Eliza Fletcher: Everything we know about the kidnapping of Memphis teacher as body found

·7 min read

The desperate search to find missing Memphis teacher and business heiress Eliza Fletcher reached a potential turning point on Monday when police said they had discovered an unidentified body.

Eliza Fletcher, a 34-year-old mother-of-two, was snatched while on an early morning jog near the University of Memphis campus on Friday.

On Saturday, 38-year-old Cleotha Abston, a convicted kidnapper who was released from prison in 2020 after serving 19 years, was arrested on suspicion of her abduction.

Now the Memphis Police Department (MPD) has found a body, though it stressed that “the identity of this person and the cause of death is unconfirmed at this time”.

While no motive has been suggested, here’s everything we do know about the case:

The abduction

Police said that Ms Fletcher was out on her regular morning jog at around 4.20am on Friday when the abduction unfolded.

Surveillance footage captured the mother-of-two running close to the University of Memphis campus when a black 2013 GMC Terrain SUV drove past her.

The SUV pulled up and a man was seen getting out of it, before he “ran aggressively” toward the jogger.

A violent struggle broke out and the man forced Ms Fletcher into the passenger side of the vehicle.

Eliza Fletcher, also known as Liza, was last seen wearing a pink running top, purple running shorts and her blonde/brown hair in a bun on her head (Memphis Police Department)
Eliza Fletcher, also known as Liza, was last seen wearing a pink running top, purple running shorts and her blonde/brown hair in a bun on her head (Memphis Police Department)

The car then remained on the scene with the two inside for around four minutes before driving off, the footage shows.

Ms Fletcher’s family reported her missing when she failed to return home from her run. The jogger’s cellphone and water bottle were discovered at the site of her abduction.

Investigators also found a pair of Champion slide shoes – believed to belong to Mr Abston – which were left behind in the struggle.

Photos of the suspect vehicle were released to the public to help track down the missing mother-of-two.

Surveillance footage captured the same SUV stalking the area where Ms Fletcher was taken just 24 minutes before the kidnapping.

Officers released surveillance video of the GMC Terrain that they believe was used to abduct Ms Fletcher on Friday (Memphis Police Department)
Officers released surveillance video of the GMC Terrain that they believe was used to abduct Ms Fletcher on Friday (Memphis Police Department)

The arrest and charges

Mr Abston was arrested on Saturday, around 24 hours on from the teacher’s abduction, after investigators spotted a vehicle matching the description of the suspect’s car.

US Marshals found the SUV in a parking lot close to Mr Abston’s home and it had the same damaged taillight and partial licence plate identification seen in the surveillance footage of the abduction, according to an affidavit.

When officers found Mr Abston nearby, he tried to flee the scene, but he was arrested and taken in for questioning.

On Sunday, Memphis Police announced that he had been charged with especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence.

The following afternoon, Memphis police charged Cleotha Abston with three additional charges:  identity theft, theft of property under $1,000 and fraudulent use of a credit card.

According to the affidavit, Mr Abston was spotted cleaning the inside of his car and washing his clothes in the sink in the aftermath of the abduction.

Eliza Fletcher was snatched while jogging in the early hours of Friday morning (Family handout)
Eliza Fletcher was snatched while jogging in the early hours of Friday morning (Family handout)

A witness and the suspect’s brother said they saw him behaving oddly at his house and undergoing the clean later on Friday.

Even after the clean, authorities said they have recovered blood and other evidence inside the vehicle, leading them to believe Ms Fletcher suffered a “serious injury”.

Cellphone location data has also placed Mr Abston at the scene of the abduction and the Champion slides have been tied to him through both DNA evidence and surveillance footage, authorities said.

However, Mr Abston has reportedly refused to tell investigators where Ms Fletcher is or what happened to her, and he is now being held on $500,000 bond ahead of his first court appearance on Tuesday.

The suspect’s brother was also arrested and charged following the police’s search of their home.

Mario Abston is charged with one count of possession with intent to distribute heroin, one count with intent to distribute fentanyl and felony possession of a firearm.

The body

Law enforcement officers had been combing the area near where Ms Fletcher disappeared, including searching through dumpsters, ponds and parks.

Then, just after 5pm on Monday, officers found a corpse on the 1600 block of Victor St in South Memphis.

It is not yet known whether that body has any connection to the Fletcher case, but official sources told local broadcaster WREG Channel 3 that it was made in an area that was part of the search for her.

Local media reported many officers from multiple government agencies descending on the scene, with a police helicopter circling the area and mobile command centres for the MPD and the county sheriff’s office set up nearby.

According to Fox News, police blocked off a large area near an abandoned elementary school, less than a mile from where a witness told police they had seen Mr Abston vigorously cleaning an SUV that matched the one seen in surveillance footage.

WREG Channel 3 reporter Bria Jones also said on Twitter that Monday’s discovery was “very close” to where authorities seized a dumpster and took bags out as evidence near Mr Abston’s brother’s house.

The suspect

It is not yet clear if Mr Abston knew his alleged victim prior to Friday’s abduction or if she was targeted at random.

However, the 38-year-old has a prior kidnapping conviction and was released from prison less than two years ago after serving 20 years behind bars.

In an eerily similar situation to the kidnapping of Ms Fletcher, Mr Abston bundled a Memphis attorney into his vehicle in an early morning attack.

On 24 May 2000, at around 2am, Mr Abston approached Kemper Durand in his vehicle, got out and forced the attorney into the trunk of his car.

Cleotha Abston was arrested on Saturday – around 24 hours on from the teacher’s abduction (Shelby County Sheriff's Office via AP)
Cleotha Abston was arrested on Saturday – around 24 hours on from the teacher’s abduction (Shelby County Sheriff's Office via AP)

He then drove the victim around for several hours before taking him to an ATM where he robbed him.

The victim was saved when he shouted for help from a passer-by, prompting his attacker to flee the scene.

Mr Abston was later arrested and pleaded guilty in 2001 to especially aggravated kidnapping.

He was sentenced to 24 years in prison and was released in November 202, after serving 19 years.

The victim

Ms Fletcher is well known in the local community as both a respected teacher and the heiress to a local business fortune.

The 34-year-old is the granddaughter of the late local businessman and philanthropist Joseph “Joe” Orgill III, who founded the Memphis hardware supply company Orgill.

The private, family-ran business is now worth $3.2bn and employs 5,500 people, with the Orgill family well-known in the local area.

The company website describes Orgill as the “world’s largest independently owned hardlines distributor, providing retailers across North America and in more than 60 countries throughout the world access to over 75,000 products and industry-leading retail services”.

Instead of working in the family business, however, Ms Fletcher became a local kindergarten teacher.

She is married to Richard Fletcher III and they have two boys together.

The teacher’s family begged for help in finding her in an emotional press conference on Saturday (Memphis Police Department)
The teacher’s family begged for help in finding her in an emotional press conference on Saturday (Memphis Police Department)

Her family has offered $50,000 for her return and begged for help in finding her in an emotional press conference on Saturday.

“We believe someone knows what happened and can help,” her uncle Mike Keeney said, as Mr Fletcher wiped tears from his eyes.

“More than anything we want to see Liza returned home safely.”

Ms Fletcher was last seen wearing a pink jogging top and purple running shorts. She is described as being 5’6″ tall, weighs 137 pounds, has brown hair and has green eyes.

Anyone with information is asked to contact CrimeStoppers at 901-528-CASH.