Body found in South Memphis identified as missing jogger Eliza Fletcher
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC/Gray News) - Several Mid-South officials gathered Tuesday morning following the positive identification of Eliza Fletcher’s body -- the mother of two who was kidnapped Friday while jogging near the University of Memphis.
Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy along with the FBI, Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis and several other law enforcement officials gave remarks on the investigation.
“With respect to the family, both law enforcement and our offices were in contact with the family throughout this long weekend,” said Mulroy. “They have been fully cooperative throughout the entire process and in contrast to whatever baseless speculation you might’ve seen, we have no reason to think this was anything other than an isolated attack by a stranger.”
Cleotha Abston, the man charged in Fletcher’s killing is now behind bars on several charges, including first-degree murder, first-degree murder in perpetration of kidnapping, especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence.
The Memphis wife and mom of two was reported missing Friday after not returning from her morning jog. Memphis Police Department issued a City Watch alert soon after her kidnapping, but Tuesday morning around 8:40 a.m. investigators canceled the alert.
Moments later, police announced the body was identified as Fletcher.
“Any kind of violence, of course, is unacceptable, but repeat violent offenders particularly deserve a stronger response. And that’s what they’ll get from this district attorney’s office,” said Mulroy.
The manner of Fletcher’s death remains undetermined.
“It is too early for us to determine the place and method of death at this point,” said Davis. “At this time, we are still working with the suspect. We are uncovering various leads. This is an ongoing investigation.”
Mulroy asks that the public respect Fletcher’s family’s privacy during this time.
Memphis police officers discovered the body at Chestnut Avenue and Victor Street.
This is where investigators say the man charged in Fletcher’s disappearance, Abston, was seen cleaning his vehicle after her abduction.
Fletcher’s family released a statement Tuesday regarding their loved one’s death:
“We are heartbroken and devastated by this senseless loss. Liza was a such a joy to so many - her family, friends, colleagues, students, parents, members of her Second Presbyterian Church congregation, and everyone who knew her.
Now it’s time to remember and celebrate how special she was and to support those who cared so much for her. We appreciate all the expressions of love and concern we have received. We are grateful beyond measure to local, state and federal law enforcement for their tireless efforts to find Liza and to bring justice to the person responsible for this horrible crime.
We hope that everyone, including media representatives, understand the need for the family to grieve in privacy without outside intrusion during this painful time.”
St. Mary’s Episcopal School, the school Fletcher taught at, also issued a heartfelt statement via Facebook, saying in part, “We are heartbroken at the loss of our beloved teacher, colleague, and friend Liza Fletcher. ... This morning our faculty and staff started the day in chapel. We lit candles to remember Liza who was a bright light in our community. Liza embodied the song that we sing every week in Early Childhood chapel, ‘This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.’”
Fletcher was reported missing early Friday morning. She was last seen jogging on Central Avenue near the University of Memphis.
Later that day, Fletcher’s cell phone and a pair of Champion slides were turned over to the police.
Police were later able to link those shoes back to Abston.
Police said they believe he is the man seen on surveillance video, forcing Fletcher in a black GMC Terrain Friday morning.
After the incident, witnesses reported Abston cleaning out that SUV and said his behavior was odd.
Abston made his first court appearance on kidnapping and tampering with evidence charges in Fletcher’s abduction Tuesday morning.
He is also now facing additional charges in Fletcher’s death -- first-degree murder and first-degree murder in perpetration of kidnapping.
The especially aggravated kidnapping charge falls under Tennessee’s new truth in sentencing law. If he is found guilty of this charge, he would have to serve 100% of the sentence.
It’s a class A felony where a sentence could be anywhere between 15 and 60 years in prison.
While awaiting arraignment on these charges, Abston received new charges in an unrelated case.
A report from Memphis police says a woman reported someone was using her Cash App account and Wisely card at gas stations, totaling more than $900.
He is charged with identity theft, theft of property under $1,000 and fraudulent use of a debit or credit card.
This police report was filed one day before Eliza Fletcher was abducted.
Abston previously kidnapped a prominent Memphis attorney in 2000, the Commercial Appeal reported, when he was just 16 years old.
He forced Kemper Durand into the trunk of his own car at gunpoint, holding him for several hours before forcing him to drive to a gas station to withdraw money from an ATM.
Durand managed to escape when a Memphis Housing Authority armed guard walked into the gas station.
Abston was sentenced to 24 years in prison for this incident and was released in November 2020, the Associated Press reported.
Copyright 2022 WMC via Gray Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.