Memphis police find unidentified body 3 days after a teacher was violently abducted

CNN/ Newswire | 9/6/2022, 11:10 a.m.
Memphis police found an unidentified body Monday about 20 minutes from where teacher Eliza "Liza" Fletcher was violently abducted three …
Cleotha Abston, 38, charged in connection with the abduction of a still-missing Memphis teacher served prison time for an aggravated kidnapping more than 20 years ago, court records show. Mandatory Credit: Shelby County Sheriff's Office/Associated Press

Originally Published: 05 SEP 22 09:36 ET

Updated: 06 SEP 22 08:55 ET

By Tina Burnside, Jamiel Lynch and Amir Vera, CNN

(CNN) -- Memphis police found an unidentified body Monday about 20 minutes from where teacher Eliza "Liza" Fletcher was violently abducted three days ago, according to a tweet from the police department.

"The identity of this person and the cause of death is unconfirmed at this time. The investigation is ongoing," the tweet said.

Police have been searching the Memphis area for Fletcher, 34, since Friday. The mother of two was jogging around 4 a.m. when a black GMC Terrain SUV passed by her, according to surveillance footage obtained of the incident. A man was then seen getting out of the vehicle and running "aggressively" toward Fletcher and forcing her into the passenger side of the SUV. Once both individuals were inside the SUV, the vehicle remained in a parking lot for about four minutes before driving away, according to the footage cited in an affidavit obtained by CNN.

The affidavit stated police found "physical evidence that she suffered serious injury."

Cleotha Abston, 38, was arrested Saturday after police found the GMC Terrain in a parking lot near his residence, according to the affidavit. The vehicle had the same distinguishable damage and partial license plate identification seen in the surveillance footage from Fletcher's abduction.

Abston attempted to flee after US Marshals located him nearby, the affidavit said. He was charged with especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence.

The suspect is being held in the Shelby County Jail on $500,000 bail and is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday, according to jail records. It is unclear whether he has an attorney.

DNA on sandals led authorities to Abston

DNA recovered from a pair of sandals found near where authorities believe Fletcher was abducted helped investigators identify and arrest Abston, according to the affidavit.

Surveillance footage captured from a local theater the day before Fletcher's disappearance showed Abston wearing what authorities believe are the same pair of Champion slide sandals found at the crime scene, according to the affidavit.

Additional surveillance footage matched with statements from Abston's employer confirmed the vehicle in question belongs to a woman associated with Abston's home address.

Cell phone records also place Abston at the site during the time of Fletcher's abduction on Friday morning, the affidavit said.

Fletcher's damaged phone was found near the scene where she was abducted, CrimeStoppers Executive Director Buddy Chapman said, according to a news release obtained by CNN affiliate WHBQ.

According to the affidavit, a witness said she saw Abston at his brother's house after the abduction. Both the witness and his brother said Abston was behaving oddly as he cleaned the interior of his SUV and washed his clothes in the sink.

Photos released by police show Fletcher running in the neighborhood near the University of Memphis. She was last seen wearing a pink jogging top and purple running shorts, police said in an alert.

Fletcher is White, 5 feet 6 inches tall, with brown hair and green eyes, police said. She weighs 137 pounds.

Her family is offering a $50,000 reward through CrimeStoppers for information leading to an arrest in the case, WHBQ reported.

"We look forward to Eliza's safe return and hope that this award will help police capture those who committed this crime," her family said in a statement shared by Chapman.

In a post on Twitter, St. Mary's Episcopal School said Fletcher is a junior kindergarten teacher.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said in a tweet it is assisting Memphis police in the investigation.

Abston served time for a prior kidnapping charge

Abston previously served prison time for an aggravated kidnapping more than 20 years ago, court records show.

He pleaded guilty in November 2001 to the charge of especially aggravated kidnapping. He was released in November 2020, according to court records.

The Shelby County District Attorney's Office told WREG Abston was convicted in the kidnapping of a local attorney in 2000.

Three additional charges were added for Abston since his arrest Saturday, according to Shelby County Jail Records. Those charges include identity theft, theft of property $1000 or less and fraudulent use/illegal possession of a credit or debit card $1000 or less, records show.

The newly filed charges Abston are not related to Fletcher's abduction, according to an affidavit obtained by CNN affiliate WHBQ. The new charges are connected to a Thursday theft report filed by a woman who reported that someone was using her CashApp card and Wisley Card at gas stations without her knowledge.

CNN has reached out to the Shelby County District Attorney and Memphis Police regarding the additional charges.