New details are coming to light about the violent murder of a jogger snatched from a Memphis street.
The body of 34-year-old schoolteacher and mother-of-two Eliza ‘Liza’ Fletcher was found on Monday morning behind a vacant residence in Memphis. The grisly discovery came three days after Fletcher was ambushed while on an early-morning run and forced into a dark-colored SUV.
Cleotha Abston, 38, is now charged with her murder.
Memphis police have released a new affidavit detailing how authorities from multiple law enforcement agencies found Fletcher’s body, according to CBS Memphis affiliate WREG-TV.
Based on data collected from the FBI, authorities were combing an area around East Person Avenue and Victor Street in South Memphis when an officer noticed tire tracks in the grass leading up to an abandoned residence on 1666 Victor Street. Officers then detected an “odor of decay” before finding Fletcher’s body in the “rear of a vacant duplex apartment” at 5:07 p.m.
Her body was positioned near a set of steps close to the driveway that ran alongside the side of the house, according to WREG-TV. One neighbor told Fox News the structure had been unoccupied for more than 15 years.
Fletcher’s cause of death has yet to be determined.
According to the new affidavit, surveillance footage placed Abston’s SUV near the Victor Street address on Friday at 5:48 a.m. — just over an hour after Fletcher’s abduction.
After finding Fletcher's body Monday evening, authorities also found a pair of purple Lululemon shorts — which match what Fletcher was wearing when she was abducted — discarded in a garbage bag about 100 feet north of where Fletcher’s body was discovered, according to the Memphis outlet.
Photo: Memphis Police Department
At around 4:30 a.m. on Friday, an SUV — believed to have been driven by Abston — passed Fletcher before stopping just ahead of Fletcher's path, as shown in surveillance video obtained by authorities. The suspect then exited the GMC Terrain and “aggressively” approached Fletcher before forcing her into the passenger’s seat.
The SUV remained on the scene for the next four minutes before driving off with Fletcher still inside, prompting a massive search for the missing woman.
Cleotha Abston was quickly named as a suspect in Fletcher’s disappearance when his DNA was allegedly found on a pair of sandals discovered near the site of Fletcher’s “violent” abduction. The victim’s cell phone was also nearby.
U.S. Marshals arrested Cleotha Abston on Sunday and charged him with especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence. Those charges were amended to include first-degree murder, premeditated murder and murder in perpetration of kidnapping after Fletcher was found dead.
Multiple people who knew the suspect, including his brother, Mario Abston — who was arrested on unrelated drug and firearm charges during the course of the investigation — said Cleotha Abston was “acting very strange," according to Newsweek. Witnesses said the suspect used cleaner to scrub the inside of the SUV and also washed his clothes in the sink that morning.
On Tuesday, WREG-TV published reported surveillance video allegedly showing Cleotha Abston at the Longview Garden apartment complex — where Mario resides — at around 7:57 a.m. Friday morning, mere hours after Fletcher’s abduction. The video allegedly shows Cleotha Abston cleaning the vehicle’s interior before entering his brother’s apartment.
Cleotha Abston’s criminal history dates back to when he was 11 years-old, and includes charges of aggravated assault, rape, burglary, theft, evading arrest and others, according to CBS affiliate WJTV.
A 16-year-old Cleotha Abston and another teen kidnapped a lawyer at gunpoint and loaded him into the trunk of a car in 2000. The lawyer escaped when the boys attempted to make him withdraw money from an ATM.
Abston was sentenced to 24 years in prison after pleading guilty in the case, but released in 2020.
A motive behind Fletcher’s murder has not been revealed. However, Shelby County District Attorney Gen. Steve Mulroy called it an “isolated attack by a stranger” during a press conference on Tuesday, according to the Commercial Appeal. Mulroy said this was “in contrast to whatever baseless speculation you might have seen.”
Rumors about the motive began swirling when it was discovered Fletcher was the granddaughter of hardware tycoon Joseph Orgill III, who left the $3 billion-plus business to his family upon his passing.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Fletcher’s family also broke their silence, according to WREG-TV.
“We are heartbroken and devastated by this senseless loss,” they said in their statement. “Liza was 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,” the family continued. “We appreciate all the expressions of love and concern we have received.”
The family thanked authorities on the case and asked the public to respect their privacy as they grieve.
The abduction and murder of Fletcher, an avid runner and Boston Marathon qualifier, raised ongoing concerns for women’s safety in the running community, per Commercial Appeal.
“It does not matter what time it was, if she was alone or what she was wearing,” one runner commented. “We should be safe to run when, where, and how we want.”
Condolences continue to ring out across the country and within the region, including statements by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, and Dr. Greg Jones, President of Belmont University, where Fletcher once attended.
Cleotha Abston made a brief appearance in court on Tuesday and returned Wednesday morning, when he was ordered to be held without bond — revoking his previous bond of $510,000, according to Fox News. The Commercial Appeal reported he is scheduled for another court appearance on Thursday.