MEMPHIS, TN — The man accused of kidnapping a Tennessee woman jogging near the University of Memphis last week has spent 20 years behind bars for a previous kidnapping.
U.S. 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 arrest affidavit. Police also linked the vehicle they believe was used in the kidnapping to a person at a residence where Abston was staying.
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.
Late Monday, police tweeted that a body had been found in a Memphis neighborhood but that person’s identity and cause of death were unconfirmed. The tweet made no reference to the Fletcher case, only saying that the investigation was ongoing. A large police presence was reported in the area where authorities reported finding the body just after 5 p.m., local reports said.
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 released a video statement asking for help in locating Fletcher and offered a $50,000 reward for information about the case.