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DNA Found During Memphis Jogger's Murder Investigation Links Suspect To 2021 Kidnapping And Rape, Authorities Say

Eliza Fletcher was abducted while on a pre-dawn run and found dead at an abandoned house three days later. Cleotha Abston, who is charged with her murder, has now been linked to a rape and kidnapping from 2021. 

By Jax Miller

The man suspected of abducting and murdering a Memphis jogger is now accused of a 2021 kidnapping and rape.

Cleotha Abston, referred to as Cleotha Henderson in some legal documents, has been indicted for a kidnapping and rape that occurred less than a year ago, according to redacted court records obtained by Fox News. The alleged incident, which took place in Shelby County, Tennessee, on Sept. 21, 2021, is the latest charge for the man accused of murdering schoolteacher and mother-of-two Eliza "Liza" Fletcher, 34, on Sept. 2.

Details about the 2021 incident were few, but charging papers state Abston did “unlawfully and knowingly remove or confine (victim)” with the use of a deadly weapon.

Authorities with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Memphis Police Department confirmed with the outlet that DNA collected as part of Fletcher’s murder investigation led them to connect Abston to the 2021 crimes.

On Sept. 2, at around 4:30 a.m., surveillance video captured a man “aggressively” approaching Fletcher on one of her customary pre-dawn runs. The man then forced Fletcher into the passenger’s seat of a dark-colored SUV and remained parked there for the next four minutes before driving away with Fletcher still inside.

A police handout of Cleotha Abston

The event prompted a large-scale search.

Abston was arrested for Fletcher’s abduction while she was still missing after his DNA was allegedly discovered on a pair of his sandals found near where Fletcher was kidnapped. According to Memphis CBS affiliate WREG, the DNA was entered into the FBI’s CODIS [Combined DNA Index System] and linked Abston to Fletcher’s kidnapping.

The same line of inquiry linked Abston to the 2021 kidnapping and rape, according to authorities.

Agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said they accepted the evidence from the sandal as a “rush DNA case,” which was why it took only 18 hours to link the sample to Abston. However, the results of the 2021 case were placed with regular casework, which, according to WREG, has an average turnaround time of 33 to 49 weeks.

On Sept. 5, three days after Fletcher vanished, her body was found behind an abandoned duplex about seven and a half miles away from where she was taken.

Abston was initially charged with especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence until authorities found Fletcher's body, at which point they upgraded the charges to first-degree murde. Investigators say evidence placed Abston at the duplex, just a few blocks from where further surveillance footage allegedly captured him cleaning the interior of his GMC Terrain at his brother’s apartment just hours after Fletcher’s abduction.

The cause of Fletcher’s death has yet to be determined.

A photo of missing person Eliza Fletcher

Abston’s criminal history dates back to when he was just 11 years old and included serious charges, including theft, aggravated assault, and rape, according to WREG. At age 16, he and another minor kidnapped Memphis-based attorney Kemper Durand at gunpoint and forced him into the trunk of a car. The lawyer escaped when the boys stopped at an ATM in an attempt to have Durand withdraw funds from his bank account.

Durand, who has since passed away, claimed it was “obvious” to him that Abston felt “absolutely no remorse for the crime.”

Abston was released in 2020 after serving 20 years behind bars.

Fletcher’s murder continues to raise ongoing concerns about the safety of runners - namely, women - who have voiced fears of running in public. Fletcher was an avid runner and Boston Marathon qualifier who “found great joy in her morning runs with friends,” according to her obituary.

“Liza was a light to all who knew her,” loved ones stated. “Her contagious smile and laughter could brighten any room. Liza was pure of heart and innocent in ways that made her see the very best in everyone she met. To know her was to love her and to be loved by her.”

On Friday, thousands of runners across the United States paid tribute to Fletcher by running an event titled “Finish Eliza’s Run,” as reported by CBS News.

Fletcher was laid to rest on Saturday.

Abston is due in court Monday morning to face unrelated theft charges. He remains at the Shelby County jail without bond and is due back in court on Sept. 19, according to jail records reviewed by Oxygen.com.