Daily Mail | by Shawn Cohen and Emma James | September 6, 2022
A violent felon who has been charged with kidnapping missing mother-of-two Eliza Fletcher has appeared in court in connection with her death.
Police are set to charge Cleotha Abston, 38, with the first degree murder and first degree murder in the perpetration of kidnapping after abducting the teacher, whose body was found in a dumpster.
Authorities have not yet confirmed Fletcher’s cause of death , but they have identified the body as the billionaire heiress, which was found seven miles from where she was last seen.
Abston was previously charged with kidnapping and tampering with evidence in relation to her disappearance, as well as other unrelated charges.
It comes as former FBI investigator Jennifer Coffindaffer revealed that Abston’s first kidnapping victim, Memphis Attorney Kemper Durand, worked in the same flaw firm as Fletcher’s uncle, Michael Keeney, NewsNation reports.
She said: ‘I think this is a very significant clue, and I’m sure certainly that the FBI, the US Marshalls and the TBI is looking closely at this relationship.’
Fletchers’ family are understood to have attended the short appearance, which was adjourned until another hearing on September 7.
He appeared in court wearing a mask and green issued prison uniform, swaying back and forth, looking towards the family of the victim before telling the court in an affidavit that he is unable to afford a lawyer or make bond.
Abston did not speak during the short 15 minute hearing, and was led away by officers with his hands cuffed behind his back.
The Ultra-runner vanished while out for a jog around 4.30am on Friday, sparking a four-day long hunt, which led officers to several wooded areas across Memphis.
The area where the body was found is just a hundred yards from the Longview Gardens apartment complex – where Abston’s brother, Mario, lives.
A van believed to belong to the medical examiners unit left the scene six hours after the remains were found, and is thought to have been transporting the body.
Abston did not speak during the short 15 minute hearing, and was led away by officers with his hands cuffed behind his back. He confirmed in an affadavit that he was unable to afford bond or legal representation
Cleotha Abston charged with murdering Eliza Fletcher
Eliza Fletcher, 34, was kidnapped after being forced into a black SUV on Friday. The driver of that SUV, Cleotha Abston, was arrested over the weekend and multiple police sources have confirmed that a body found is the missing mother-of-two
Abeston was seen swaying from side to side in court as he was brought in, and turned around to look at those attending court for his hearing
A map illustrating the scale of the citywide search for Eliza Fletcher in Memphis
Police sniffer dogs from the Shelby County Sheriff’s office working alongside search teams around a dumpster close to Mario Abston’s home. The dumpster was later hauled away by police, but it is not clear if this is the dumpster Eliza’s body was found in
Eliza Fletcher abduction: Police presence high amid investigation
Suspect Cleotha Abston, pictured here shortly after his release from prison in 2020, is being held on a $500,000 bond in relation to kidnapping charges
The scene showing the search for Fletcher just prior to the announcement of the grisly discovery on Monday evening, which has now been confirmed as the missing jogger
Members of the Memphis Police Department’s Auto Theft Task Force shown at the site of the search, which is just seven miles from where Eliza was reported missing
The tweet from local police announcing the discovery of the remains, though they have not officially confirmed the identity of the deceased
Former FBI investigator Jennifer Coffindaffer said that Abston’s first kidnapping victim in 2000 worked in the same law firm as Eliza Fletcher’s uncle. Coffindaffer said investigators will be looking into the link as they investigate Fletcher’s case
Fletcher’s kidnapping comes 22 years after Memphis Attorney Kemper Durand (above) was kidnapped and thrown into the trunk of his own car by Abston and an accomplice
The disappearance of Eliza Fletcher
September 2, 4.30am: Fletcher, 34, goes for a jog near the University of Memphis campus and is bundled into a dark SUV
7.45am: Officers are dispatched after husband Richard reports her disappearance. They find her water battle and smashed cell phone in front of a home near the scene
September 3: Cops tow her family car from her home. Investigators were also seen to label a pair of garden shears and a computer as evidence. They scour a local park and release CCTV of GMC Terrain
Cleo Abston, 38, is arrested with especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence. He was identified as the owner of the black SUV. He was apprehended after he was involved in a car wreck with an Alcohol Tobacco Firearms vehicle on Saturday night. It is later revealed he was recently released from a 20-year sentence for a similar crime
September 4: Abston is charged with especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence
September 5: Cops search pond and park. New charges are filed against Abston of identity theft, theft of property and fraudulent use/illegal possession of credit/debit card of $1000 or less
Abston, 38, was only 16-years-old when he and an accomplice kidnapped Durand, threw him into his own trunk, and tried to force him to withdraw money at a gas station ATM in 2000.
