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Trial Begins For Missouri College Student Accused Of Killing His Chinese Wife

Mengqi Ji Elledge immigrated from China to study mechanical and aerospace engineering, then disappeared in October 2019 amid divorce discussions.

By Megan Carpentier
Husbands Who Killed Their Wives

Jury selection began on Monday for a Missouri man accused of killing his wife in 2019 and dumping her body in a state park.

Joseph Elledge, 26, has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of his wife, Mengqi Ji Elledge, 28, in October 2019. Her remains were discovered by a hunter in Rock Bridge Memorial State Park — about seven miles from the couple's Columbia home — on March 25, 2021; they were positively identified in April. Charges were filed against Elledge in February 2020.

While searching for her in 2019, prosecutors filed child abuse charges against Elledge based on evidence found on the then-missing woman's iPad, which they said showed he had beaten the couple's then-1-year-old daughter hard enough to cause bruising in February 2019. The mother had agreed not to contact police after Elledge promised never to do it again; he told police before his arrest that the infant wouldn't stop crying when he'd beat her. 

In a probable cause affidavit for Elledge's 2020 arrest in the death of his wife, police allege that Mengqi Elledge had called an ex-boyfriend in August 2019 asking for information about divorce attorneys. Her last known contacts were her daily video chat with her mother at 3 p.m. on Oct. 8, 2019, and a series of Facebook messages around 9:15 p.m. with a friend about buying baby formula the following day. She never called her mother again and did not show up for the baby formula.

Joseph Elledge Pd

In the affidavit, police say that Elledge told them that at some point before 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 8, he gave his wife a back rub with the intention of initiating sex, but she refused — an occurance that he said was increasingly common. He said that he then got up and went to watch YouTube and play video games, coming to join his wife in bed at 11:30 p.m. When their daughter woke him up at 5:00 a.m. and then at 8:00 a.m., his wife was gone, he said — though her car remained in the driveway.

That day, Elledge told police, he went for two drives to calm down: first driving 30 miles south to Jefferson City and back around 10:30 a.m., and then around 6:30 p.m. — half an hour before sunset — 15 miles south to Ashland, 10 miles east to Guthrie, back to Ashland, then north west of Columbia to several stopes the MKT/Katy Trail, ending in Rocheport around 9:30 p.m., at which point he returned home.

Police say Elledge's cell phone records show he actually continued another 12 miles west of Rocheport to Boonville and then another 9 miles west to outside Lamine, near the intersection of Route 41 and the Lamine River. Authorities attempted to search that area with cadaver dogs but were unsuccessful as of the time of Elledge's Feb. 2020 arrest, they said. Mengqi Elledge's remains were discovered more than a year later; the state park in which they were found is about halfway between Ashland and Columbia. 

Despite having contact with multiple people after Oct. 8, Elledge did not report his wife's disappearance to anyone until the afternoon of Oct. 10 — after a friend of hers came to the house to check on her, at her mother's request, because she'd missed their daily phone call. In the wake of her disappearance, Elledge accused her of having an affair during a media interview; police say that during a search of the residence they found documents in Joseph Elledge's possessions outlining his statements to police and reminding him to refer to his wife in the present tense during interviews. Police note that, in the interview in which he accused her of an affair, he referred to her in the past tense.

Prosecutors have said they believe that Elledge strangled his wife to avoid a costly divorce and the possibility that she would return to China with their daughter, according to the Associated Press. Jury selection was well underway as of Monday afternoon, according to NBC affiliate KOMU in Columbia; it is unknown whether the jury will be sequestered during the trial.

Mengqi Ji came to the United States to study for a masters degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Missouri, which she earned in 2014. She and Elledge, who was still a student at the time of her death, married in 2017.