COOPER COUNTY — Authorities as of Wednesday afternoon had cleared most of debris from a piling beneath the Highway 41 bridge on the Lamine River and divers were in the water much of the afternoon, but did not not locate the body of a Columbia woman missing since early October.
Mengqi Ji Elledge was last seen Oct. 8, according to an account furnished by her husband, Joseph Elledge, who prosecutors have named as the prime suspect in her disappearance.
Assistant Columbia Police Chief Jeremiah Hunter told reporters observing the search that “substantial progress” had been made removing the debris on the upstream side of the bridge. A Columbia boom truck with a dredging bucket has been on the site for the past two days to assist in the removal of logs and other flood debris accumulated in water about 16-feet deep at the focal point of the search.
“Today we are going to have a lot more activity, a lot more boats and divers on the river,” Hunter said during a noon briefing. “We are still doing exploratory searches, but we are narrowing down the field. We got a significant portion of it (the flood debris) yesterday and got into a really good rhythm of where we need to be looking. Today we are trying to finish that particular part.”
By the afternoon, dozens of logs were piled on the bank of the river under the bridge and opposite the De Bourgmont Access where authorities are staged. Divers throughout the day could be seen swimming and surfacing near the bridge pier, as authorities in jon boats used long poles to probe the depths of the murky river.
“With the visibility, the divers are telling us, it is a slow process but we are pretty certain we are looking in the correct location,” Hunter said.
Hunter declined on Tuesday and Wednesday to say what particular facts led police to search the spot beneath the Highway 41 bridge.
Joseph Elledge told police on Oct. 10, when he filed a missing person report, that he last saw his wife about 11:30 p.m. on Oct. 8 and she was missing when he awoke the next morning.
From statements made by Elledge and other sources, detectives know Joseph Joseph Elledge took a “long drive through an unfamiliar area” between the time she went missing and filing a missing person’s report, according to court documents.
During a bond hearing Nov. 6, Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight argued that Elledge is the primary suspect in his wife’s disappearance. Knight described him as a substantial flight risk and a danger to the community, due to his violent disposition.
Police will make a determination later about returning for a third day of searching if Mengqi Ji Elledge is not found, Hunter said. The department is being assisted in the search by several state and local agencies, including the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Cooper and Maries county sheriffs' departments, U.S. Geological Survey and Missouri Task Force 1.
Mengqi Ji Elledge is a Chinese female with brown eyes and black shoulder-length hair, typically worn in a bun. She is between 5′1″ and 5′3″ and has both ears pierced.
Police asked hunters who were out for deer season to keep a watch for any sign of her.