MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — Police in Tennessee said Tuesday they had found the body of a Memphis woman abducted during a pre-dawn run, confirming fears that Eliza Fletcher was killed after she was forced into an SUV on Friday morning.
U.S. Marshals arrested Cleotha Abston, 38, on Saturday after police detected his DNA on a pair of sandals found near where Fletcher was last seen, according to an arrest affidavit. Police did not find Fletcher’s body until just after 5 p.m. on Monday and did not publicly confirm that the body was Fletcher’s until Tuesday morning.
Abston had been charged with especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence before Fletcher’s body was found. A murder charge was added following the discovery.
Cleotha Abston sits in jail apparently saying very little about the kidnapping and murder, but police have been able to link him to the crime, saying Abston was driving an SUV seen in surveillance video at the crime scene.
That SUV belonged to Gwendolyn Brown, who lives at a southeast Memphis apartment complex.
“Yes, I am upset, I am very upset,” Brown said.
Brown admitted the vehicle was hers to Nexstar’s WREG, but refused to say how she knows Cleotha Abston. She adamantly stressed she was not his girlfriend.
Police were also at Brown’s apartment checking out damage to a glass door. They did not say how the damage happened.
It’s not the only address connected to Cleotha Abston. Another apartment complex in Memphis is listed as Abston’s address, but WREG found his mother actually lives here. She was not home, but his uncle by marriage said the kidnapping charge is a surprise.
However, this isn’t Abston’s first time being charged with kidnapping. In 2000, as a juvenile, he was charged and later convicted of kidnapping Memphis attorney Kemper Durand as he was walking from a party. Abston drove the lawyer around in his trunk and forced him to get money from an ATM.
Durand, in a victim impact statement, wrote, “I was extremely lucky that I was able to escape from the custody of Cleotha Abston. … It is quite likely that I would have been killed had I not escaped,” the Commercial Appeal reported. Durand noted that it took over a year for Abston to sign the guilty plea, calling the refusal “jailhouse braggadocio.”
Durand also detailed Abston’s lengthy history in the juvenile court system. In the years before the kidnapping, Abston had been charged with theft, aggravated assault, aggravated assault with a weapon, and rape, according to Durand’s statement.
Abston was sentenced to 24 years and released in 2020.
Since his release, Abston had been working for a cleaning service. In fact, it was his boss who described to police the vehicle Abston had been driving, the one that matched what police saw on the video of the abduction.
Cleotha Abston is also facing additional charges of identity theft, theft of property $1,000 or less, and fraudulent use of a debit card $1,000 or less in relation to an incident that happened the day before Fletcher’s abduction.
According to the arrest affidavit, a woman reported her debit cards were stolen and several purchases were made on it after she left her wallet at work.
Investigators said surveillance video showed Abston, who was later identified by his manager, taking her wallet while he was working for the cleaning service. He spent a total of $901.80.
Abston’s brother, Mario, was also arrested over the weekend. He remains in jail on drug charges.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.