The husband of a woman who has been missing since October now faces murder charges in her death.
A Boone County grand jury on Friday indicted Joseph Elledge in the murder of his wife Mengqi Ji, whose body has not been located more than four months after her disappearance.
In a news release, Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight stated that the indictment was for first-degree murder, as well as unrelated charges of child abuse, child endangerment and third-degree domestic assault.
"I am pleased that the grand jury returns indictments in both cases," Knight said. "We are going to do everything we can to ensure that justice is secured in these cases. The defendant is presumed to be innocent until he is proven guilty."
Knight filed the murder charge on Feb. 20, but no judge has signed the warrant necessary to make the charges official. The indictment bypasses that step.
Reached by telephone Friday afternoon, defense attorney John O’Connor declined to comment on the indictment.
Through family attorney Amy Salladay, Ji’s parents Ke Ren and Xiaolin Ji issued a statement following the indictment. Salladay said they are appreciative of Knight’s efforts and that the charge is now official, but it is not a moment of happiness as they face the reality of never seeing their daughter again.
"The murder charges being filed, to them it’s a beginning to the end," Salladay said. "They are hopeful this will start the process of bringing them some closure. This is a technicality for them as they went through this last week. They were expecting the warrant to be signed and weren’t aware of the hiccups.
"Last week is when they were feeling the emotions of having to deal with the reality that their daughter is gone and never coming back."
Ji has been missing since Oct. 8 from the couple’s residence in Columbia and at the time of the indictment Friday, her body was still not located. Search efforts have focused heavily on the Lamine River beneath the Highway 41 bridge in Cooper County.
Reasons why, outlined in charging documents, show that as part of a long drive through mid-Missouri, Elledge stopped there and later concealed the fact from police. A search dog also alerted to human decomposition in the area, Columbia police have stated in court documents.
After numerous searches, sonar scans, dives, and the use of heavy equipment to excavate a large pile of flood debris believed to be the resting place of Ji, authorities have found no evidence.
Shortly after the indictment, Columbia police issued a video update on the case and wrote in a press release that search efforts will continue and will be expanded to include an extensive air and ground search in surrounding counties.
"Over the course of the investigation, there were several factors that impacted our ability to search the areas," Chief Geoff Jones said in the release. "Overall weather conditions including soil saturation, rising water levels, flooding, precipitation, the amount of snow coverage on the ground, and the flow rate of the river all played a part impacting the team’s ability to effectively and safely search the area.
"We have continued to search and will continue to search for Mengqi Ji."
frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen>
The lack of a body will be a difficult hurdle for Knight to overcome before a jury. The murder charge is based in part on a pattern of odd behavior by Elledge in the hours following Ji’s disappearancee.
It’s been extremely difficult for the family of Ji not knowing where their daughter is. In an emailed statement by Salladay, Ren and Ji described the past four months as a nightmare.
They are Chinese citizens in the U.S. on visas and will soon have to return to mainland China.
"Mengqi’s bizarre disappearance is the worst thing that has ever happened to our family," Ji’s family wrote.
"For us, every single day now is the darkest, saddest, hardest, and the most painful, we cannot accept the harsh reality," they wrote. "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.
"After the murder charge was filed, our hope has gone."
When they do return, they hope to see their daughter has a proper resting place. In their statement to the Tribune, Ren and Ji also implored Elledge to answer his conscience and tell investigators the whereabouts of their beloved daughter.
"While we must always focus our attention on our granddaughter, we struggle with the fact that we may never be able to take our daughter Mengqi home," Salladay wrote on behalf of Ji’s family. "We came here believing Mengqi would be found and that our stay in the United States would be brief. 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 forever abandoned our child in a foreign country."