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Body of missing jogger Eliza Fletcher is identified in Tennessee

The district attorney said he believes the kidnapping was “an isolated attack by a stranger.”
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A body found during the investigation into the disappearance of Eliza Fletcher, a 34-year-old woman abducted during a run Friday morning, has been confirmed as that of the missing jogger, authorities said Tuesday.

Police in Memphis, Tennessee, announced Monday that a body had been discovered one day after charges were announced against Cleotha Abston.

Abston, 38, was charged Sunday with kidnapping and tampering with evidence. Additional charges were filed, including first-degree murder and first-degree murder in perpetration of kidnapping, were filed after Fletcher's body was discovered.

He was also charged with unrelated offenses of identity theft, theft of property and credit card fraud, police said.

During an arraignment Tuesday, a judge set his bond for $510,000. Abston told the judge that he could not afford a lawyer and was appointed a public defender. He is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday to be arraigned on the murder charges.

Fletcher's body was found just after 5 p.m. Monday in a vacant duplex apartment on Victor Street, police said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy called the kidnapping "an isolated attack by a stranger."

Police have said that around 4:20 a.m. Friday, someone approached Fletcher, an avid runner, kindergarten teacher and mother of two, and forced her into an SUV.

A pair of sandals recovered from the area where she disappeared contained DNA matching Abston, according to an affidavit attached to a criminal complaint.

Security video from the scene showed “a black GMC Terrain passing and then waiting for the victim to run by,” according to the document. A male exited the car, ran toward Fletcher and forced her into the passenger’s seat, it said.

“During this abduction, there appeared to be a struggle,” the document said. “The Champion slides sandals were found in this area. The vehicle then sat in the parking lot with the victim inside for approximately four minutes before it drove off.”

A cause and the manner of death have not been released.

Cellular records obtained by investigators are alleged to have determined that Abston’s cellphone was near the site where Fletcher was forced into the vehicle.

Officers arrested Abston on Saturday after finding the GMC Terrain with a matching license plate number in a parking lot by Abston’s residence, the affidavit said.

Abston was previously sentenced to 24 years in prison after pleading guilty to kidnapping a man named Kemper Durand on May 26, 2000. Abston was a teenager at the time.

Court documents state that Abston kidnapped Durand at gunpoint and forced him into the trunk of a car. He then forced Durand to withdraw money from an ATM. Durand escaped when he got the attention of a Memphis Housing Authority guard while he was withdrawing the cash.

In a victim impact statement, Durand said he felt "extremely lucky that I was able to escape from the custody of Cleotha Abston."

"I had been taken from the trunk of my car, where he and his co-defendant had placed me for a number of hours, and made to drive to the Mapco station. The purpose was that I was to use my ATM card to get cash for Cleotha Abston. It was very fortunate that an armed, uniformed Memphis Housing Authority guard happened to come into the Mapco station," he wrote in the statement. "It is quite likely that I would have been killed had I not escaped."

Durand, a criminal defense lawyer who died in 2013, said he believed that Abston felt "absolutely no remorse."

The court documents also show that Abston had a lengthy criminal record dating to 1995. The charges included theft, aggravated assault, evading arrest and a rape charge in 1998.

Abston was released from the Tennessee Department of Correction in November 2020.

Mario Abston, 36, Cleotha Abston’s brother, was also arrested, but he is not believed to be connected to Fletcher’s abduction, authorities said. He was charged with drug and firearms offenses, police tweeted.