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Body Found in Memphis Identified as Kidnapped Jogger Eliza Fletcher

Memphis police released this undated photo of Eliza Fletcher from before the kidnipping.

MEMPHIS, TN- A body discovered in Memphis has been identified as abducted school teacher Eliza Fletcher, authorities said Tuesday.

Fletcher's remains were found on Sunday afternoon in a South Memphis residential neighborhood several miles from where she was abducted, police said. The grim news came as 38-year-old Cleotha Abston, the suspect in the kidnapping, was set to make his first court appearance. The Memphis Police Department said charges of first-degree murder and first-degree murder in perpetration of kidnapping have been filed against Abston.

Cleotha Abston, 38, has been charged with especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence in the case of missing jogger Eliza Fletcher, 34. who police said was abducted in Memphis, Tennessee, on Sept. 2, 2022.

Abston was charged over the weekend with especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence in connection with Fletcher's disappearance. On Monday, additional charges of identity theft, theft of property valued at $1,000 or less, and fraudulent use of a credit card were filed against Abston, according to online jail records.

Abston is being held at the Shelby County Jail in Memphis on $500,000 bail. He is scheduled to appear in Shelby County Circuit Court in Memphis at 9 a.m. local time on Tuesday.

Amid the search for Eliza Fletcher, who was kidnapped on Friday, Memphis police announced on Twitter that a body was discovered Sunday afternoon. "The identity of this person and the cause of death is unconfirmed at this time. The investigation is ongoing," police said in a statement.

Fletcher, a kindergarten teacher and married mother of two, was last seen jogging in the area of Central Avenue and Zach Curlin Street in midtown Memphis, near the University of Memphis campus in southwest Tennessee, on Friday morning at approximately 4:20 a.m. local time, according to the Memphis Police Department. She was approached by a man and forced into a dark-colored GMC Terrain, which then took off, traveling westbound on Central Avenue, police said.

Fletcher's husband, Richard Fletcher, reported her missing about three hours later, telling investigators that she never returned home from her regular 4 a.m. run, according to an affidavit of the complaint made public Sunday by the Shelby County Sheriff's Office.

According to the affidavit, police believe Fletcher suffered "serious injury" during the abduction, which was captured on surveillance video.

The video showed a black GMC Terrain initially driving by Fletcher as she jogged, then stopping in a parking lot ahead of her and waiting for her to come by, according to the affidavit.

"A male exited the black GMC Terrain, ran aggressively toward the victim, and then forced the victim Eliza Fletcher into the passenger's side of the vehicle. During this abduction, there appeared to be a struggle," the affidavit states.

Citing the video, investigators said the SUV sat in a parking lot with the victim inside for about four minutes before it drove off, according to the affidavit.

The video also captured the same SUV in the area of the kidnapping about 24 minutes prior to the abduction, the affidavit alleges.

Police arrested Abston on Saturday after learning that the registered owner of the GMC Terrain lived at the same residence as Abston, according to the affidavit. As the U.S. Marshals Service moved in to make the arrests, Abston allegedly tried to flee in the SUV but was quickly taken into custody.

During questioning, Abston, who works at a dry cleaner, refused to tell investigators anything about Fletcher's whereabouts, according to the affidavit.

Abston previously pleaded guilty in 2001 of especially aggravated kidnapping and aggravated robbery in Shelby County, according to the Tennessee Department of Correction.

He served 20 years in prison for kidnapping a prominent Memphis attorney at gunpoint, according to a report by The Commercial Appeal, a Memphis newspaper. Abston, who was 16 at the time, forced the attorney into the trunk of a car and made him withdraw cash from an ATM, the newspaper reported.

The attorney managed to escape when he yelled for help and drew the attention of a Memphis Housing Authority guard, according to the newspaper.

Fletcher was the granddaughter of Joseph "Joe" Orgill III, a prominent Tennessee businessman who died in 2018. Her family was offering a $50,000 reward for information that led to her safe return. They pleaded for people to come forward in a video statement released by the Memphis Police Department on Saturday.

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