A Missouri man was charged with first-degree murder and other charges on Friday in the disappearance of his wife, a Chinese woman who has been presumed dead.
Joseph Elledge was charged with the murder of Mengqi Ji last week but was only indicted in front of a grand jury on Friday. Elledge, who has a one-year-old daughter with Ji, has been in jail for months on two counts of child endangerment and one count of child abuse, according to the Associated Press.
In addition to the murder charge, the grand jury replaced one of the endangerment counts with a domestic assault count after prosecutors argued that he created "a substantial risk" to his daughter by separating her from her mother.
Suspicious disappearance of Mengqi Ji
Ji, 28, had been missing since October 9, 2019, but Elledge did not report his wife missing for more than 24 hours. It was only after a friend came to their house the next day at the request of Ji's parents that Elledge acknowledged her missing. Prosecutors speculate he strangled his wife because he wanted to avoid the costs of a divorce and did not want Ji to go to China with their daughter.
Investigators found a day after he reported Ji missing he allegedly took two drives to remote areas with his daughter near Lamine River and spent around 45 minutes at the place after dark. Investigators determined the popular biking and hiking trail near the river as places where bodies could be disposed of. "These locations are places where a body could be disposed of and not located for some time," a probable cause statement read.
Other instances such as Elledge not leaving a note for his wife, taking her set of apartment keys also raised suspicion. "Joseph did not have any plans for if Mengqi returned while he was gone," the statement says.
While cadaver dogs detected the presence of human remains at the site, officials were unable to find a body despite repeated efforts.
'Controlling, manipulative psychopath'
Ji's mother told police Elledge was often controlling and disliked Ji having a social life. She said he would get upset if she left the house for trips he thought were "long." Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight, who filed for charges against Elledge rather than waiting for Ji's body to be found, described Elledge as "jealous, controlling, manipulative psychopath" in a hearing in November.
Ji completed her master's degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from the University of Missouri in December 2014. She previously attended the East China University of Science and Technology in Shanghai. The couple married in 2017.
Parents grieve 'bizarre' disappearance
Ji's parents, Ke Ren and Xiaolin Ji, described their daughter's disappearance as "bizarre" and called it the worst thing to ever happen to their family. "We've hoped this might all be a nightmare, and we could wake up one day to see our granddaughter still in the loving arms of her mother," the parents told The Columbia Tribune.
"After the murder charge was filed, our hope has gone. Now we only hope justice will prevail, we pray that Joseph Elledge still has a conscience left and will tell the truth, so we can bring our daughter home."
Ji's parents share the custody of their grandchildren with Elledge's mother and are exploring options for the child's wellbeing.
"We came here believing Mengqi would be found and that our stay in the United States would be brief," they said. "We never would have imagined that our son-in-law could be involved. It is more painful knowing that he was. If we leave the United States without Mengqi, we will feel that we have forever abandoned our child in a foreign country."