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Missouri man charged in Chinese wife's death despite no body

The American husband of a Chinese woman who has been missing since October was charged Wednesday with first-degree murder in her death, even though her body hasn't been found.

Joseph Elledge, of Columbia, Missouri, was charged with first-degree murder in the death of 28-year-old Mengqi Ji, who has been missing since October, according to court records.Prosecutors have requested a $5 million cash-only bond.

According to a probable cause statement, Elledge did not report his wife missing for more than 24 hours after he woke up and found her gone on Oct. 9. He instead spent time playing video games and contacted his mother and a friend without mentioning that she was missing, even though her disappearance was unusual, according to the statement. He didn't mention he didn't know where she was until one of her friends came to the house the next day at the request of her parents.

At that point, he put his wife's mother on a video call and told her Ji was missing and then began contacting her friends to see if they knew where she was. None of her family or friends have had contact with Ji since she went missing and there has been no activity on her financial accounts.

During the hours after his wife disappeared, Elledge took two drives with the couple's 1-year-old daughter to rural areas and to a popular biking and hiking trail with access to a river. “These locations are places where a body could be disposed of an not located for some time,” the statement says.

He did not leave a note for his wife, locked the door and took her apartment key when he left their home. “Joseph did not have any plans for if Mengqi returned while he was gone,” the statement says.

Elledge, who quickly was named as the prime suspect in her disappearance, was already charged with child endangerment and abuse of a child. Prosecutors say Elledge separated his wife from their 1-year-old daughter and that the separation created “a substantial risk” to the girl. Her maternal grandparents and paternal grandparents share custody.

An after hours call to Elledge's attorneys' office seeking comment was not immediately returned.

Amy Salladay, the attorney for Ji's family, said the family was “very supportive” of Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight's decision to file charges now rather than wait until her body is found.

“They understand the risks associated with double jeopardy but they also need resolution for their granddaughter,” Salladay said. "They have full confidence that Mr. Knight has carefully considered all the factors related to filing the case now."

Knight, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, had described Elledge as a “jealous, controlling, manipulative psychopath,” during a November hearing.

Her mother told police Elledge was a controlling husband who would not allow Ji to have a social life and would get upset if she left the house for trips that he thought were too long.

Recordings of conversations between the couple before Ji disappeared showed him to be “openly hostile and at times threatening to Ji." At one point in June 2019 he said “I'm ready to be done talking to you forever” and in August said he wanted a divorce, according to the statement.

Authorities have been searching for Ji's body in the Lamine River near Boonville.

Elledge's cell phone records show he drove to that river for about 45 minutes in the hours after his wife went missing, the statement says. Two police cadaver dogs alerted to the presence of human decomposition in the river. The area has been searched several times with different methods but the “complicated nature” of the area has prevented a comprehensive search, the statement says.

Salladay said Ji's family appreciates the Columbia police search efforts so far, but are concerned there is no clear plan for further search efforts. She said the family would prefer a multi-disciplinary team working together and taking advantage of all the professional volunteers who have offered their help.

Ji, whom law enforcement initially identified as Mengqi Ji Elledge, received 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.

Elledge was studying at the University of Missouri when he was arrested last year.