“We’re continuing to follow every bit of information. This is one of the highest priority cases we have right now,” said Detective Jerry Johnson, Idaho County Sheriff’s Office (ICSO), speaking to the two-month-old disappearance of Shawnta LaRae Pankey, 25, of Grangeville.
“There may be some limited searches coming up in the future,” he continued, along with other activities he cannot discuss due to the ongoing investigation. “We are investigating this as that some kind of foul play occurred to her. We don’t believe, and the family doesn’t believe, she intentionally went missing.”
Pankey was reportedly last seen on foot near Pine Bar along the Salmon River on Sunday, April 15, about 10 a.m. where she and boyfriend, Edward M. Mills, 39, of Grangeville, were camping. She was last seen after the pair had a minor disagreement, and it was reported she decided to go on a walk. She has not been seen or heard from since.
Investigators are currently testing two items for possible connection to the case.
Most recently, a search conducted by Pankey’s family and a hired private investigator turned up a hairbrush found alongside the road at the top of the Rice Creek grade near the intersection with Joseph Road and the road to Boles. A searcher turned that in to the Asotin County Sheriff’s Office, and later the Pankey family notified ICSO of the find. The brush is undergoing laboratory analysis, according to Johnson, for hair with roots attached that may have DNA to compare with Pankey’s mother.
A second item being analyzed is a woman’s pink and brown Ariat cowboy boot, found north of Chestnut Beach in Clarkston on the Washington side of the Snake River. Pankey was last seen wearing a similar pair of boots.
“So far, no results on either,” Johnson said.
Mills consented to an interview April 18 with ICSO detectives and initially agreed to take a polygraph test the following morning, Johnson said.
“However, he did not show up, and he hasn’t returned calls or assisted us in any way since the initial interview,” he said.
Part of the difficulty in searches, such as for Pankey, as well as that for four missing hunters whose vehicle went into the Selway River on May 21, is the Idaho County landscape, explained Johnson.
“People who live here understand how rugged not only the geography is but how inaccessible our rivers become,” he said. “People out of the area don’t understand that at times. It’s frustrating for us, frustrating for them. People just want their loved ones back, but sometimes it’s just not possible.”
“There’s a lot of pressure there,” he said. “Despite the pressure, we keep working as hard as we can on these cases.”