Body found in Memphis is that of abducted teacher and a suspect is charged with murder
Eliza “Liza” Fletcher, 34, was identified as the person found dead Monday in the Tennessee city, roughly 7.5 miles from where surveillance video showed she was forced into an SUV early Friday, Memphis police said on Twitter.
A suspect arrested over the weekend, Cleotha Abston, 38, has now been charged with first-degree murder in perpetration of kidnapping, in addition to kidnapping and other charges previously filed, Shelby County Court records show.
Abston made a court appearance in the case Tuesday morning.
The cause of Fletcher’s death was not immediately announced.
Fletcher was jogging around 4 a.m. Friday in a neighborhood near the University of Memphis when a man chased her and forced her into a black SUV, authorities said.
After her husband reported her missing and someone found her phone on a street Friday morning, police found surveillance video of the area, which shows a black GMC Terrain pass by her, according to a court affidavit. A man was then seen getting out of the SUV and “aggressively” running toward her before forcing her into the vehicle’s passenger seat, according to the footage cited in the affidavit.
The SUV remained in a parking lot for about four minutes after both people were inside and then drove away, the affidavit states.
Over the weekend, police arrested and charged Abston after they found the GMC Terrain in a parking lot near his residence in southeastern Memphis, the affidavit shows. He initially was charged with especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence.
Abston was held over the weekend the Shelby County Jail with bail set at $500,000, according to jail records. It is unclear whether he has an attorney.
Abston served a prison sentenced for an aggravated kidnapping more than 20 years ago, court records show.
Fletcher was a junior kindergarten teacher at St. Mary’s Episcopal School in Memphis, according to a tweet from the school.
The evidence in the case
In the affidavit filed Sunday, investigators laid out evidence they said led them to arrest Abston.
First, they analyzed a pair of sandals that were found at the abduction site, near the victim’s phone. DNA found on the shoes matched DNA for Abston, the affidavit reads.
Surveillance footage captured from a local theater the day before Fletcher’s disappearance showed Abston wearing what authorities believe are the same pair of Champion slide sandals found at the crime scene, according to the affidavit.
Researching Abston’s residence, police found that he lived at a home whose utilities were registered in the name of a woman who owned a GMC Terrain, the affidavit reads.
Investigators then interviewed Abston’s employer, who said he drove a GMC Terrain and verified his phone number. Investigators checked Abston’s cell phone records, which showed he was near the abduction site during the time of Fletcher’s abduction, according to the affidavit.
Members of a US Marshals task force found a GMC Terrain near Abston’s residence on Saturday morning, and it had the same distinguishable damage and partial license plate information seen in the surveillance footage from Fletcher’s abduction, the affidavit reads.
Police also gathered details from witnesses who said they encountered Abston after the abduction.
One witness said she saw Abston at his brother’s Memphis home after the kidnapping, according to the affidavit. The witness and his brother said Abston was behaving oddly as he cleaned the interior of his SUV and washed his clothes in the sink, the affidavit said.
Abston served sentence in previous kidnapping case
Following Abston’s arrest Saturday, charges unrelated to Fletcher’s kidnapping also were filed against him.
The charges include identity theft, theft of property $1,000 or less and fraudulent use/illegal possession of a credit or debit card $1,000 or less, Shelby County jail records show.
Those charges are connected to a Thursday theft report filed by a woman who reported someone was using her Cash App card and Wisely Card at gas stations without her knowledge.
CNN has reached out to the Shelby County district attorney and Memphis police regarding the charges in the Thursday theft report.
Court records also reveal that Abston previously served a prison sentenced for an aggravated kidnapping more than 20 years ago.
In November 2001, Abston pleaded guilty to the charge and was released in November 2020, court records show.
Abston had been convicted in the kidnapping of a local attorney in 2000, the Shelby County district attorney’s office told local outlet WREG.
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