1 accused in the disappearance of Eliza Fletcher. Police say there are still no signs of a missing Memphis teacher

A person has been arrested and charged in the disappearance of a 34-year-old Memphis teacher, although police said Sunday morning that they still do not know where Eliza Fletcher is.

In an early morning tweet, Memphis police said Cleotha Abston, 38, was charged with aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence. Police have not released any further information about Abston or any previous connection to Fletcher.

The arrest came about 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.

The police affidavit gives new details

New evidence was also 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 bicycle, who was riding the same route Fletcher was running, found the cell phone of Eliza Fletcher and a par. of Champion brand street slides.

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 driving by and then waiting for Fletcher to run.

“A male exited the black GMC Terrain, aggressively ran toward the victim and then forced the victim, Eliza Fletcher, into the passenger side of the vehicle,” the affidavit said. “During this abduction, there appeared to be a struggle.”

Police say the SUV was parked for about four minutes before driving away from the scene.

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Law enforcement officials, after reviewing the footage, determined that “approximately twenty-four minutes prior to the abduction, the surveillance footage captured the same vehicle in the area and recorded a partial license plate ___DX___.”

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

MPD investigators began looking into what Abston was doing in the days before and after Fletcher disappeared and found footage of him wearing the same slides at the Malco Cordova movie theater on Thursday.

During the investigation, MPD also discovered 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 that he was driving the Terrain and also gave investigators his cell phone number. This number was used to determine Abston’s whereabouts at the time of Fletcher’s abduction, confirming that he was in the area at the time.

U.S. Marshals found the car Saturday, parked at the address listed in a Thursday incident report. Along with confirming the car from the license plate, surveillance footage also showed the car had “noticeable damage” to the rear passenger taillight, which was also visible to Marshals at the apartment complex.

When law enforcement tried to arrest Abston, who was in the Terrain at the time, they say he tried to drive away but ended up being taken into custody.

Another woman was interviewed, though it’s unclear from the affidavit when or where she spoke with law enforcement. The woman said she saw Abston outside the home of his brother, Mario Abston. He told investigators that Cleotha Abston did not live there, but he “saw Cleotha Abston cleaning the interior of the GMC Terrain with a floor cleaner and stated that she was acting strange.”

Abston’s wife and brother told investigators they saw Abston cleaning his clothes in the home’s sink.

Mario Abston was also arrested on Sunday on various drug charges. He has not been charged in Fletcher’s disappearance. Police said Mario Abston is not believed to be involved in Fletcher’s abduction.

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

Police believe Fletcher suffered serious injury based on the violence of the kidnapping, with “the suspect waiting, then rushing toward the victim, then forcing her into the vehicle, where she was restrained and driven away and remains missing. .Furthermore, it is possible and evident 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 a little more than 22 years ago, according to court records. He was sentenced to 24 years in that case and his sentence expired in November 2020.

In that case, Abston had kidnapped a Memphis attorney who also spent time working for the Innocence Project.

A large-scale search

The disappearance of Fletcher, a teacher at the Episcopal School of St. Mary’s in Memphis and a mother of two, launched a large-scale investigation involving Memphis police, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the FBI.

Fletcher’s family released a video statement on Saturday afternoon, urging anyone with information to contact Crimestoppers with any information.

“The family has met with the police and we’ve shared with them all the information we know. More than anything, we want to see Lisa come home safely,” said Fletcher’s uncle, Mike Kinney.

Fletcher, who is 5′ 6″, 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.

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

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

“One day we will eliminate this kind of tragedy,” Robertson said. “We also regret the kidnapping that happened a few days ago near Wolfchase. We are sorry for all this violence and evil in our city. It just makes us sad. We mourn for ourselves, we mourn for the Fletchers, and we mourn for our city. Our whole city is hurting.”

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

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

This article originally appeared in the Memphis Commercial Appeal: Eliza Fletcher missing: 1 accused, but no sign of Memphis teacher

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