask judge to delay Utah law requiring porn sites verify user ages

A group representing the adult film industry is asking a judge to put on hold a Utah law requiring porn and other adult websites verify user ages. The Free Speech Coalition challenged the law in federal court

2 days ago

Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks to local residents during a meet and greet, Tuesday, May 23...

\Jill Colvin

Mike Pence to launch campaign for president in Iowa June 7

Former Vice President Mike Pence will officially launch his widely expected campaign for the Republican nomination for president in Iowa next week.

2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Brunette guy in headphones playing games on his desktop computer...

PC Laptops

Looking For a New Computer? Use This Desktop Buying Guide

Choosing a new desktop computer can come with a lot of questions, so we created this desktop buying guide.

Portrait of happy boy playing and splashing water in the swimming pool...

Get Out Pass

Family Fun Activities in Utah You Have to Try This Summer

These family fun activities will entertain you all summer, so if you ever feel stuck in a rut wondering what to do, refer to this guide!

Woman IT specialist in elegant suit working on notebook computer in data center next to server rack...

Les Olson

Your Complete Guide to Outsourcing IT Services

This guide covers everything you need to know about the different benefits of outsourcing IT services to meet your small business needs.

diverse group of friends dance outside under string lights...

Lighting Design

5 Frequently Asked Questions About Outdoor Lighting

Read for the most frequently asked questions about outdoor lighting to help narrow the search for your home.

Stack of old laptops with dark background...

PC Laptops

Old Laptop Upgrades You Need to Try Before Throwing it Away

Get the most out of your investment. Try these old laptop upgrades before throwing it out to keep it running fast and efficient.

Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...

BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.

Remains ID’d As Those Of Colorado Girl Missing 34 Years