Abston spent 22 years in jail for the crime, and two years later after his early release in 2020, he is back in custody for the suspected kidnapping and murder of Fletcher.
In his victim impact statement, Durand, who died in 2013, said he feared for his life during his kidnapping, where he was rescued by a nearby Memphis Housing Authority guard who heard his scream for help, the Commercial Appeal reported.
‘It is quite likely that I would have been killed had I not escaped,’ Durand wrote.
According to Durand’s impact statement, the lawyer was alarmed by the teenager’s lengthy rap sheet that began when he was just 12, which included charges of theft, aggravated assault, and rape.
Durand was sentenced to 24 years in prison but was released early in 2020 according to the Tennessee Department of Corrections.
Coffindaffer condemned the decision to release Abston two-years early, saying that keeping him in prison would have prevented the alleged crime.
‘Any time someone is let out early and the goes on to commit another violent crime, yes, I think society’s let down,’ she said. ‘I think we are all let down by his early release.
Nathaniel Isaac, Abston’s uncle, said that his mother was still in ‘hiding’ over the heinous crimes her son had committed.
He told DailyMail.com: ‘She was back last night, but she’s gone again. She says she’s okay, but she says she’s not getting involved in this, she’s staying out of it.
‘Those kids are grown. They’re not children. So whatever they do is their business. And she can’t tell them what to do and what not to do.
‘She says she’s not getting involved. She don’t want to talk to the press, none of that.
‘I spoke to her and she didn’t sound upset. The only thing she’s upset about is all this attention she’s getting.’
Photos from the scene showed a police helicopter circling above the search. Horrified neighbors gathered around the crime scene as the gruesome discovery was made.
‘It’s emotional, it really hurts,’ April Jackson, 30, told DailyMail.com at 7.30pm, with the body yet to be removed.
‘That could have been anybody out jogging that morning, a student, anyone. And he was just released two years ago for another abduction and he gets out and does it again,’ she said.
‘It makes me sick.’ She was out yesterday offering to aid the search, when police and a bloodhound were out in the area, within a couple hundred yards of the body.
In the criminal complaint against Cleotha, witnesses were quoted as saying they saw the suspect at his brother’s home behaving strangely and washing the carpet of this 2013 GMC Terrain.
The violent felon, accused of snatching billionaire heiress Eliza, had stalked the area she went missing from while jogging for almost 30 minutes before her abduction.
On Sunday, a neighbor of Mario Abston’s told DailyMail.com exclusively that she had seen the suspect at his brother’s house nearly every day for the last month.
Authorities arrested Cleotha Abston, 38, before charging him with especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence following Fletcher’s disappearance on September 2.
Officers have footage of the vehicle used in the kidnapping in the same area 24 minutes before the mother-of-two was taken at 4:20am in Memphis, Tennessee.
Surveillance footage obtained by police, which has not been released, show a man running ‘aggressively’ towards Fletcher and forcing her into the passenger side of the vehicle.
The pair struggled, and the car then sat in the parking lot for four minutes with Fletcher inside before driving off to an unknown location.
Abston also had new charges filed against him that include identity theft, theft of property and fraudulent use/illegal possession of credit/debit card of $1000 or less.
Shortly before the discovery of the remains, it emerged that Abston has priors for aggravated assault, aggravated assault with a weapon and rape, all while he was a juvenile, according to a new report from the Commercial Appeal.
Officers were previously searching Martin Luther King Riverside park, as well as a pond within the area, and Pine Hill Park in relation to the missing mother.
Fletcher was last seen about 4.20am on Friday, when she was jogging (right) in Memphis and a man approached her and forced her into an SUV after a brief struggle, police said
A Memphis Police Department mobile command unit remained in the area as night fell
Authorities have now confirmed that the remains that were found are those of Eliza Fletcher
A member of the Memphis Police Department collects events as police continue to look for clues in the search for Fletcher
Abston’s arrest comes just over two years after her was released from prison where he served 20 years for the kidnapping and robbery of lawyer Kemper Durand in Memphis in May 2000.
He also appeared in juvenile court records in 1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999 for charges including theft, aggravated assault, aggravated assault with a weapon, and rape.
Police tracked him down after finding his DNA on Champion sliders that were left behind during the struggle with Fletcher, as well as her cell phone and water bottle.
His bail has been set at $500,000, and it is understood that he is refusing to cooperate with police.
