Details of Disappearance Mengqi was last seen at her home in the 2600 block of Eastwood Drive in Columbia, Missouri on the evening of October 8, 2019. Her husband, Joseph Elledge, stated they went to bed at 11:30 p.m. At 5:00 a.m. he woke to the sound of their child crying. Elledge was gone and her phone, laptop, tablet, wallet, passport and car were left behind; she only took her purse. She has never been heard from again. Her husband reported her missing at 5:45 p.m.
When authorities were investigating Mengqi's disappearance, they found evidence that Joseph was abusing their one-year-old daughter, and he was charged with one count of child abuse or neglect and three counts of first-degree child endangerment. A photo of him is posted with this case summary. He and his mother were about to leave town when he was arrested.
Mengqi had photos on her tablet of bruising on a child's buttocks, and police also found videos of the bruising. She had told her father about the bruises and said she'd asked Joseph if he had caused the injuries, and he said they might have happened when he was bathing the child. After his arrest, Joseph admitted he "pinched" their daughter or "held her too hard" and caused the bruising seven or eight months earlier. However, according to authorities, the bruising didn't resemble what would be caused by pinching or tight holding and appeared to have been caused by the child being struck.
In the aftermath of Joseph's arrest, his and Mengqi's parents fought over custody of the couple's daughter. In the end both sets of grandparents got joint custody, with a no-contact order between Joseph and the girl.
Investigators named Joseph as the prime suspect in his wife case's and stated that although there was no physical evidence tying him to her possible murder, there was also no evidence that Mengqi was still alive. They found several recordings on Joseph's phone of himself, his mother and Mengqi talking, and described Joseph as controlling and threatening. Among other things he said "I know you want me to hit you," "I will bury the earth under you," "It would be best if you go back to China," and "I'm ready to be done talking to you forever."
Joseph's mother stated that her son and Mengqi had both "cried divorce" during arguments and that she had recommended both of them get professional counseling. Joseph himself had said he had they had been having problems for months and Mengqi was usually unwilling to have sex with him, making him frustrated. Mengqi's mother said Joseph wouldn't allow her daughter to have a social life and would get upset if she left the house for too long.
In February 2020, Joseph was charged with first-degree murder in Mengqi's case. Investigators believe he strangled or suffocated her to death on October 8 or October 9 and disposed of her body in a river. Joseph is awaiting trial.
The case against him includes evidence of the couple's marital problems, and evidence of Joseph's various locations on October 9. He had told police that before reporting Mengqi missing on October 9, he took their daughter on a drive to Jefferson City, Missouri to "relax" and used Google maps to locate what he believed was a forest with walking trails. However, when he drove to that area he found it was just farmland, so he went to Rocheport, Missouri. Cell phone records indicate Joseph went on another trip that day which he didn't tell the police about, to a hiking and biking trail in Boonville, Missouri, at Highway 41 near the Lamine River.
Mengqi was born in China and attended the East China University of Science and Technology in Shanghai. She got a master's degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from the University of Missouri in December 2014. Her body has not been found, but foul play is suspected in her case due to the circumstances involved.
- Columbia Police Department
Updated 1 time since October 12, 2004. Last updated November 10, 2020; casefile added.