Family of missing Memphis teacher Eliza Fletcher plead for safe return
The family of missing Memphis teacher Eliza Fletcher speaks to reporters
Memphis Commercial Appeal
MEMPHIS — A 38-year-old man is charged with especially aggravated kidnapping in the disappearance of a Memphis teacher, 34, after police said DNA on a pair of slides linked him to the woman.
But, police said, Cleotha Abston, who was released from prison in 2020 after serving two decades for kidnapping, hasn’t said where Eliza “Liza” Fletcher is and the search for her is continuing.
In a Sunday morning tweet, Memphis Police said Abston has been charged with especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence. Police did not give more information on Abston or any prior connection to Fletcher.
The arrest came roughly 12 hours after police announced they had found the GMC Terrain they said was used in Fletcher’s abduction early Friday morning as she jogged on the University of Memphis campus.
Police affidavit gives new details
New details have also been released in an arrest affidavit. According to the affidavit:
Richard Fletcher, Eliza Fletcher’s husband, notified the Memphis Police Department that his wife had not returned from her run by 7 a.m., and a man on a bike, who was riding the same route Fletcher was running, found Eliza Fletcher’s cellphone and a pair of Champion brand slides in the street.
Police reviewed surveillance footage from the nearby Earthquake Research and Information Center on the U of M campus. Police say that video showed a black GMC Terrain passing by and then waiting for Fletcher to run past.
“A male exited the black GMC Terrain, ran aggressively toward the victim, and then forced the victim Eliza Fletcher into the passenger’s side of the vehicle,” the affidavit read. “During this abduction, there appeared to be a struggle.”
Police say the SUV was parked for approximately four minutes before driving away from the site.
Law enforcement officials, after reviewing footage, found that “approximately twenty-four minutes before the abduction, surveillance footage captured the same vehicle in the area”
The slides were sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for DNA testing, which later was found to match Abston in a national DNA database from a previous conviction.
MPD investigators began looking into what Abston had been doing in the days prior and after Fletcher’s disappearance and found footage of him wearing the same slides at the Malco Cordova Cinema on Thursday.
During the investigation, MPD also found that the Terrain was registered to a woman, who is not being named as she has not been charged with a crime.
Police questioned the owner of Majesty’s Cleaning Service, where Abston worked, and she verified he drove the Terrain and also provided investigators with his cellphone number. That number was used to determine where Abston was at the time of Fletcher’s abduction, confirming he was in the area at the time.
U.S. Marshals found the car Saturday, parked at the address listed on an incident report from Thursday. Along with confirming the car from the license plate, surveillance footage also showed the car to have “noticeable damage” to the rear passenger-side taillight, which was also visible to Marshals at the apartment complex.
When law enforcement officials tried to arrest Abston, who was in the Terrain at the time, they say he attempted to drive away but ended up being taken into custody.
Another woman was interviewed, although it is not clear from the affidavit when or where she spoke to law enforcement. The woman said she saw Abston outside the home of his brother, Mario Abston. She told investigators Cleotha Abston did not live there, but “she saw Cleotha Abston cleaning the interior of the GMC Terrain with floor cleaner and stated that he was behaving oddly.”
The woman and Abston’s brother both told investigators they saw Abston cleaning his clothes in the house sink.
Mario Abston was also arrested Sunday on a variety of drug charges. He has not been charged in relation to Fletcher’s disappearance. Police said Mario Abston is not believed to be involved with Fletcher’s abduction.
Fletcher is still missing, and the affidavit said Abston would not provide investigators her location.
Police believe Fletcher suffered serious injury based on the violence of the abduction, with “the suspect waiting for, then rushing toward the victim, then forcing the victim into the vehicle, where she was confined and removed and continues to be missing…Further, it is probable and apparent from witness statements that these injuries left evidence, e.g., blood, in the vehicle that the Defendant cleaned.”
Abston was also convicted of aggravated kidnapping just over 22 years ago, according to court records. He was sentenced to 24 years in that case, and his sentence ended in November 2020.
In that case, Abston had kidnapped a Memphis lawyer, who also spent time working for the Innocence Project.
A large-scale search
The disappearance of Fletcher set off a large-scale search involving Memphis Police, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the FBI.
Fletcher’s family released a video statement Saturday afternoon urging anyone with information to contact Crimestoppers with any information.
“The family has met with police, and we have shared with them all the information we know. More than anything, we want to see Liza returned home safely,” Fletcher’s uncle, Mike Keeney said.
Fletcher, who is 5′ 6″ tall, weighs 137 pounds, and has brown hair, was wearing purple shorts and a pink sports bra.
Her family is offering a $50,000 reward through Crimestoppers.
Fletcher, a mother of two and teacher at St. Mary’s Episcopal School in Memphis, is the granddaughter of the late Joseph Orgill III, a noted philanthropist who helped run the family-owned Memphis-based hardware supply firm Orgill Inc.