Juniper Tree Helped Solve a Young Mother's Murder

Mengqi Ji vanished in October 2019
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 31, 2022 6:30 AM CST
Juniper Tree Helped Solve a Young Mother's Murder
This undated file photo provided by the Boone County Sheriff's Department in Columbia, Mo., shows Joseph Elledge.   (Boone County Sheriff's Department via AP, File)

When Joseph Elledge discovered his wife, Mengqi Ji, was missing, he called the police non-emergency line a day later to report it. Elledge maintained that the 28-year-old mother of a 1-year-old left on the morning of Oct. 8, 2019, with her purse but not her phone or car keys. Elledge told police in Columbia, Missouri, things weren't great between the couple—and that he discovered via her computer and phone that she was having an emotional affair with a man in China. He suggested she may have run off with the man; Boone County prosecuting attorney Dan Knight says he had his suspicions about Elledge, who said he spent much of Oct. 8 on two long drives with the baby during which he looked for new hiking trails.

In reviewing the couple's phones, detectives discovered they had both recorded hours of conversation with the other—in which they described a deteriorated relationship and the possibility of divorce, and in which Elledge at times went "ballistic," as CBS News puts it. Police executed a search warrant at the apartment and found what Knight terms a script along the lines of "what to tell the police." They had no body or murder evidence, but they charged him with murder anyway. A hiker found Ji's body a year later, before Elledge's trial had started. And then things fell into place: Detectives had seized Elledge's muddy boots, and they analyzed the soil in it. Juniper tree needles were found, and they were DNA-tested—and the DNA matched that of the needles from a tree that towered above where Ji's body was found. (Read the full story, which goes into the defense Elledge mounted; he was found guilty of second-degree murder.)

Stories to sink your teeth into.
Get our roundup of longform stories every Saturday.
Sign up
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.