Boone County prosecutors have secured a grand jury indictment that adds a third child abuse charge to the case of a man suspected of killing his wife.
In a news release, Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight’s office writes that Joseph Elledge, 24, was indicted Friday on two already-filed counts of abuse or neglect of a child and first-degree child endangerment, and that the indictment adds a new count of first-degree child endangerment. Elledge is accused of striking his 1-year-old daughter in January or early February.
The new charge states Elledge endangered the couple's daughter by separating her from her mother. Knight has named Elledge as the prime suspect in the Oct. 8 disappearance of his wife, Mengqi Ji, but has not charged him with any crime directly related to her.
After a break of almost a week, the Columbia Police Department, assisted by several other agencies, resumed searching Friday in the Lamine River in northwest Cooper County. The search on Friday focused on a new area about 100 to 150 yards upstream from the Highway 41 bridge that had been the previous area of concentration.
Late Friday, Assistant Chief Jeremiah Hunter said the search was ending for the day. Ji's body was not found.
Elledge has been in the Boone County Jail awaiting trial in lieu of $500,000 cash-only bond on the two Class D felony charges filed Oct. 25. He has pleaded not guilty to the two earlier charges and an arraignment on the new charge is scheduled Dec. 23, with Circuit Judge Brouck Jacobs presiding.
The abuse charges came to light throughout the investigation into his wife's disappearance.
Friday was the 10th day authorities have searched the Lamine River for Mengqi Ji's remains.
It was not immediately clear why, and authorities have declined multiple times to say why the section of the river near the De Bourgmont Access is an area of concern.
Elledge, according to charging documents in the child abuse case and testimony from a Nov. 6 bond reduction hearing, was said to have taken a long drive through rural mid-Missouri the day after his wife disappeared. Numerous locations were mentioned, but the Lamine River was not listed in any testimony or affidavit available to the public.
Ji’s parents, Ke Ren and Xiaolin Ji, filed a petition Thursday in Boone County to allow them control of their missing daughter’s estate. In the petition, family attorney Amy Salladay writes Ji’s disappearance under suspicious circumstances makes it impossible for her financial affairs to be managed.
Ji’s parents, both residents of China, were recently awarded joint custody, along with the suspect's mother Jean Elledge, of Joseph Elledge and Ji’s daughter. Salladay, in the limited conservatorship motion, writes her clients are currently staying in Columbia on visas and will continue to stay to care for their granddaughter.
Salladay did not immediately return a call to her office seeking comment, but has also filed a motion to have court documents in the conservatorship case closed to the public. In the motion she cites the extensive media coverage of Ji’s disappearance.
“If this is not done, every motion filed and every order entered by the court in this matter is likely to be the subject of a news story,” Salladay writes. “The constant media scrutiny regarding this matter does not serve the petitioners or the minor child in this matter.”