A body discovered in Tennessee has been identified as Eliza Fletcher, a mother of two and billionaire heiress who was abducted during an early-morning jog near the University of Memphis.
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Memphis police confirmed in a tweet Tuesday that the remains found Monday afternoon in south Memphis belong to 34-year-old Fletcher. They were uncovered in an area near Victor St. and Person Ave., some seven miles from where she was last seen alive on Friday.
Surveillance video obtained by investigators shows a black 2013 GMC Terrain SUV drive past Fletcher as she runs through the region. The driver, who has since been identified as Cleotha Abston, can then be seen chasing after and struggling with the elementary school teacher before forcing her into the vehicle and speeding off, according to police. Her disappearance sparked an exhaustive days-long search spanning local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
Memphis police combed through several locations with dogs, ATVs and a helicopter throughout the holiday weekend. Her body was ultimately discovered behind a vacant duplex, but Memphis Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said it was too early in the investigation to determine how and where Fletcher was killed.
“To lose someone so young and so vital is a tragedy in and of itself,” Memphis District Attorney Steve Mulroy told reporters. “But to have it happen in this way with a senseless act of violence is unimaginable.”
He added that authorities at this time have “no reason to think this is anything other than an isolated attack by a stranger,” thought the deadly incident is still under investigation.
In the immediate aftermath of her disappearance, Fletcher’s family called on the community for help and even offered a $50,000 reward for information in the case. She is the granddaughter of the late businessman and philanthropist Joseph Orgill III, the former head of Tennessee-based hardware distributor Orgill Inc., which was worth $3.2 billion in 2020, according to Forbes.
“We are heartbroken and devastated by this senseless loss. 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,” the family said in a statement.
“Now it’s time to remember and celebrate how special she was and to support those who cared so much for her.”
Fletcher, a prekindergarten teacher at St. Mary’s Episcopal School in Memphis, was also remembered the school community
“We are heartbroken at the loss of our beloved teacher, colleague, and friend Liza Fletcher. Our hearts are with the Fletcher, Orgill, and Wellford families,” the school wrote.
“This morning our faculty and staff started the day in chapel. We lit candles to remember Liza who was a bright light in our community. Liza embodied the song that we sing every week in Early Childhood chapel, “‘This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.’”
U.S. Marshals arrested 38-year-old Abston on Saturday after police discovered his DNA on a pair of Champion slide sandals found alongside a damaged cellphone near where Fletcher was last seen, according to an arrest affidavit.
Police were also able to link the SUV used during the abduction to a person living at a residence where Abston was staying.
He was arraigned on Tuesday on charges of kidnapping, tampering with evidence, theft, identity theft, and fraudulent use of a credit card. A judge issued him a $510,000 bond. Abston is also facing counts of first-degree murder and first-degree murder in perpetration of kidnapping, Memphis police said. He will be arraigned on those charges Wednesday morning, officials said.
The suspect was previously jailed for kidnapping a prominent Memphis attorney in 2000, the Commercial Appeal reported. When he was just 16 years old, Abston forced Kemper Durand into the trunk of his own car at gunpoint and later forced him to drive to a Mapco gas station to withdraw money from an ATM.
He pleaded guilty in 2001 to especially aggravated kidnapping and aggravated robbery, according to court records. He received a 24-year sentence and was released in November 2020 after serving about 85% of his sentence.
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