Elledge first-degree murder charge based on strangling scenario

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BOONE COUNTY - Investigators believe Joseph Elledge strangled or suffocated his wife and disposed of her body in a river last fall on Oct. 8 or 9, according to details in a probable cause statement filed Wednesday.

The filing of the document ended months of speculation after a first-degree murder charge was filed against Joseph Elledge in connection with the death of his wife, Mengqi Ji, whom he reported missing in October. 

Although Boone County Chief Prosecutor Dan Knight as early as November had declared Elledge the "prime suspect" in his wife's disappearance and presumed death, her body has not been found.

The probable cause statement cites evidence of marriage problems and Elledge's various locations on Oct. 9, the day he said his wife disappeared.

The statement by Columbia Police Officer Allen Mitchell references Elledge's statement about giving Mengqi Ji a massage on the night before her disappearance.

In an unusually detailed description, Mitchell notes the size difference between the suspect and his wife and how Elledge could have strangled or suffocated her. Mengqi Ji was about 5 feet tall and weighed about 100 pounds. Elledge was about 6 feet tall and weighed about 170 pounds.

"Joseph being on Mengqi's back would have put Mengqi in a compromising position that would not have allowed her options for defending herself," Mitchell says in the statement.

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"I also know from training and experience that a strangulation or suffocation is relatively bloodless, relatively silent, but violent act." 

The statement also describes Elledge's statement about the trouble the couple had been having in their relationship for several months and that she wouldn't have sex with him during or after the massage. He told police Mengqi Ji had generally not been willing to have sex with him and "this was frustrating for him."

The statement also goes into detail about where Elledge said he went on the day of Mengqi Ji's disappearance. Although he said he didn't tell anyone his wife was missing, he took their child for a drive to Jefferson City to "relax."

He also told investigators he used Google maps to locate what he thought was a large forest with walking trails "in the triangle between Columbia, Kingdom City and Jefferson City."

He  drove to Ashland and back and forth to Guthrie in search of the wooded area where he said he hoped to walk with his child but discovered it was just farmland. Then he went to Rocheport. 

Elledge's cell phone records, obtained through a search warrant by Columbia police, confirmed the trips. But the records depart from Elledge's statement, showing that he made another trip to Boonville and the area of highway 41 near the Lamine River.

"Joseph's actions on the day Mengqi went missing took him to places he had never frequented and in some cases had never been," the statement notes.

"Joseph went to two locations in direct contact with the Missouri River and another location that he initially believed was a wooded and secluded uninhabited area... These locations are places where a body could be disposed of and not located for some time."

The statement notes that cadaver dogs had detected the scent of decomposition in the Lamine River. A section of the river has been the focus of the search since late November. Police spokesperson Brittany Hilderbrand wrote in an email Feb. 7 that the area would continue to be searched. 

Legal experts say prosecuting a murder without a body is possible, but it creates extra challenges for the state, according to previous Columbia Missourian reporting.

Joseph Elledge has been held in the Boone County Jail on child abuse charges since Oct. 25.