September 13, 2022
Thirty-four-year-old pre-kindergarten teacher and mother of two, Eliza Fletcher, went missing on September 2, 2022, while out on an early morning jog in Memphis, Tennessee.
Eliza, who had always been an avid runner, left her home at around 4am for her usual jog along Central Avenue, and failed to return.
At around 6:45am a cyclist found Eliza’s cell phone and water bottle near Memphis University in front of a house in the 3800 block of Central Avenue. He gathered the items and rode to the missing woman’s home to return them to her, unaware that she was missing. Police obtained Eliza’s sandals from the scene.
Eliza Fletcher was officially reported missing later that morning at around 7:00 AM by her husband, Richard Fletcher.
Authorities obtained surveillance footage showing the missing woman being approached by a man at approximately 4:20am. The pair struggled before the man dragged her into an SUV, remaining parked for around four minutes before proceeding to drive away. Evidence left behind at the scene indicated that Eliza had been injured during the kidnapping.
A search of the city from both land and air was conducted and Eliza's family put out a $50,000 reward for anyone who could give information leading to her return. Eliza was the granddaughter of billionaire, the late Joseph Orgill III, who ran a private hardware firm, Orgill Inc, reportedly valued at $3.2B.
Although heiress to the world's largest independently owned hardlines distributor, Police did not believe her families fortune was the motive behind Eliza’s abduction, rather that it was a “random” and opportunistic attack by a passing criminal.
Forensic testing of the sandals revealed a male DNA profile, which police ran through a national criminal database to discover the DNA belonged to that of a man named Cleotha Abston.
Abston had a criminal record that included a twenty year stint in prison for kidnapping and robbery in 2000.
Abston was released from prison in 2020, in the midst of the global Covid-19 pandemic. According to reports on the case, the victim of the kidnapping was a local lawyer named Kemper Durand, whom then sixteen-year-old Abston held at gunpoint and forced into the trunk of a car and later forced to withdraw money. Durand believes Abston intended to murder him and that he would have been killed had he not screamed for help and escaped his kidnapper.
Abston had only been free from prison for just weeks before he kidnapped Durand.
Reports also state that when Cleotha Abston was just fourteen years old, he was convicted for the rape of a male. Shockingly, his criminal record went back even further to 1995, and records show the suspect had been committing crimes as young as twelve years old, and that he was part of a gang- the Lemoyne Gardens Gangstas, or LGG.
Police obtained the suspects cell phone records and were able to place him at the scene of Eliza’s kidnapping.
Cleotha Abston lived on Waterstone Oak Way, Memphis and the SUV captured on the surveillance footage was located in a parking lot not far from the suspect’s home.
Abston was swiftly arrested on suspicion of the kidnapping of Eliza Fletcher.
Although he attempted to run from US Marshalls and refused to cooperate with police, his brother, Mario Abston, with whom he was living, told officers that Cleotha had been scrubbing his car, washing things in the sink, and acting suspicious on September 2. Despite the suspects attempts to scrub the vehicle of evidence, investigators identified blood as well as other evidence that a violent attack had taken place.
Additional charges of theft of property under $1,000, identity theft and fraudulent use of a credit card were later brought against Cleotha Abston.
Mario Abston was also arrested when he was found to be in possession of materials used in the manufacture of fentanyl. He was charged with the following: 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 possession of a firearm during the Commission of a dangerous felony.
On the evening of September 5, Eliza Fletcher's body was found by officers outside of an unoccupied duplex at 1666 Victor Street, half a mile from the suspect’s home. Officers said that at approximately 5:07pm they noticed the depression of tire marks in the overgrown grass that surrounded the vacant duplex as well as the unmistakeable odor of death. When they approached the scene they noticed a set of footprints in the driveway and soon discovered the body of a female who was quickly determined to be deceased.
Running shorts corresponding with those Eliza Fletcher had been wearing on the day she went missing were found in a trash bag near the body.
Officers checked security footage from the morning of September 2 and saw a black 2013 GMC Terrain associated with Cleotha Abston in the area just before 6am. According to Abston’s employer, Abston often used this vehicle, which was associated or owned by a female living at his residence.
The identity of the body was officially confirmed to be Eliza and announced the following day
Abston was charged with first degree murder and first degree murder in perpetration of a kidnapping on September 6 and was arraigned on kidnapping charges that same morning in the Shelby County Circuit Court. While in court he requested to be addressed by his paternal surname, Henderson.
Although the judge initially set bond at $500,000, the bond was revoked when Abston was charged with first degree murder.
The suspect also faces separate charges of aggravated rape and kidnapping charges for crimes in 2021.
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