Cleotha Abston’s 2000 kidnap victim worked at same law firm as Eliza Fletcher’s uncle

There is no indication that the law firm connection has anything to do with Fletcher’s murder, which investigators described as an ‘isolated attack by a stranger’

Rachel Sharp
Wednesday 07 September 2022 12:46 EDT
Man appears in court charged with murder of heiress Eliza Fletcher

The Memphis attorney kidnapped at gunpoint by Cleotha Abston Henderson more than two decades ago worked at the same law firm as Eliza Fletcher’s uncle, it has been revealed.

Kemper Durand, who died in 2013, was the victim of Abston Henderson’s first known kidnapping back on 24 May 2000.

In the early hours of the morning, Abston Henderson, then 16, and his accomplice Marquette Cobbins approached Durand and forced the attorney into the trunk of his own car.

They then drove the victim around for several hours before taking him to an ATM at a Mapco gas station to rob him.

The victim was luckily saved when he spotted an armed Memphis Housing Authority guard at the station and shouted for help, prompting his attackers to flee.

Durand, who went on to testify at his attackers’ trial, worked as a criminal defence lawyer at Memphis law firm Lewis Thomason.

Ms Fletcher’s uncle Michael Keeney now works as counsel for the same law firm.

His company bio states that he practices in the area of civil litigation, handling matters in state and federal court.

Mr Keeney was one of Ms Fletcher’s family members who gathered for an emotional press conference on Saturday where they begged for help in bringing the mother-of-two home safe.

The bizarre connection was first revealed by NewsNationNow. There is no indication that the link has anything to do with Ms Fletcher’s abduction and murder, with investigators saying they believe it to be an “isolated attack by a stranger”.

However, Durand long believed that Abston Henderson would have also killed him if he had the chance during the 2000 attack.

Cleotha Abston appears for his arraignment on Tuesday morning

In a 2003 victim impact statement, he said that he was “lucky” to escape from Abston Henderson and that “it is quite likely that I would have been killed had I not escaped”.

Durand long believed that Abston Henderson was the mastermind behind the attack and – in an unusual twist – testified at trial that Cobbins should be handed a more lenient sentence because he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

An obituary for Durand, posted by Lewis Thomason in 2013, revealed how “the victim became the advocate for one of his assailants”.

“Kemper then further described how during those hours he spent in the trunk of his car, he heard the two men talking. The man who was now about to be sentenced had pleaded with his friend to ‘stop the car, let this man out, give him his keys, and go!’” it read.

Abston Henderson pleaded guilty in 2001 to especially aggravated kidnapping and aggravated robbery. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison.

Just two years later, Abston Henderson filed a petition for post-conviction relief, prompting Durand to impact statement detailing his belief that he would have been killed if it wasn’t for the chance encounter with the armed guard.

“My feelings about being the victim of this crime, and the feelings of those around me, are that I was 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,” he wrote.

“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 while Cleotha Abston, Marquette Cobbins (the second defendant), and I were using the ATM machine.

Kemper Durand was kidnapped by Cleotha Abston in 2000

“It is quite likely that I would have been killed had I not escaped.”

Durand also pointed to Abston Henderson’s long rap sheet prior to the kidnapping, having been in and out of the juvenile system since he was around 11 years old on charges of theft, aggravated assault, aggravated assault with a weapon, and rape.

Abston Henderson was just 14 years old when he committed a juvenile delinquent act of rape against an unnamed male, according to court documents.

The charge was sustained and the teenager was placed in the custody of Shelby County’s Youth Services Bureau.

Court records reveal that Abston Henderson was a member of the the “LMG” gang – “Lemoyne Gardens Gangstas” – and spent his youth in and out of the Shelby County juvenile system.

He was first brought before Shelby County Juvenile Court on theft charges at the age of 11 and was in and out of the juvenile system from a young age.

For the next five years between October 1995 and May 2000, he was detained another 16 times on charges including rape, aggravated assault and unlawful possession of a weapon.

The teenager had been released from the juvenile system just two weeks before his attack on Durand.

Eliza Fletcher’s family gave an emotional appeal for help in finding her on Saturday. Her uncle Michael Keeney is centre

He served 19 years in prison for the kidnapping and was released in November 2020 – less than two years before Ms Fletcher’s murder.

More than two decades on, the kidnapping of Ms Fletcher appears to be chillingly similar to Mr Durand’s terrifying experience at the hands of Abston.

Ms Fletcher, a kindergarten teacher and granddaughter of the Orgill hardware empire, was snatched while out on her regular early morning jog near the University of Memphis campus on Friday.

At around 4.20am, surveillance footage captured a black 2013 GMC Terrain SUV driving past her as she ran through the area.

The SUV pulled up and a man was seen getting out of it, before he “ran aggressively” toward the jogger.

A violent struggle broke out and the man forced Ms Fletcher into the passenger side of the vehicle.

The car then remained stationary in a parking lot with the two inside for around four minutes before driving off, police said the footage shows.

On Monday afternoon, the mother-of-two’s body was found dumped in the rear of a vacant duplex in South Memphis, walking distance from the home of Abston’s brother.

Abston had been spotted by multiple witnesses and on surveillance footage cleaning his vehicle and clothes in the hours after her abduction.

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

No cause of death has been released and Abston is said to be refusing to cooperate with the investigation.

Abston has been charged with first-degree murder, first-degree murder in perpetration of kidnapping, especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence.

He was arraigned on Wednesday morning on the murder charges and was ordered to be held without bond pending a bond hearing on Thursday.

The judge also clarified that would now be referred to with the last name Abston Henderson, at his request.

He is also charged with identity theft, theft of property under $1,000 and fraudulent use of a credit card for an unrelated incident.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said that law enforcement were glad to be “removing this dangerous predator off the streets of Memphis”.

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