Cleotha Abston: Everything we know about suspect in kidnapping and murder of Memphis heiress Eliza Fletcher

Suspect in murdered heiress case spent 20 years in prison for kidnapping and robbery before being released in 2020, according to authorities

Bevan Hurley
Wednesday 07 September 2022 21:10 BST
Man charged over kidnapping of Memphis jogger Eliza Fletcher

Cleotha “Pookie” Abston has been charged with kidnapping and killing Memphis teacher and business heiress Eliza Fletcher, whose body was recovered four days after her abduction.

Ms Fletcher, a 34-year-old mother of two and granddaughter of billionaire Joseph Orgill III, was snatched while out jogging near the University of Memphis campus and forced into an SUV at 4am on Friday (2 September).

Abston, a 38-year-old convicted kidnapper released from prison in 2020 after serving 19 years, was arrested on Saturday and has been charged with especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence, Memphis police said.

Cleotha Abston appears in court on Tuesday

A body was discovered in the search for Ms Fletcher on Monday afternoon. The following morning, police announced the body had been positively identified as Ms Fletcher and murder charges were filed against Abston.

He has since requested with the court that he be referred to as Cleotha Henderson, rather than Cleotha Abston.

Here’s what we know about the suspect:

Who is Cleotha Abston?

Police say Abston was driving a black 2013 GMC Terrain that was identified as a vehicle of interest by police and was spotted near the University of Memphis where Ms Fletcher was abducted.

According to a police affidavit, surveillance footage showed a man run “aggressively” towards Ms Fletcher, known to family and friends as Liza, and force her into the dark-coloured SUV.

The footage captured from a local theatre allegedly shows Ms Fletcher and a suspect struggle, and the vehicle then remained stationary in a parking lot for four minutes before driving off.

Eliza Fletcher was snatched while jogging in the early hours of Friday morning

Footage recovered by police from the day before Ms Fletcher’s disappearance allegedly shows Abston wearing a pair of Champion slide sandals recovered from the scene.

DNA on the sandals has been matched to Abston, according to the police affidavit.

According to the affidavit, statements from Abston’s employer confirmed the vehicle used in the kidnapping is owned by a woman associated with his address.

According to the affidavit, Mr Abston was spotted cleaning the inside of his car and washing his clothes in the sink in the aftermath of the abduction. A witness and the suspect’s brother said they saw him behaving oddly at his house and undergoing the clean later on Friday.

Even after the clean, authorities said they have recovered blood and other evidence inside the vehicle, leading them to believe Ms Fletcher suffered a “serious injury”.

Abston is refusing to cooperate with police or offer any information about Ms Fletcher’s whereabouts, according to the police affidavit.

When confronted by police outside of his Memphis apartment, he reportedly tried to flee, but was arrested by US Marshals on charges of especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence.

On Monday afternoon, Memphis police charged Abston with three additional charges:  identity theft, theft of property under $1,000 and fraudulent use of a credit card.

Eliza Fletcher was abducted while out jogging in Memphis early on Friday morning

After Ms Fletcher was confirmed dead, Abston was hit with new charges of first degree murder and first degree murder in perpetration of kidnapping.

He was initially held on $500,000 bond at the Shelby County Jail and made his first court appearance on Tuesday for arraignment on kidnapping and tampering with evidence.

Abston made a second appearance in the Shelby County Circuit Court on Wednesday morning where a judge revoked his bond.

The judge said that the suspect asked that he be known as Cleotha Henderson, rather than Cleotha Abston.

After the court appearance, Shelby County Jail records showed he was listed as Cleotha Henderson.

New information about discovery of Fletcher’s body

Police filed an amended affidavit on Tuesday afternoon which provided extra details on how officers located Ms Fletcher.

Investigators from Memphis Police Department, and federal and state partners searching for Ms Fletcher noticed vehicle tracks in tall grass leading to a vacant apartment at at 1666 Victor St at 5.07pm on Monday, the affidavit stated.

A search and rescue officer smelled an “odour of decay” and spotted a set of footprints in the rear driveway of the premises. He then saw an “unresponsive female” lying on the ground.

The person, who matched a description of Ms Fletcher, was pronounced dead by the medical examiner shortly afterwards, according to the court document.

Police found a pair of purple Lululemon running shorts that were consistent with a pair Ms Fletcher was wearing when she disappeared discarded in a trash bag nearby.

Surveillance footage showed Mr Abston’s black GMC Terrain nearby between 5.48am and 5.52am, the affidavit states.

Cleotha Abston appears for arraignment in the kidnapping of Eliza Fletcher

His brother Mario Abston was arrested on separate charges as part of the police investigation, the Memphis Police Department said on Twitter.

He is facing three counts: possession of a controlled substance with intent to manufacture and sell fentanyl, possession of a controlled substance with intent to manufacture and sell heroin, and possession of a firearm during the Commission of a dangerous felony.

Previous convictions

In 2000, Abston was convicted of the aggravated kidnapping and robbery of Memphis lawyer Kemper Durand, Shelby County court records show.

According to the Commercial Appeal, Abston was 16 years old when he and another man Marquette Cobbins forced Mr Durand into the trunk of a car at gunpoint before driving to an ATM to force him to withdraw money.

When they arrived at a Mapco gas station, Mr Durand yelled for help after spotting an armed Memphis Housing Authority guard, court records show.

“It is quite likely that I would have been killed had I not escaped,” Mr Durand, who died in 2013, wrote in a victim impact statement, according to the Commercial Appeal.

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