Police say “foul play” is suspected in the disappearance of a Missouri woman reported missing 20 days ago by her husband, who has since been charged with abuse or neglect of a child but has not been charges in connection with her disappearance.
Mengqi Ji Elledge, a 28-year-old Chinese national who relocated to complete her master’s degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Missouri, was last reported seen by her husband at 11:30 p.m. Oct. 8 when she went to bed in their Columbia home, police said in a news release.
Her husband, Joseph Elledge, 23, said she was gone when he awoke at 5 a.m., but he did not report her missing for more than 36 hours, until about 5:45 p.m. on Oct. 10, according to police.
In the interim, Joseph, who is also a student at the university, “took a long drive through unfamiliar remote areas of Mid-Missouri,” according to a police detective’s account in a probable cause document for the abuse allegations, reports TV station KRCG.
The child neglect charge stemmed from the investigation of that disappearance, after a woman alerted police on Oct. 18 that Megqi had called her last February, claiming to have photos that showed a female child’s bruised buttocks, according to the probable cause document, reports KCRG.
The female child’s mother had wanted to call police but was persuaded to back off after Joseph allegedly promised not to strike the child again, according to the document, the AP reports. But the mother nonetheless forwarded a photograph of her child’s bruising to a third party, and police who recovered the mother’s iPad located additional images and videos of the injury.
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Interviewed by police on Friday, Joseph allegedly acknowledged causing the bruises in February, and said the child had been crying and would not stop, according to the document, reports the AP.
He was arrested the same day on those accusations and booked on a $500,000 bond, reports KRCG. His attorney, John O’Connor, entered a plea of not guilty to the charges at Joseph’s arraignment on Monday.
Authorities who sought the bond to keep Joseph in jail wrote that he “is believed to be a flight risk because when police arrived at his house to serve a search warrant today, [Elledge] was packing items from his house in preparation to leave for an unknown amount of time,” according to a warrant complaint filed Friday, reports KRCG.
In an interview with the TV station 10 days prior to his arrest, Joseph said he and Mengqi “were growing kind of distant in the past few months.” He also said: “I know she was talking to somebody else on the side. I didn’t know that until she had left.”
“I don’t know where she could have gone,” he told the outlet. “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.”
At the time, he expressed hope for her return, telling KRCG: “I think she is confused and scared.”
Authorities ask anyone with information to call 911 or Columbia police at 573-874-7652 or CrimeStoppers at 573-875-TIPS.