Missouri man describes what happened the night his wife died

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri man accused of killing his wife admitted Tuesday that he buried her body in a park but insisted that her death was an accident that happened after he pushed her during an argument.

Joseph Elledge is charged with first-degree murder in the death of 28-year-old Mengqi Ji, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March at a park near Columbia, Missouri.

Prosecutors rested their case on Monday, after presenting a week of evidence that detailed the couple’s troubled and deteriorating relationship. Ji moved to Missouri from China to study at the University of Missouri and stayed after she married Elledge.

On the stand Tuesday, Elledge said he and his wife argued on Oct. 8, 2019, after he confronted her about exchanging sexual messages with a man on a China-based messaging service. He said they pushed each other during the argument and she fell and hit her head.

He said Ji moved to a couch and he went for a walk. Later that night, he found her on the couple’s bed and he went to sleep. He said he awoke about 5 a.m. the next day to their daughter, Anna, crying. and went to check on her, The Columbia Tribune reported.

When he returned to the bedroom, Ji was unresponsive and he checked her for a pulse but her skin was cold, he said.

Elledge said he didn’t immediately call for help because the scene looked weird and “my mind was going 100 miles an hour. … I knew people would suspect me.” He called that decision “stupid.”

Elledge said he placed his wife’s body in the trunk of her car and returned to the apartment to think.

“I was panicked. I wasn’t thinking at all, really,” he said.

He said he drove to places like Jefferson City, Fulton, Ashland and Guthrie, but didn’t know where to bury Ji so he returned home.

The next day, Elledge lied to a friend and Ji’s mother about her whereabouts, he said, because he didn’t know how to explain why he put her body in the car trunk.

With their daughter in the car, Elledge then drove to Rock Bridge State Park about 5 miles (8 kilometers) south of Columbia. He took about a half-hour to dig a grave and bury Ji, he said. The site was a half-mile from where Elledge had proposed to Ji.

He reported her missing when he returned home. He initially told authorities that he and Ji argued and he discovered she had left the apartment when he woke up the next day. He stuck to that story for months as searches were conducted for his wife and he was charged with her murder even before her body was found.

In testimony earlier Tuesday, Elledge said he and his wife had a difficult relationship because of differences caused by their backgrounds and cultures and their different ways of communicating.

He and Ji met in 2015 at Nanova, a company that makes dental products, where Ji was Elledge’s supervisor. They began dating the following year and eventually traveled to China, where he asked Ji’s parents for permission to marry her. The couple married in 2017 and planned to have three to five children and wanted them to grow up in a house that included both U.S. and Chinese cultures, KRCG-TV reported.

Elledge said he initially got along well with Ji’s parents but that tensions arose after they moved in with the couple when their daughter was born on Oct. 3, 2018.

His in-laws would “butt in and take over” on how to raise Anna, Elledge said, and they communicated with Ji in Chinese.

“I felt very isolated and like I was being pushed out of my own home,” Elledge said. Ji’s parents eventually moved out and the couple’s relationship improved somewhat, he said.

But trouble brewed in the summer of 2019, when Elledge had an internship at a home furnishing manufacturer in Carthage, and the couple had to financially maintain two homes.

He said their intimacy decreased and he began considering divorce. He conducted searches on the topic online but did not consult an attorney because, despite their bickering, they wanted to repair their relationship.

Prosecutors presented evidence that focused largely on a journal kept by Elledge, text messages between the couple and audio tapes that detailed their difficult relationship, The Columbia Missourian reported.

Prosecutor Dan Knight referred to a Elledge’s 51-page journal as a “grievances diary” because it contained pages of complaints about his wife. In segments read into evidence Monday, Elledge complained that his wife was demanding, did not care about his feelings and was secretive.

Ji earned a master’s degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from the University of Missouri in December 2014. Elledge was a student at the university when his wife died.

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