Video shows violent abduction of missing Memphis jogger Eliza Fletcher, criminal complaint says

Eliza Fletcher, 34, was last seen jogging in midtown Memphis early Friday

ByMeredith Deliso, Morgan Winsor and and Bill Hutchinson via ABCNews logo
Sunday, September 4, 2022
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Cleotha Abston, 38, has been arrested in connection with the abduction of Eliza Fletcher, 34, who was last seen jogging in Memphis early Friday.

Surveillance video obtained by investigators shows missing Memphis teacher Eliza Fletcher being violently abducted during her early morning jog by a man matching the description of a suspect charged in the kidnapping, according to a criminal complaint filed in the case.

A massive search for Fletcher is ongoing and her family has offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to her whereabouts.

The Memphis Police Department announced via Twitter early Sunday that 38-year-old Cleotha Abston has been charged with especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence in the case of the missing kindergarten teacher.

Police said they detained Abston on Saturday evening after he was found inside an SUV that authorities were searching for in connection with the abduction.

An affidavit of the complaint made public Sunday by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and obtained by ABC affiliate station WATN-TV, said Abston was taken into custody outside the home of a woman the SUV is registered to and where Abston was residing, according to the affidavit.

Abston allegedly tried to flee in the SUV, but a team of U.S. Marshals was able to quickly take him into custody, the affidavit states.

Earlier Saturday, police contacted Aston's brother and another witness, who both claimed the suspect showed up at their home around 7:50 a.m. on Friday and they saw him cleaning the inside of the SUV, washing his clothes in a sink and "acting very strangely," according to the affidavit.

Police, according to the affidavit, suspect the 34-year-old Fletcher suffered "serious injury" during the abduction. During questioning, Abston, who works at a dry cleaner, refused to tell investigators anything about Fletcher's whereabouts, according to the affidavit.

Abston's brother, identified as 36-year-old Mario Abston, who is currently not believed to be linked to the abduction, was also arrested on drug and firearm charges, according to police.

Police said Fletcher remains missing and they, along with their local and federal partners, continue to search for her. The investigation into her abduction is "active and ongoing," police said.

Fletcher was last seen jogging in the area of Central Avenue and Zach Curlin Street in midtown Memphis, near the University of Memphis campus in southwest Tennessee, on Friday morning at approximately 4:20 a.m. local time, before she was approached by a man and forced into a dark-colored GMC Terrain, according to police. The SUV took off, traveling westbound on Central Avenue, police said.

Fletcher's husband, Richard Fletcher, reported her missing around 7 a.m. on Friday, telling investigators she never returned home from her regular 4 a.m. jog, according to the police affidavit.

A bicyclist told investigators that he was riding in the area of Central Avenue around 6:45 a.m. on Friday and found a cellphone that belonged to Eliza Fletcher lying in the street along with a pair of Champion slides sandals, according to the affidavit. The sandals were tested at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's lab and allegedly contained Cleotha Abston's DNA, according to the affidavit.

Investigators also went to the location where the bicyclist found Fletcher's cellphone and the sandals, and obtained surveillance video from a business they said captured the abduction, the affidavit states. The security video, according to the affidavit, showed the black GMC Terrain initially driving by Fletcher as she jogged and then stopping in a parking lot ahead of her and waiting for her to come by.

"A male exited the black GMC Terrain, ran aggressively toward the victim, and then forced the victim Eliza Fletcher into the passenger's side of the vehicle. During this abduction, there appeared to be a struggle," the affidavit states.

Citing the video, investigators said the SUV sat in a parking lot with the victim inside for about four minutes before it drove off, according to the affidavit.

The video also captured the same SUV in the area of the kidnapping about 24 minutes prior to the abduction, the affidavit alleges.

Fletcher was wearing a pink jogging top and purple running shorts at the time of her abduction. She has brown hair and green eyes, weighs 137 pounds and is 5 feet, 6 inches tall, according to police.

After confirming Abston's DNA on the sandals left at the kidnapping scene, investigators learned the SUV was registered to a woman Abston lived with. Investigators also learned that Abston worked at a dry cleaners and obtained his cellphone number from his boss, according to the affidavit.

Investigators determined through an analysis of the cellphone that it was in the vicinity of the abduction when it occurred, according to the affidavit.

While investigating Abston's whereabouts before and after the kidnapping, police obtained security video from a local movie theater that showed Abston there on Thursday wearing a pair of Champion slide sandals, according to the affidavit.

St. Mary's Episcopal School in Memphis said in a statement on social media that Fletcher is a "beloved" junior kindergarten teacher at the all-girls prep school.

Fletcher's family released a video statement through the Memphis Police Department on Saturday, pleading for her safe return.

"We want to start by thanking everyone for their prayers and outpouring of support," Fletcher's uncle, Mike Keeney, said in the video while surrounded by members of their family, including Fletcher's parents, brother and husband.

"Liza has touched the hearts of many people and it shows," he added.

The family urged anyone with information on the case to contact authorities. They are offering a $50,000 reward for information that leads to Fletcher's safe return.

"More than anything, we want to see Liza returned home safely," Keeney said. "We believe someone knows what happened and can help."

Anyone with information on Fletcher's whereabouts can call the Memphis Police Department at either (901) 528-2274 or (901) 545-2677, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation at 1-800-TBI-FIND, or to dial 911.

ABC News' Alexandra Faul and Ahmad Hemingway contributed to this report.