MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The man accused of kidnapping a Tennessee woman jogging near the University of Memphis last week has spent 20 years behind bars for a previous kidnapping.
U.S. Marshals arrested Cleotha Abston, 38, on Saturday after police traced his DNA to a pair of sandals found near where Eliza Fletcher was last seen, according to an arrest affidavit. Police also linked the vehicle they believe was used in the kidnapping to a person at a residence where Abston lived.
Although Fletcher has not been found, Memphis police said in the affidavit that they believe she was seriously injured in the abduction, which was captured on surveillance video. Authorities said Fletcher, 34, was jogging around 4 a.m. Friday when a man approached her and forced her into an SUV after a brief struggle. Fletcher was reported missing when she did not return home that morning.
Late Monday, police tweeted that a body had been found in a Memphis neighborhood, but that the person’s identity and cause of death have not been confirmed. The tweet made no mention of the Fletcher case, saying only that the investigation was ongoing. A large police presence was reported in the area where authorities said they found the body shortly after 5pm, local news reported.
Abston previously kidnapped a prominent Memphis attorney in 2000, the Commercial Appeal reported. When he was just 16, Abston forced Kemper Durand into the trunk of his car at gunpoint. After several hours, Abston took Durand out and forced him to drive to a Mapco gas station to withdraw money from an ATM. At the station, an armed Memphis Housing Authority guard walked in and Durant yelled for help. Abston fled but was found and arrested. He pleaded guilty in 2001 to aggravated kidnapping and aggravated robbery, according to court records. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison.
Durant, in a victim impact statement, wrote: “I was extremely fortunate to be able to escape Cleotha Ampston’s custody. … It is very likely that I would have been killed if I had not escaped,” the Commercial Appeal reported. Durant noted that it took more than a year for Umpston to sign the guilty plea, calling the refusal a “braggadocio prison.”
Durant also brought up Abston’s long history in the juvenile justice system. In the years before the kidnapping, Abston had been charged with theft, aggravated assault, aggravated assault with a weapon and rape, according to Durand’s statement.
Durant died in 2013, seven years before Abston was released from prison in November 2020 at the age of 36. In the two years since his release, there were no other documented charges against Abston in Shelby County before his arrest Saturday, the Commercial Appeal reported.
Online court records do not indicate whether Abston has an attorney available to comment on his behalf. The trial was set for Tuesday.
Fletcher is the granddaughter of the late Joseph Orgill III, a Memphis hardware entrepreneur and philanthropist. The family released a video statement asking for help finding Fletcher and offered a $50,000 reward for information about the case.
Download it FREE Boston 25 News app for emergency notifications.
Follow Boston 25 News on Facebook and Twitter. | Watch Boston 25 News NOW