Body Found in Case of Abducted Tennessee Jogger Identified as Eliza Fletcher; Subject Under Arrest
Around 4:30AM on Friday, September 2, a Memphis-area teacher named Eliza Fletcher was out for an early-morning jog. But before
Around 4:30AM on Friday, September 2, a Memphis-area teacher named Eliza Fletcher was out for an early-morning jog.
But before she could make her usual route and return home to her family, Fletcher was violently grabbed off the streets and forced into a vehicle – vanished with only surveillance footage to suggest where she had gone. Unfortunately, we now know where Fletcher went – and what happened to her.
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Eliza Fletcher’s Body Discovered After Arrest Made in Case of Missing Jogger
Fletcher is the granddaughter of billionaire Joseph Orgill III, founder of Orgill Inc., a famous hardware distributor based in Memphis, Tennessee. She was a mother of two young children, and a junior kindergarten teacher at St.Mary's Episcopal School in Memphis.
And what she expected to be just another morning jog turned into a nightmare for the 34-year-old, who was reported missing early Friday, last seen jogging near the University of Memphis campus.
Video surveillance showed a dark SUV pull up next to her, and a man forced her into the vehicle. A person riding a bike in the area around 6:45AM found Fletcher's cellphone and gave it to her family, who then turned it over to police. A pair of shoes was found in the same area by the biker. Fitcher's abduction spawned a desperate multi-day search, which resulted in the arrest of two men: Cleotha and Mario Abston, brothers.
The found shoes linked Abston to DNA evidence as well as video footage, according to court records, and cell phone data tracked him to the location where Fletcher was nabbed. Although both Cleotha and Mario were detained in relation to Fletcher's abduction, Merio is not believed to be involved and was kept on unrelated drug charges.
But Cleotha, police believed was intimately involved in the woman's disappearance. Court records say he "declined to provide investigators with the location of the victim" but they had reason to believe, due to physical evidence, that she suffered "serious injury." One witness provided a statement that Cleotha cleaned the interior of the SUV, and physical evidence was found to support that he was attempting to hide evidence such as blood. Mario also said his brother was "behaving oddly," including washing his clothing in the sink by hand.
Sadly, Fletcher's body was discovered in a dumpster early Monday and positively identified as belonging to the young mother of two. The body was located about seven miles from where she was abducted, but just a few blocks from Mario's apartment where Cleotha was staying with his brother.
Disturbingly, this is not the first time Cleotha has been caught by the law for kidnapping.
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Why Was Cleotha Abston Not in Prison?
In 2001, Cleotha Abston was convicted of especially aggravated kidnapping, and aggravated robbery in Tennessee. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison, but was released in November 2020.
Perhaps the most gut-wrenching part of this all is the fact that if Cleotha had served his entire 24-year sentence, Fletcher would still be alive. So why do people like Cleotha get the chance to walk free again? Simply put, because the laws are lazy and profits are priority.
A new bill recently signed into law in Tennessee would have prevented Cleotha's early release, requiring those convicted of kidnapping to serve "100% of their sentence."
Holding these prisoners until the completion of their sentence will cost the state an estimated $25B, but advocates say it's necessary to ensure criminals aren't walking free before their time. While this would have spared Fletcher a horrifying and tragic death, it begs the question as to what would have happened when he was released eventually anyway – who would have been his next victim then?
Until the criminal justice system addresses a better way to release prior offenders back into society, these once-caught tragedies will continue to play out. It's no comfort to Fletcher's family that a law almost prevented his early release, missing his clemency by 2 years. But at least this time, adding first degree murder and tampering of evidence to the charge list, it's unlikely Abston will ever see the free light of day again.