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Crime News Breaking News

Body Confirmed To Be Schoolteacher Abducted While Jogging In Memphis

Charges against kidnapping suspect Cleotha Abston have been upgraded to murder since the body of mother and kindergarten teacher Eliza Fletcher was found in Memphis. 

By Jax Miller
Memphis Teacher Eliza Fletcher Found Dead After Abduction

The body of a mother and schoolteacher who was violently abducted while jogging on a Memphis street has been found, police say.

Surveillance video captured the kidnapping of Eliza "Liza" Fletcher, 34, who was forced into a dark-colored SUV while on a routine run at around 4:30 a.m. on Friday, according to the Memphis Police Department, a whirlwind missing persons case that captivated the country over the Labor Day weekend.

The U.S. Marshals Service arrested Cleotha Abston, 38, on Sunday after his DNA allegedly was discovered on a pair of Champion slide sandals found near where Fletcher was taken, according to an arrest affidavit obtained by Fox News. He was initially charged with especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence.

The widespread search for the missing woman continued into Monday when officials found a body shortly after 5:00 p.m., about seven and a half miles from where Fletcher disappeared, according to police. On Tuesday morning, Memphis police confirmed the body belonged to Fletcher, they said in a tweet.

A photo of missing person Eliza Fletcher

A cause of death has yet to be released, though Abston’s charges have been upgraded to first-degree murder and first-degree murder in perpetration of a kidnapping.

According to the New York Times, Fletcher’s body was found behind a vacant duplex apartment, just blocks away from where Abston’s brother, Mario Abston, 38, resided.

Liza Fletcher, a mother of two who worked as a junior Kindergarten teacher for St. Mary’s Episcopal School in Memphis, was reported missing by her husband at around 7:45 a.m. on Friday when she failed to return home, according to the arrest affidavit obtained by CNN. Authorities obtained surveillance video after someone found Fletcher’s cell phone in the area a short time later.

A pair of Champion brand sandals were also found near the phone, according to NBC News.

Surveillance video showed a man exiting the GMC Terrain SUV and running “aggressively” toward Fletcher before “violently” forcing her into the passenger’s seat of the vehicle, according to CNN.

“During this abduction, there appeared to be a struggle,” the affidavit stated, per NBC News. “The Champion slides sandals were found in this area. The vehicle then sat in the parking lot with the victim inside for about approximately four minutes before it drove off.”

A police handout of Cleotha Abston

The alleged kidnapper reportedly left his DNA on the shoes, which was later allegedly traced back to Abston, who has a criminal history. More surveillance video from the day before Fletcher’s kidnapping showed Abston wearing the same sandals, according to the affidavit.

Cell phone data later placed Abston in the location where Fletcher was abducted, according to the affidavit.

On Saturday, authorities arrested Abston after they spotted the SUV in a parking lot near his South Memphis residence. He allegedly tried to flee from officers but was arrested a short time later, according to NBC News.

Two witnesses - including the suspect’s brother, Mario Abston - later told authorities that they saw Abston “cleaning the interior” of the GMC Terrain with floor cleaner shortly after the abduction, according to Fox News. They also witnessed Abston allegedly washing his clothes in the sink.

According to CNN, this took place at Mario’s home.

Mario Abston was charged Sunday with two counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to manufacture and sell (one count for heroin, one count for fentanyl), as well as one count of possession of a firearm as a convicted felon.

Police say he is not being investigated as having a role in Fletcher’s case.

Cleotha Abston - the only person of interest publicly named in the case - has not been cooperating with authorities and previously refused to say where they could find Eliza Fletcher, according to Fox News.

A surveillance screengrab of Eliza Fletcher Running before being abducted

Cleotha Abston made a brief appearance in court just minutes after his charges were upgraded to murder, according to Fox News. He is expected to appear on Wednesday with legal representation from a public defender.

Abston was also charged with identity theft, theft of property, and fraudulent use of a credit card, according to Fox Nashville affiliate WZTV. CNN reported the petty charges pertained to multiple transactions on Thursday - one day before the kidnapping - when Abston allegedly used a woman’s cash app to make gas station purchases without permission.

The case gained widespread media attention, partly due to Liza Fletcher being the granddaughter of Memphis-based businessman Joseph Orgill III, once the owner of the Orgill Inc. hardware distributions. According to the New York Times, Fletcher was named as an heiress to the family fortune following Orgill’s passing.

Cleotha Abston was released from prison in 2020 after serving 20 years for another violent kidnapping, according to the New York Post. In 2000, when Abston was 16 years old, he and another teenager were charged with abducting Memphis-based attorney Kemper Durand and driving with him in the trunk of their vehicle.

Durand was rescued after he called for help after Abston and his accomplice tried to force him to withdraw money from an ATM.

Abston had a criminal history dating back to when he was 12 years old, which included charges of aggravated assault and rape, according to the New York Post.

A press conference will be held Tuesday, per Memphis affiliate WREG. Newly-elected Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy and other law enforcement members are expected to be present.