A body found late Monday in Memphis has been positive identified as that of missing mom and teacher Eliza Fletcher.
Memphis police say they have now added charges of first degree murder and first degree murder in perpetration of a kidnapping to the docket of suspect Cleotha Abston.
— Memphis Police Dept (@MEM_PoliceDept) September 6, 2022
Abston, 38, was arrested on Saturday after surveillance footage and DNA led investigators to him, as CrimeOnline previously reported. He was charged with extremely aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence — and the body found late Monday was found just a few blocks from his brother’s apartment, where he was seen cleaning out the SUV used in the abduction and washing his clothes in the sink.
Investigators also hauled away the apartment’s dumpster on Sunday, and both Abston’s brother and another witness said he was “acting strangely” when they saw him on Friday.
On Sunday, police and federal agents scoured parks and other locations in south Memphis looking for Fletcher. Those searches continued on Monday but drew in closer to Mario Abston’s apartment. Late in the day, activity centered on a spot near the intersection of Victor Street and East Person Avenue, and as the sun set on Memphis, police said they had found a body.
Fletcher was on her regular run Friday morning when she was abducted near the campus of the University of Memphis, at about 4:30 a.m. An affidavit filed for Cleotha Abston’s arrest says the abduction was seen in surveillance video: Abston, in a black GMC Terrain, drove past Fletcher as she was running, then stopped to wait for her. As she approached, he got out of the vehicle and “aggressively” ran toward her, wrestling her into the passenger side of the SUV. In the process, he came out of his Champion brand slides sandals.
— Ian Ripple (@Ripple1026) September 4, 2022
The SUV remained stationary for four minutes before driving off, leaving those sandals and Fletcher’s damaged cell phone and water bottle behind.
A bicycle rider found the items at about 6:45 a.m., the affidavit said, and gave them to one of Fletcher’s family members, who turned them over to police. Fletcher’s husband, Ritchie Fletcher, reported her missing to Memphis police an hour later.
Police sent the sandals to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation lab, which matched DNA found on the sandals to Abston, who had been convicted of another kidnapping — that of a Memphis attorney — at 16. He finished his term and was released in 2020.
Investigators also pulled a partial license plate number from surveillance video of the SUV and identified distinctive damage on the vehicle. Upon learning a similar vehicle was registered to a woman who lived in the same place as Abston — and that Abston was known to drive the vehicle — they began closing in. Abston’s cell phone records put him at the location where Fletcher was abducted, and when detectives located him and moved to take him into custody, he tried to flee in the SUV but didn’t get far.
The affidavit concluded by saying that investigators believed Fletcher “suffered serious injury” in the abduction.
Abston was later charged with identity theft, theft of property, and illegal possession of credit/debit card of $1,000 or less, although it’s not clear if those charges are related to Fletcher’s abduction.
Fletcher, a pre-kindergarten teacher at St Mary’s Episcopal School and mother of two young boys, is a member of a wealthy Tennessee family. Her grandfather was the founder of hardware distributors Orgill Inc., and her wedding to Ritchie Fletcher in 2014 was celebrated in Memphis magazine.
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[Featured image: Eliza Fletcher/St Mary’s Episcopal School]