Skeletal remains discovered this week are believed to belong to a Missouri woman who vanished in 2019 — allegedly murdered by her husband, according to new reports.
A hiker found the badly decomposed human remains — which authorities believe belong to Mengqi Ji — Thursday at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park near Columbia, ABC 17 reported.
Ji was first reported missing in October 2019, and her husband, Joseph Elledge, was indicted in February 2020 on a first-degree murder charge, according to the Columbia Tribune.
Elledge also faces child abuse, child endangerment and third-degree domestic assault in connection to a separate case, the outlet reported.
“We’re elated and hope this serves as a conclusion for the family,” Assistant Columbia Police Chief Jeremiah Hunter said Thursday, according to the report. “So many people came together to help us with this investigation. … Detectives are still on scene and will be for quite a while.”
It’s not yet clear whether Elledge will face additional charges, according to Police Chief Geoff Jones.
“The investigative process will have to play out,” Jones said. “We’ll be thorough and anything we glean for additional charges, we’ll confer with the prosecutor’s office.”
Throughout the investigation, evidence had indicated Ji’s body was either in or close to the Lamine River at the Missouri Route 41 bridge, the paper reported.
After suspending the search for Ji’s body in June, police began again in October — the one-year anniversary of the woman’s disappearance — when the river’s decreased levels revealed that a temporary levee was still intact, according to the local report.
The remains were found in an isolated, wooded area of the state park, about 30 feet from the road, according to the report. No investigative leads had previously pointed to that section of the park.
A driver’s license, credit and bank cards as well as other documents and clothing belonging to Ji were found near her remains, according to Hunter. Now, an identification process, including DNA testing and dental records, will proceed, he said.
“As a parent, I can only imagine how important it is to have some measure of closure in a tragedy such as this,” Jones said. “Once the evidence goes to the lab, we are hoping to be able to do just that.”