Authorities have charged a man in connection with the abduction of Eliza Fletcher, but the Tennessee mom of two has yet to be found.
Early Sunday, the Memphis Police Department identified 38-year-old Cleotha Abston as the person whom investigators had detained one day earlier after recovering a vehicle linked to the attack.
“The individual who was detained has been officially charged in connection with the abduction of Eliza Fletcher,” the police department wrote in a Twitter post. “At this point in the investigation, Cleotha Abston, 38, has been charged with Especially Aggravated Kidnapping and Tampering with Evidence.”
As Crime Online previously reported, Fletcher, 34, was abducted around 4:20 a.m. Friday while out for her regular run near the University of Memphis campus.
Authorities recovered surveillance video of Fletcher running in a pink jogging top and purple shorts at Central Avenue and Zach Curlin Street, where investigators said she encountered an unknown male and was forced into a dark-colored vehicle, believed to be a GMC Terrain.
When Fletcher didn’t return home, her husband reported her missing around 7 a.m. Friday. Her damaged cell phone and a water bottle were later found near her running route.
Tennessee Department of Corrections records show that an individual with the same name and birth date as Abston served time in state prison. The records do not show the reason for the prison sentence, but a 2001 article in the Memphis Flyer newspaper reports that an individual named Cleotha Abston was sentenced to 20 years in prison without parole for kidnapping a lawyer at gunpoint and robbing him around 2 a.m. on May 25, 2000. “Abston has a long juvenile record of theft and aggravated assault,” the article states. That individual’s sentence ended on November 7, 2020, according to state records.
Tennessee law defines the charge of especially aggravated kidnapping as false imprisonment “[a]ccomplished with a deadly weapon or by display of any article used or fashioned to lead the victim to reasonably believe it to be a deadly weapon.” The crime can be charged either when the perpetrator has held “the victim for ransom or reward, or as a shield or hostage”; where the victim “suffers serious bodily injury”; or when the victim is under 13 years of age “at the time of the removal or confinement.” Under the statute, “if the offender voluntarily releases the victim alive or voluntarily provides information leading to the victim’s safe release,” a court can consider such actions as mitigating factors during sentencing.
In Sunday’s announcement, the Memphis Police Department said a second person was arrested during the investigation on drug and weapons charges, but the second individual is “currently not believed to be connected to Fletcher’s abduction,” the department said.
Meanwhile, Fletcher remains missing. “MPD Investigators and officers, along with our local and federal partners, continue searching for Mrs. Fletcher,” the department wrote in the tweet. “This remains to be an active and ongoing investigation.”
Fletcher is a mother of two and an elementary teacher at St. Mary’s Episcopal School. She is described as 5-foot-6 and about 137 pounds, with blondish-brown hair and green eyes.
Throughout Saturday, numerous law enforcement officers were spotted at multiple scenes in the Memphis area. Social media users captured images of tactical teams swarming an apartment complex. The SUV linked to the abduction was involved in a crash with an Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms vehicle close to the apartment complex, ABC 24 reports.
There also was significant police activity outside a McDonald’s restaurant, although it has not been confirmed that the McDonald’s scene is related to the search for Fletcher, according to FOX 13.
A resident who lives near the McDonald’s told KWAM radio that police were canvassing the area.
“They were knocking on doors of houses with cameras to see if we had anything helpful on our Ring. They told us to review our footage from yesterday 4:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. and send them anything valuable via a phone number they left with us.”
On Saturday, Fletcher’s family members released a video statement calling for her safe return.
“Liza has touched the hearts of many people,” Fletcher’s uncle, Michael Keeney, said in the video. “More than anything we want to see Liza returned home safely.”
Also Saturday, community members held a vigil for Fletcher at Second Presbyterian Church, according to WMC-TV.
“It’s just awful to see the evil in the world, and we are just praying with hope that she will be found alive,” one attendee told the television station.
Fletcher’s grandfather is the founder of Orgill Inc., a hardware distribution business that does about $3 billion in sales each year, according to its website. Her family is offering a $50,000 reward for information that leads to her safe return.
Public safety data posted by the city of Memphis show there have been at least 100 reports of kidnappings in Memphis so far this year, according to the Commercial Appeal.
To report information about the case, call CrimeStoppers at 901-52-CASH.
Featured Image: Eliza Fletcher/Memphis Police Department