COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The American husband of a Chinese woman who has been missing since October was charged Wednesday 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, according to court records.
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.
Amy Salladay, the attorney for Ji’s family, said the girl turned 1 just days before her mother went missing and that she was still being breastfed at the time.
Boone County Chief Prosecutor Dan Knight described Elledge as a “jealous, controlling, manipulative psychopath,” during a November hearing.
In an audio recording that was played during that hearing, Elledge can be heard telling his wife “I don’t like being with you,” ”I’m eager to end it” and “I will bury the earth under you.” Ji is heard arguing with her husband, who raises his voice several times. At one point, he tells her, “I know you want me to hit you,” and, “This, it’s not abusive.”
A Columbia police detective wrote in the probable cause affidavit filed in the child abuse case that Elledge took a long drive through unfamiliar remote areas of central Missouri before reporting his wife missing.
Authorities have been searching for Ji’s body in the Lamine River near Boonville.
According to a probable cause statement for the murder charge, K-9 units on the Lamine River in the area of Highway 41 had alerted to the presence of human decomposition in the river.
In addition to the K-9 hit, investigators also said that there has been no communication between Mengqi and her family and friends since Oct. 8, behavior that her family says is highly unusual.
When he was questioned by police, Elledge allegedly admitted that he and the victim had been having marital troubles and that she was not willing to have sex with him for several months.
During a search of the home the two shared, investigators allegedly found written statements that closely matched the statement Elledge gave during his interview with police as well as interview tips that reminded him to refer to Mengqi in the present tense.
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.