Police believe that Fletcher, a kindergarten teacher, suffered ‘serious injury’ at the hands of Abston and that blood was left in the vehicle.
His brother, Mario Abston, 36, was also arrested on Saturday after offices searched his home when his brother was spotted acting ‘suspiciously’ by neighbors.
Officers found a semi-automatic handgun, a scale with a bag of heroin and fentanyl, and he was charged with being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony and possession of controlled substances.
Abston told police that his brother had been cleaning the interior of his GMC Terrain with floor cleaner, as well as washing his clothes in the sink of the house.
Another neighbor confirmed that Abston was acting ‘very strange’, and police determined that his phone pinged near to where Fletcher was taken.
Officers removed a dumpster close to Abston’s brothers low-income apartment complex over the weekend.
Missing mother Eliza Fletcher pictured with her husband Richie and their two children
Police were seen searching dumpsters outside of a McDonald’s restaurant along South Perkins Street in the city
This is the SUV cops say abducted Fletcher, identified as a dark-colored GMC Terrain which was discovered on Saturday
Dumpster cordoned off by cops investigating Eliza Fletcher abduction
Memphis Police Department officers searching for clues in the ground close to the home of Cleotha Abston’s brother’s home
Authorities went to Abston’s last known address and found the same black SUV with the damaged taillight. The affidavit said Abston was standing in the doorway when police arrived and that he began to flee, but was soon apprehended.
The affidavit said evidence, including blood, found in Abston’s car led them to believe Fletcher suffered a ‘serious injury.’
‘The investigation into the abduction of Eliza Fletcher is still active and ongoing. Investigators are continuing the search and following all leads,’ police said in a statement on Sunday after announcing Abston’s arrest.
Police were also seen searching dumpsters outside of a McDonald’s restaurant in Memphis on Saturday evening as they searched for the kindergarten teacher and mother.
His brother, Mario Abston, 36, was also arrested on Saturday after offices searched his home when his brother was spotted acting ‘suspiciously’ by neighbors
Wife and mother-of-two Eliza Fletcher disappeared when she went jogging. Police said that a body has been found in the search for her. However, they have not confirmed the identification of the human remains
After the discovery of the car, Fletcher’s family, her father, Beasley, mother, Adele, brother Gill and her husband appeared on camera alongside their lawyer, Mike Keeney
After the discovery of the car, Fletcher’s family, her father, Beasley, mother, Adele, brother Gill and her husband appeared on camera alongside their lawyer, Mike Keeney.
They have offered a $50,000 reward for any information that results in Fletcher being brought home safely.
In a new statement released today, the family said: ‘We are heartbroken and devastated by this senseless loss. Liza was a 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. We appreciate all the expressions of love and concern we have received.
‘We are grateful beyond measure to local, state and federal law enforcement for their tireless efforts to find Liza and to bring justice to the person responsible for this horrible crime.
‘We hope that everyone, including media representatives, understand the need for the family to grieve in privacy without outside intrusion during this painful time.’
The abducted woman is the granddaughter of hardware magnate Joseph ‘Joe’ Orgill III who died in 2018.
Fletcher’s mother, Adele, is Orgill’s daughter. Their hardware wholesale family business, Orgill Inc., does $3 billion in annual sales, according to the company’s website.
The description of the company on the website calls Orgill ‘the world’s largest independent hardline distributor with annual sales of $3 billion.’ The company is privately owned.
Abston still has not said where Fletcher is or what he did to her. The affidavit said evidence, including blood, found in Abston’s car led them to believe Fletcher suffered a ‘serious injury’
A different resident posted this photo showing members of the Memphis Police Department SWAT Team preparing for a raid in the complex in the search for Eliza Fletcher
District attorney in Eliza Fletcher trial makes announcement
More than 5,500 people are employed by the company.
On Friday, police had searched a park near the site where a wealthy heiress was abducted and forced into vehicle, as they search for clues in the baffling case.
A neighbor described Abston as a ‘pervert,’ who once snuck up behind her and propositioned her for sex.
He did the same to other women in the complex, and at times would sit in his black SUV gawking at women walking by or sitting on stoops.
Another neighbor, Latoya, 35, said the suspect also propositioned her and her 20-year-old niece earlier this year.
Latoya told DailyMail.com: ‘He kept waving me over to him and was like. ‘I’ve got $100.
‘He tried to catch my niece too, tried to get her to come into the apartment with him.
‘As far as I know, nobody here have sex with him,’ she said. ‘He creepy, he really creepy.’