Search for body of missing woman could cost $500,000

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The search for the body of a Missouri woman presumed to have been murdered by her husband could cost at least $500,000, forcing her family to ask lawmakers and the community for help in funding the effort.

Columbia police believe the body of Mengqi Ji was dropped in the Lamine River, near Booneville, after she disappeared Oct. 8.

In February, a grand jury indicted her husband, Joseph Elledge, on first-degree murder for allegedly killing her. He was initially charged with child abuse against the couple's 1-year-old daughter. He's now held the Boone County jail on a $500,000 bond.

Ji’s body has not been found after months of searching. Cadaver dogs indicated human remains in the Lamine River, but tree density is making the search difficult, The Kansas City Star reported Friday.

“We are 90% sure that her body is in the Lamine River,” said Amy Salladay, Ji’s family attorney. “But they can’t get to that area because it is under dense trees and brush.”

Ji, 28, came to the U.S. from China seven years ago. She earned her master’s degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from University of Missouri in 2014. She stayed in Columbia and married Elledge in 2017.

Sallady said engineers have concluded that building a retaining wall would help clear the way to finding Ji’s body. The wall would allow crews to pump out water near the Missouri 41 overpass, which is where police believe the body is now.

But the endeavor comes with a minimum price tag of $500,000, according to Salladay.

The family sought help from the state’s representatives in Congress, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt and U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, requesting they tap into money from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fund the search for Ji’s body, Salladay said.

Blunt’s office said they’re facilitating work between local police and the Army Corps on the search. Hartzler’s office also said it’s working on getting help to continue the search.

True North of Columbia, a domestic violence shelter, will display Ji’s artwork for a fundraiser on April 27 if stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted by then.

The Missing Persons Support Center’s Facebook page is also accepting donations. Checks can be mailed to MPSC, P.O. Box 262, Foristell, Mo. 63348, with “MJ” noted in the memo line to indicate it’s for the search.

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