Everything we know about Memphis teacher’s kidnapping as body found

The desperate search to find missing Memphis teacher and heiress Eliza Fletcher reached a potential turning point Monday when police announced they had discovered an unidentified body.

Eliza Fletcher, a 34-year-old mother of two, was seized while on an early morning jog near the University of Memphis campus on Friday.

On Saturday, 38-year-old Cleotha Abston, a convicted kidnapper who was released in 2020 after 19 years, was arrested on suspicion of her kidnapping.

Now the Memphis Police Department (MPD) has located a body, although they stressed that “this person’s identity and cause of death have not been confirmed at this time.”

While no motive has been suggested, here’s everything we know about the case:

The kidnapping

Police said Ms Fletcher was out for her usual morning jog at around 4.20am on Friday when the abduction unfolded.

Surveillance footage captured the mother of two running near the University of Memphis campus when a black 2013 GMC Terrain SUV passed her.

The SUV pulled up and a man was seen getting out of it, before “aggressively running” towards the joker.

A violent struggle broke out and the man forced Ms Fletcher into the passenger side of the vehicle.

Eliza Fletcher aka Liza was last seen wearing a pink joggers, purple shorts and her blonde/brown hair in a bun (Memphis Police Department)

The car then remained at the scene with the two inside for about four minutes before driving away, the video shows.

Ms Fletcher’s family reported her missing when she failed to return home from a run. The jogger’s cell phone and water bottle were discovered at the scene of her abduction.

Investigators also found a pair of Champion slide shoes – believed to belong to Mr Abston – which were left behind in the race.

Photos of the suspect vehicle have been released to the public to help locate the missing mother of two.

Surveillance footage captured the same SUV tracking the area where Ms. Fletcher was driven just 24 minutes before the abduction.

Officers released surveillance video of the GMC Terrain they believe was used to kidnap Ms. Fletcher on Friday (Memphis Police Department)

Officers released surveillance video of the GMC Terrain they believe was used to kidnap Ms. Fletcher on Friday (Memphis Police Department)

The arrest and charges

Abston was arrested on Saturday, about 24 hours after the teacher’s abduction, after investigators spotted a vehicle matching the description of the suspect’s car.

U.S. Marshals found the SUV in a parking lot near Mr. Abston’s home, and it had the same damaged tail light and partial license plate seen on surveillance footage of the kidnapping, according to an affidavit.

When officers found Mr Abston nearby, he tried to flee the scene but was arrested and taken in for questioning.

On Sunday, Memphis police announced that he was charged with aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence.

The next afternoon, Memphis police charged Cleotha Abston with three additional counts: identity theft, theft of property under $1,000 and fraudulent use of a credit card.

According to the affidavit, Mr. Abston was seen cleaning the interior of his car and washing his clothes in the sink after the abduction.

Eliza Fletcher Seized While Jogging Early Friday (Family Leaflet)

Eliza Fletcher Seized While Jogging Early Friday (Family Leaflet)

A witness and the suspect’s brother said they saw him acting strangely at his home and cleaning up later on Friday.

Even after the cleanup, authorities said they have recovered blood and other evidence inside the vehicle, leading them to believe Ms. Fletcher suffered “serious injury.”

Cellphone location data has also placed Mr. Abston at the scene of the abduction, and Champion’s slides have been linked to him through both DNA evidence and surveillance video, authorities said.

But Mr. Abston reportedly refused to tell investigators where Ms. Fletcher is or what happened to her and is now being held on $500,000 bail ahead of his first court appearance on Tuesday.

The suspect’s brother was also arrested and charged after police searched their home.

Mario Abston is charged with one count of possession with intent of heroin, one count of possession with intent to distribute fentanyl and one count of felon in possession of a firearm.

The body

Law enforcement officers were combing the area near where Ms Fletcher disappeared, including searching rubbish, ponds and parks.

Then shortly after 5pm on Monday, officers found a body in the 1600 block of Victor St in South Memphis.

It is not yet known if this body has anything to do with the Fletcher case, but official sources told local television station WREG Channel 3 that it was produced in an area that was part of the search for her.

Local media reported that multiple officers from multiple government agencies descended on the scene, with a police helicopter circling the area and mobile command centers for MPD and the county sheriff’s office set up nearby.

According Fox Newspolice cordoned off a large area near an abandoned elementary school, less than a mile from where a witness told police they had seen Mr. Abston forcefully clear an SUV that matched what was seen on surveillance footage.

WREG Channel 3 Journalist Bria Jones also tweeted that Monday’s discovery was “very close” to where authorities seized a dumpster and recovered bags as evidence near Mr Abston’s brother’s home.

The suspect

It is not yet clear whether Mr Abston knew his alleged victim before Friday’s abduction or whether he was targeted at random.

However, the 38-year-old has a previous conviction for kidnapping and was released less than two years ago after serving 20 years behind bars.

In a frighteningly similar situation to Ms Fletcher’s abduction, Mr Abston rounded up a Memphis lawyer in his vehicle in an early morning attack.

On May 24, 2000, at approximately 2 a.m., Mr. Abston approached Kemper Durand in his vehicle, got out, and put the attorney in the trunk of his car.

Cleotha Abston was arrested Saturday — about 24 hours after the teacher was kidnapped (Shelby County Sheriff's Office via AP)

Cleotha Abston was arrested Saturday — about 24 hours after the teacher was kidnapped (Shelby County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

He then drove the victim for several hours before taking him to an ATM where he robbed him.

The victim was saved when a passerby called for help, causing the assailant to flee.

Mr. Abston was later arrested and pleaded guilty in 2001 to aggravated kidnapping.

He was sentenced to 24 years in prison and was released in November 2020 after serving 19 years.

The victim

Ms. Fletcher is well known in the local community as a respected teacher and heir to a local business fortune.

The 34-year-old is the granddaughter of the late local businessman and philanthropist Joseph “Joe” Orgill III, who founded the Memphis hardware supply company Orgill.

The private, family-owned business is now worth $3.2 billion and employs 5,500 people, with the Orgill family well-known in the area.

The company’s website describes Orgill as “the world’s largest independent distributor of hardwear, providing retailers across North America and more than 60 countries worldwide with access to more than 75,000 products and industry-leading retail services.”

However, instead of working in the family business, Ms. Fletcher became a local kindergarten teacher.

She is married to Richard Fletcher III and they have two boys together.

The teacher's family pleaded for help to find her in an emotional press conference Saturday (Memphis Police Department)

The teacher’s family pleaded for help to find her in an emotional press conference Saturday (Memphis Police Department)

Her family offered $50,000 for her return and pleaded for help to find her in an emotional press conference on Saturday.

“We believe someone knows what happened and can help,” her uncle Mike Keeney said, as Mr Fletcher wiped tears from his eyes.

“More than anything we want to see Lisa come home safely.”

Ms Fletcher was last seen wearing a pink jogging top and purple running shorts. He is described as being 5’6″ tall, weighing 137 pounds, with brown hair and green eyes.

Anyone with information is asked to contact CrimeStoppers at 901-528-CASH.

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