1 charged in disappearance of Eliza Fletcher; Police say still no sign of missing Memphis teacher

One person has been arrested and charged in the disappearance of a 34-year-old Memphis teacheralthough police said Sunday morning they still didn’t know where Eliza Fletcher is.

In an early morning tweet, Memphis Police said 38-year-old Cleotha Abston is 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 the 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 am, and a man on a bike, who was riding the same route Fletcher is thinking running, found Eliza Fletcher’s cell phone 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, which police say showed a black GMC Terrain passing by and then waiting for Fletcher to run past.

“A male exited the black GMC Terrain, ran aggressively towards 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 car 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 and captured a partial plate of ___DX___.”

The slides were sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for DNA testing, which later was found to match Abston in the CODIS database from a previous conviction.

MPD investigators began looking into what Abston had been doing in the days before and after the abduction and found footage of him wearing the same slides at the Malco Cordova Cinema 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 went on to question the owner of Majesty’s Cleaning Service, where Abston worked, and she verified he drove the Terrain and also provided investigators with his cell phone 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.

US 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, she 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.

Eliza Fletcher is still missing, and the affidavit said Abston would not provide investigators with her location.

Police believe Fletcher to have suffered serious injury based on the violence of the abduction, with “the suspect waiting for, then rushing towards 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, eg, 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, a teacher at St. Mary’s Episcopal School in Memphis and mother of two, 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.

Memphis and university police said Fletcher was forced into a dark SUV after a brief struggle. Police said the vehicle appears to be a dark-colored GMC Terrain.

Fletcher was reported missing at about 7 am Friday. The FBI and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation joined the investigation and law enforcement released grainy images of Fletcher running and the dark SUV believed to be the one she was forced into. 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 and said in a statement Friday night they are praying for Fletcher’s safe return.

Her church, Second Presbyterian, just blocks away from where she was last seen, opened its sanctuary for prayer. Dozens came, a church staff member said. The parking lot was full Friday afternoon.

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The church’s senior pastor, George Robertson, noted in an interview Friday that Fletcher’s kidnapping was not the first in Memphis this year or even this week.

“Someday we’ll eliminate this kind of tragedy,” Robertson said. “We also grieve the abduction that occurred a couple of days ago near Wolfchase. We grieve all of this kind of violence and evil in our city. It just makes us grieve. We grieve for ourselves, we grieve for the Fletchers and we also grieve for our city. Our whole city is hurting.”

Three children were abducted in Whitehaven on Sept. 2 and were later found three miles away. A mother and her one-year-old were abducted last weekend near Wolfchase and forced to withdraw money from an ATM before being released. And is Aug. 18, two children were kidnapped and later recovered by police in South Memphis.

There have been at least 100 incidents classified as kidnapping in Memphis this year, according to public safety data posted on the city’s website.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Eliza Fletcher disappearance: 1 charged, but no sign of Memphis teacher

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