Eliza Fletcher: Memphis police identify body of abducted jogger

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MEMPHIS, Tennessee –

Tennessee police said Tuesday a body found during a more than three-day search is that of a woman who was abducted and forced into an SUV during an early morning jog near the University of Memphis.

The Memphis Police Department said on Twitter that investigators have identified the body of Eliza Fletcher, 34, a school teacher and granddaughter of a prominent Memphis businessman.

The body was found Monday after a series of searches over Labor Day weekend into the woman who was abducted around 4am Friday, police said. A man approached her and, after a brief struggle, forced her into an SUV, police said. Fletcher was reported missing when she failed to return home from her regular morning jog.

A man charged with particularly aggravated kidnapping and evidence tampering in the nationally publicized case was due to appear in court on Tuesday. US Marshals arrested Cleotha Abston, 38, on Saturday after police found his DNA on a pair of sandals found near where Eliza Fletcher was last seen, according to an affidavit.

Abston also now faces charges of first-degree murder and first-degree murder for kidnapping, the Memphis police said in a tweet Tuesday morning.

Police also linked the vehicle they believe was used in the hijacking to a person at a house where Abston resided. Online court records do not show whether Abston has an attorney who could speak for him Tuesday morning.

Late Monday, police tweeted that a body had been found in a Memphis neighborhood, but that the identity of that person and the cause of death were unconfirmed. A heavy police presence was reported in the area where authorities reported finding the body just after 5pm. Memphis police had searched multiple locations using dogs, ATVs and a helicopter over the long weekend.

Fletcher is the granddaughter of the late Joseph Orgill III, a Memphis hardware businessman and philanthropist. The family has released a video statement asking for help locating Fletcher and has offered a $50,000 reward for information in the case.

Abston had previously kidnapped a prominent Memphis attorney in 2000, the Commercial Appeal reported. When he was just 16, Abston Kemper forced Durand into the trunk of his own car at gunpoint. After several hours, Abston executed Durand and forced him to drive to a Mapco gas station to withdraw money from an ATM. At the station, an armed security guard from the Memphis Housing Authority walked in and Durand yelled for help. Abton ran away but was found and arrested. According to court documents, in 2001 he pleaded guilty to particularly aggravated kidnapping and aggravated robbery. He received a 24-year prison sentence.

Durand wrote in a victim statement: “I was extremely fortunate to escape from Cleotha Abston’s custody. … It is very likely that I would have been killed if I had not escaped,” the Commercial Appeal reported.

Durand died in 2013, seven years before Abston was due to be released in November 2020 at the age of 36. In the two years since his release, there were no other documented charges against Abston in Shelby County prior to his arrest Saturday, the Commercial Appeal reported.

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