KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A grand jury on Friday indicted a Missouri man on first-degree murder and other charges in the disappearance of his Chinese wife, who is presumed dead.
Joseph Elledge, who has a 1-year-old daughter with his missing wife, Mengqi Ji, had been in jail for months on two counts of child endangerment and one count of child abuse.
Boone County prosecutors sought to charge Elledge with murder on Feb. 19 but a judge didn’t sign the warrant within a week, so they took the case to the grand jury. In addition to the murder charge, the grand jury replaced one of the endangerment counts with a domestic assault count. Prosecutors allege in one of the charges that he created “a substantial risk” to his daughter by separating her from her mother.
Prosecutors speculate that Elledge strangled his wife because he wanted to avoid a costly divorce and ensure that she didn’t flee to China with their daughter. Authorities say Elledge discovered his wife missing on Oct. 9 but didn’t report that she was gone until the next day, when a friend came to the house at the request of Ji’s mother. During that 24 hours, he allegedly drove to remote areas, spending around 45 minutes at a secluded access point to the Lamine River after dark. Cadaver dogs detected the presence of human remains there, but law enforcement was unable to find a body despite multiple searches.
In an emailed statement Friday from attorney Amy Salladay, Ji’s parents, Ke Ren and Xiaolin Ji, told The Columbia Tribune their daughter’s “bizarre” disappearance has been the worst thing to ever happen to their family. They are Chinese citizens currently in the U.S. on visas and will soon have to return to mainland China.
“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 said. “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.”
Elledge, who is being held with no bond, was scheduled to be arraigned Monday.
John O’Connor, the lawyer who has been defending Elledge against the child abuse charges, declined to comment about the murder case.
The county’s prosecuting attorney, Dan Knight, said he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the case or his trial strategy.
“I’m pleased the grand jury returned indictments in both cases and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure justice is secured,” he said.
Ji’s parents, who currently share custody of their granddaughter with Elledge’s mother, said they are focusing on the child while struggling with the possibility they may never take their daughter home.
“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.”
Elledge and Ji married in 2017 and attended the University of Missouri.
By HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH and MARGARET STAFFORD
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