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Memphis Police Find Missing Jogger’s Body

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Police at scene of where Eliza Fletcher's body was located. | Image by Mark Weber/CNN

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Police in Memphis have identified the body of a missing 34-year-old jogger whose abduction drew nationwide attention.

Eliza Fletcher, a 34-year-old junior kindergarten teacher, was out for a jog near the University of Memphis at about 4:30 a.m. on Friday, September 2, when a man approached her and forced her into a black SUV.

Memphis police discovered her cellphone, which the kidnapper smashed to the ground, and her water bottle in front of a home owned by the university, authorities said.

After an exhaustive search spanning more than three days, police in Memphis said they have found the body of the missing mother of two. Police did not say how she died. Authorities first found Fletcher’s body at 5 p.m. on Monday but did not publicly identify her until Tuesday morning, according to AP News.

Memphis Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis told reporters that it was still too early to determine how and where Fletcher was murdered. Authorities revealed that the victim’s body was found behind a vacant duplex. Police noticed vehicle track marks next to the building’s driveway and “smelled an odor of decay,” according to NBC 5 News.

Authorities arrested a 38-year-old man on Saturday in connection with the kidnapping and death of Fletcher. Cleotha Abston was arraigned in court on Tuesday on charges of kidnapping, tampering with evidence, theft, identity theft, and fraudulent use of a credit card. His bond was set at $510,000. Following the identification of the body, a murder charge was added.

Memphis police arrested Abston after they allegedly traced the SUV that was used to abduct Fletcher to the 38-year-old. His DNA was apparently discovered on a pair of sandals found near the scene of Fletcher’s abduction.

Abston served 20 years for a previous kidnapping incident. When the suspect was just 16, he kidnapped Kemper Durand, a prominent Memphis attorney, in 2000. Abston forced Durand into his own car at gunpoint before taking the attorney out several hours later and forcing him to drive to a gas station to withdraw money from an ATM.

While at the gas station, an armed guard walked in and Durand shouted for help. Abston fled the scene and was arrested and charged with aggravated kidnapping and aggravated robbery, according to court records.

The then-16-year-old pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to 24 years in prison. He was released in November 2020 at the age of 36.

In a victim impact statement, Durand noted that Abston had an extensive history in the juvenile court system, having been charged with theft, aggravated assault, aggravated assault with a weapon, and rape.

“I was extremely lucky that I was able to escape from the custody of Cleotha Abston,” Durand said. “… It is quite likely that I would have been killed had I not escaped.”

Abston is set for another court appearance on Wednesday.

Fletcher was the granddaughter of the late Joseph Orgill III, a Memphis hardware businessman and philanthropist. The victim’s family said in a statement that they were “heartbroken and devastated by this senseless loss.”

“Liza was such a joy to so many … Now it’s time to remember and celebrate how special she was and to support those who cared so much for her,” the statement said.

St. Mary’s Episcopal School where Fletcher used to work posted on Facebook, “We are heartbroken at the loss of our beloved teacher, colleague, and friend Liza Fletcher. Our hearts are with the Fletcher, Orgill, and Wellford families.”

The school described Fletcher as a “bright light in our community” and said its faculty and staff started the day in its chapel and lit candles to remember her.

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