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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri authorities say they believe that human remains first spotted by someone out walking in a state park Thursday afternoon are the body of a Chinese woman who has been missing since October 2019.
The skeletal remains, some clothing, a driver's license and some credit cards with Mengqi Ji Elledge's name on them were found in a remote area of Rock Bridge State Park in Boone County. Columbia Mayor Brian Treece and Columbia Police Chief Geoff Jones announced the findings Thursday evening.
Assistant Chief Jeremiah Hunter described the identification of the remains as preliminary. Hunter, Jones and Treece emphasized the importance of this development in beginning to provide closure to Ji's family. Police officials said DNA and potentially other testing would be done to confirm that the remains are Ji's.
Jones said authorities had contacted Ji's family through their attorney.
"As a parent, I can only imagine how important it is to want to have some measure of closure in a tragedy such as this," Jones said.
Ji's husband, Joseph Elledge, was charged in February 2020 with first-degree murder in her disappearance. He has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge and to related charges of child endangerment and domestic abuse.
The couple has a 2-year-old daughter. Elledge, a University of Missouri student, is jailed without bond. His trial is set for Nov. 1.
Prosecutors have speculated that Elledge strangled his wife to avoid a costly divorce and stop her from fleeing to China with their daughter.
Elledge told authorities he realized his wife was missing on Oct. 9, 2019, but didn't report she was gone until the next day— which is when a friend came to the house at the request of Ji's mother. Authorities say he drove to remote areas, spending around 45 minutes at a secluded access point to the Lamine River after dark, during those 24 hours. Cadaver dogs detected the presence of human remains there, but law enforcement was unable to find a body despite multiple searches.
Hunter said parts of Rock Bridge State Park had been previously searched but not the area where the remains were found, which is about 30 feet from a road.
During a court hearing in November 2019, Boone County Chief Prosecutor Dan Knight described Elledge as a "jealous, controlling, manipulative psychopath." Knight played four audio recordings of the couple arguing.
In the recordings, the husband says, "I don't like being with you," ''I'm eager to end it" and "I will bury the earth under you." Ji can also be heard arguing with her husband, who raised his voice several times. At one point, he told her, "I know you want me to hit you," and, "This, it's not abusive."
He was also heard saying he wanted a divorce "the sooner the better."
Defense attorneys argued during the hearing that Ji had exchanged sexually explicit messages with another person.
Elledge's attorney, Scott Rosenblum, said he had no comment Thursday evening.
A message left with Ji's family attorney was not returned Thursday.
Ji received a master's degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from the University of Missouri in December 2014. She previously attended the East China University of Science and Technology in Shanghai.
This story was corrected to show that Joseph Elledge was charged in 2020, not 2021.
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