Joseph Elledge, of Columbia is charged with first-degree murder in the death of 28-year-old Mengqi Ji. Elledge reported her missing on Oct. 10, 2019, prompting numerous searches before her remains were found March 25 in a remote area of Rock Bridge State Park about 5 miles (8 kilometers) south of Columbia.
Authorities have not said how she died, but prosecutors have suggested Elledge strangled or suffocated Ji before taking her body to the area where her remains were found.
Boone County Chief Prosecutor Dan Knight charged Elledge even before his wife's body was found. In court hearings, Knight has called Elledge a “jealous, controlling, manipulative psychopath. ” He argued Elledge killed Ji to avoid a divorce and prevent her from fleeing China with the couple's daughter.
During the trial, the jury will hear audio recordings of arguments between the couple. Ji secretly recorded two of the tapes and Elledge recorded 10 others, for a total of 13 hours of recordings.
Elledge also faces related charges of child endangerment and domestic assault. A trial to determine custody of the child will be held after the murder trial.
According to a probable cause statement, Elledge played video games and contacted his mother and a friend during what he later said were the first hours that Ji was missing on Oct. 9, 2019, but did not tell them she was missing. A friend came to check on Ji the next day at the request of Ji's mother, which prompted Elledge to report her disappearance.
In the hours after he said his wife disappeared, Elledge took two drives with the couple’s then-1-year-old daughter to rural areas and to a popular biking and hiking trail with access to the Lamine River, according to the statement.
Elledge told investigators that the couple's relationship had been strained for several months and she had rebuffed his efforts to get closer. He said he believed she was exchanging flirtatious messages with another man but wasn't aware of that until after she disappeared.
Ji came to the U.S. from China and earned a 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.
She stayed in Columbia and married Elledge, who was a student at the University of Missouri, in 2017.
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