The man accused of kidnapping a woman from Tennessee jogging near the University of Memphis last week spent 20 years behind bars for a previous kidnapping. US Marshals arrested Cleotha Abston, 38, on Saturday after police detected her DNA on a pair of sandals found near where Eliza Fletcher was last seen, according to an affidavit of arrest.
Police have also linked the vehicle – a GMC Terrain – they believe Fletcher was forced to someone at a residence where Abston was staying.
Memphis Police said Abston was charged with particularly aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence in Fletcher’s disappearance.
When authorities arrived at Abston’s last known address, they found the GMC Terrain in question, with a damaged passenger side tail light, reported CBS affiliate WREG-TV, which obtained a copy of the police affidavit. When Abston saw authorities, he tried to run away, but was eventually captured by U.S. Marshals.
Although Fletcher has not been found, Memphis police said in the affidavit that they believe she was seriously injured during the abduction, which was caught on surveillance video. Authorities said Fletcher, 34, was jogging around 4 a.m. Friday when a man approached her and forced her into an SUV after a brief struggle. Fletcher was reported missing when she failed to return home that morning.
Abston previously kidnapped a prominent Memphis attorney in 2000, the Commercial Appeal reported. When he was just 16, Abston forced Kemper Durand into the trunk of his own car at gunpoint. After several hours, Abston took Durand away and forced him to a Mapco gas station to withdraw cash from an ATM.
At the station, an armed guard from the Memphis Housing Authority entered and Durand screamed for help. Abston fled but was found and arrested. He pleaded guilty in 2001 to particularly aggravated kidnapping and aggravated robbery, according to court records. He received a 24-year sentence.
Durand, in a victim impact statement, wrote: “I was very lucky to be able to escape from the custody of Cleotha Abston. … It is very likely that I would have been killed if I hadn’t escaped me,” the Commercial Appeal said. reported. Durand noted that it took more than a year for Abston to sign the guilty plea, calling the denial “a prison of bluster.”
Durand also detailed Abston’s long history in the juvenile justice system. In the years before the kidnapping, Abston had been charged with robbery, aggravated assault, aggravated assault with a weapon and rape, according to Durand’s statement.
Durand died in 2013, seven years before Abston was released in November 2020 at the age of 36. In the two years since his release, there have been no other documented charges against Abston in Shelby County before his arrest on Saturday, the Commercial Appeal reported.
Online court records do not show whether Abston has an attorney who can comment on his behalf. An arraignment has been set for Tuesday.
Fletcher is the granddaughter of the late Joseph Orgill III, a Memphis hardware businessman and philanthropist. The family offered a $50,000 reward.
On Saturday, Fletcher’s family released a statement, read by a man who identified himself as his uncle, and obtained by WREG-TV. He read the statement on behalf of Fletcher’s mother and father, her husband and children, and her brother.
“We want to start by thanking everyone for their prayers and outpouring of support,” the uncle said. “Liza has touched the hearts of a lot of people, and it shows.”
He said the family had met and shared information with police, who he said were working “tirelessly” to help find Fletcher.
“More than anything, we want to see Liza get home safely,” he said. “The family have offered a reward for any information leading to his safe return. We believe someone knows what happened and can help him.”