Authorities have identified a body they discovered in Memphis, Tennessee, as missing jogger Eliza Fletcher, Memphis police announced on September 6, 2022.
Fox13 Memphis first reported the news, citing sources. How did Fletcher die? According to Fox13 Memphis, the cause of death is still not clear.
Police then announced on Twitter that they had identified the body as Fletcher. Her body was discovered near the home where police say suspect Cleotha Abston was seen washing clothes and his vehicle after the abduction, according to WREG-TV. Police say they have added murder charges against Abston, who was arrested September 4 and charged with kidnapping.
In a press conference on September 6, 2022, Memphis police Chief C.J. Davis said, “Today is a very sad day in the city of Memphis.” She expressed condolences to the family and friends impacted by the “heinous” kidnapping and murder of Fletcher. At 5:07 p.m. on September 5, police discovered human remains at the rear of a vacant duplex apartment in the 1600 block of Victor Street. The body was then positively identified as Fletcher, Davis said.
Steven J. Mulroy, the district attorney, said the murder was an “isolated attack by a stranger,” and that Fletcher’s family was always cooperative with authorities. He read a message from the family: “Please respect their privacy. Please allow them to grieve. At an appropriate time, they will be making a statement.”
On Sunday, September 5, 2022, Memphis police had tweeted, “At 5:07 pm, officers in the 1600 block of Victor located a deceased party. The identity of this person and the cause of death is unconfirmed at this time. The investigation is ongoing. Once additional information is available, we will provide an update.”
Fletcher was a married mother of two and a pre-kindergarten teacher who was abducted while jogging in the early morning hours of September 2. Fletcher had been forced into the midsize dark-colored SUV near the University of Memphis campus, Memphis police wrote in a news release.
On September 4, 2022, Memphis police announced they had arrested Cleotha Abston, who was charged with kidnapping. Abston, known as “Pookie” and “Wild,” had recently been released from prison after being convicted in 2001 of kidnapping a Memphis defense attorney, who was stuffed into a trunk for two hours. He’d shared photos of guns on Facebook.
University of Memphis police had said in a safety alert that Fletcher regularly “runs on Central Avenue,” they wrote, and she was “reported missing after not returning home” at 7 a.m. Her “cell phone and water bottle were discovered in front of a house in the 3800 block of Central that is owned by the University.” The phone was smashed, according to Action News 5.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Police Say Suspect Cleotha Abston ‘Aggressively’ Rushed Fletcher
The police affidavit said Abston, 38, is accused of rushing her and forcing her into his vehicle as she ran by him. He was later seen cleaning the SUV. Abston “declined to provide investigators with the location of the victim,” according to the affidavit.
The affidavit describes the abduction as “violent,” with the suspect, “waiting for, then rushing toward the victim.” Authorities believe Fletcher, 34, “suffered serious injury” that probably left “evidence, e.g. blood, in the vehicle that the defendant cleaned.”
The police affidavit said they responded to a missing person report at 7 a.m. September 2 in the 1500 block of Carr Avenue. Fletcher’s husband, Richard, told police that his wife went for her regular run around 4 a.m. and did not return home.
At about 6:45 a.m., a bicyclist found her cellphone and a pair of men’s Champion slides laying in the street in the same area. Investigators then obtained video that showed a black GMC Terrain passing and then waiting for Fletcher to run by.
A male exited the Terrain and “ran aggressively toward the victim,” forcing her into the passenger’s side of the vehicle after a struggle. The vehicle then sat in a parking lot with the victim inside for about four minutes.
Police obtained a partial license plate number from other video, and they sent the Champion slides for DNA testing and got a hit in the CODIS database: Cleotha Abston (Henderson).
Police Have Compiled Cell Phone & Other Evidence Against Abston
Authorities then worked on confirming Abston’s whereabouts “before, during and after the abduction.” They obtained surveillance footage of him wearing the same slides at a Malco Theatre location a day earlier. They found that he resided in the 5700 block of Waterstone Oak Way, a location with active utilities in the name of Gwendolyn Brown, who has a black 2013 GMC Terrain registered to her name.
They also located a September 1, 2022, police report for Abston that listed his address at Waterstone Oak Way. The affidavit did not explain the contents of that report.
The owner of Majesty’s Cleaning Service verified that she employed Abston and that he drove a GMC Terrain, according to the affidavit.
Police determined Abston’s cell phone was near the area where Fletcher was forced into the Terrain at the time of the abduction. At 10:45 a.m. on September 3, the GMC Terrain was located by members of the U.S. Marshals Service.
Officers detained Abston when they saw him standing in a doorway. He tried to flee but was taken into custody.
A woman told police that she saw Abston at around 7:50 a.m. on the day of the abduction. He was at a different home — that of his brother, Mario Abston. He said he saw Cleotha Abston cleaning the interior of the car with floor cleaner. Both his brother and the woman said they saw Abston washing his clothes in a sink in the house. Mario stated that Abston was “acting very strange.”
Police announced on September 4 that Abston had been charged in connection with Fletcher’s disappearance on their Facebook page.
“The individual who was detained has been officially charged in connection with the abduction of Eliza Fletcher. At this point in the investigation, Cleotha Abston, 38, has been charged with Especially Aggravated Kidnapping and Tampering with Evidence,” they wrote.
“Eliza Fletcher has not been located at this time. MPD Investigators and officers, along with our local and federal partners, continue searching for Mrs. Fletcher.”
A second individual, currently not believed to be connected to Fletcher’s abduction, was also arrested during this investigation. Mario Abston, 36, was charged with Possession of a Controlled Substance with Intent to Manufacture and Sell Fentanyl, Possession of a Controlled Substance with Intent to Manufacture and Sell Heroin, and Convicted Felon in Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Dangerous Felony.
This remains to be an active and ongoing investigation.
We continue to ask for assistance from the community. If anyone has any information concerning this investigation, they should call CrimeStoppers at 901-528-CASH.
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