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Family Of 12-Year-Old Girl Who Disappeared 34 Years Ago Hopes Discovery Of Her Body Leads To Killer

"Somebody is responsible for doing this to her,” Jonelle Matthews' older sister said after the 12-year-old's remains were discovered last month by construction workers in Colorado.

By Jill Sederstrom

When Jim Matthews came home one December night in 1984, he expected to find his bubbly 12-year-old daughter Jonelle.

Instead, Jim Matthews found the lights of his Colorado home on, the television still flickering, a phone message scrawled on a nearby message board and Jonelle’s stockings laid on the couch. But there was no sign of the 12-year-old, who had come home earlier in the night after a holiday concert, according to The Denver Post.  

For more than three decades, the mystery of what happened to Jonelle Matthews continued to haunt her family until last month when construction workers discovered the 12-year-old’s remains and police ruled the death a homicide.

Now, her family is on a new quest: to find her killer.

“Somebody is responsible for doing this to her,” Jennifer Mogensen, Jonelle’s older sister, told The Associated Press this week.

A handout photo of Jonelle Matthews

Mogensen hopes the discovery of her sister’s body will provide police with new clues about who may have killed the fiercely independent and spunky 12-year-old, who the family adopted as an infant. She hopes investigators will be able to find DNA linked to the crime and then will be able to use that to finally track down the killer.

“This is meant to happen,” she said of the recent discovery. “And if there’s any DNA … it’s showtime.”

Jonelle Matthews disappeared Dec. 20, 1984 after she had been dropped off by a friend and her friend’s father at her home around 8 p.m. after singing Christmas carols at a local nursing home.

Deanna Ross and her father Russell Ross would later recall that the garage door to the ranch home had been open when they arrived at Matthews' home. 

After Jonelle arrived home, she took off her shoes, turned on the television set and put a space heater in the middle of the room. A short time later, a woman called and asked Jonelle to take a message for her father, which the 12-year-old scrawled on a nearby message board, The Post reports.

But about an hour after Jonelle had returned home, her father arrived after attending older sister Jennifer’s basketball game and found the house empty.

The girls' mother, Gloria, had been traveling out of state at the time.

For decades, the family was left with nothing but questions about what happened to the daughter they had adopted as an infant. The case would receive national attention—with Jonelle’s picture appearing on flyers and then-President Ronald Regan even mentioning the case when he launched a national effort to find missing children.

Ten years after she disappeared, the family held a funeral for Jonelle. After last month’s discovery, they held another remembrance. This time, it was a celebration of life.

"When you have a child missing, what do you do? What do you do when you have a missing child," Gloria told local station KUSA. "I keep saying the word overwhelming. And it is overwhelming to find the whole community, that we have friends who never tire of loving us and our family."

Jonelle’s biological mother—who had later contacted the family after Jonelle’s disappearance to try to connect with her daughter—also attended the memorial.

But, even with the discovery of Jonelle’s body, the family hasn’t stopped searching. Now they are searching for a killer.