A senior engineering student at the University of Missouri has been charged with child abuse — just as police investigating the disappearance of his wife say they now suspect she was killed.
Joseph Elledge was charged Monday with abuse or neglect of a child, with detectives alleging he spanked his 1-year-old daughter hard enough to cause bruising earlier this year. The charge comes just after police announced Friday they now suspect foul play in the disappearance of Mengqi Ji Elledge, a 28-year-old woman who came from China to the United States for school, according to The Associated Press.
Mengqi (who is listed as M.E. in the probable cause statement obtained by The Associated Press) had allegedly wanted to contact police over the bruising he gave their daughter last February, but gave Joseph another chance after he promised he would never do it again. However, she sent photos of the bruises to someone else, the statement claims.
Police were able to see the images of the girl's bruises after searching Mengqi's iPad. Joseph admitted to causing the bruises to police on Friday, saying the child wouldn't stop crying, the document alleges.
Joseph, 23, is jailed on a $500,000 cash bond and no attorney is listed for him in online court records. His daughter is currently in the care of a relative.
Mengqi was last seen at her home on the night of October 8. Joseph told police she was gone when he woke up the next morning, according to local television outlet KRCG-TV.
Joseph has not been charged in his wife's disappearance, although the document notes Joseph did not report his wife's disappearance for 36 hours and took long drives through remote and unfamiliar areas of Missouri during the day-and-a-half time span, according to the Associated Press.
Columbia Police spokesman Steven Sapp explained authorities learned the couple was having marital issues after Joseph's interview with KRCG-TV, where he said they "were kind of growing distant in the past few months."
"I know she was talking to someone else on the side," Joseph told the station.
However, he also added his wife is "a great mom, like the best mom ever."
"Sometimes when I take care of Anna by myself it's hard, it's really kind of stressful and exhausting. Anna needs her mom," he said "I think she'll come back I just don't know. I don't know where she's been I hope she's safe ... I can try and be a better husband."
He claimed in the interview he didn't report Mengqi was missing because he thought she might have been running errands: "I don't know where she could have gone. I know she was supposed to meet somebody in the morning. I didn't know who else she was going to meet or what else she was going to do. It was really weird that she didn't take her phone or anything else like that."
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