Man charged in jogger abduction kidnapped attorney in 2000


MEMPHIS, Tenn. (NewsNation) — The man charged with kidnapping a Tennessee woman jogging near the University of Memphis last week spent 22 years behind bars for a previous kidnapping, court records show.

U.S. Marshals arrested 38-year-old Cleotha Abston on Saturday after police detected his DNA on a pair of sandals found near to where Eliza Fletcher was last seen, according to an arrest affidavit.

A massive search is now underway across Memphis for the missing mother of two.

New details in the abduction of Fletcher were revealed Sunday morning when NewsNation affiliate WREG obtained a copy of the police affidavit. The records indicate that the abduction was violent and caught on camera.

A picture of 38-year-old Cleotha Abston. (Tennessee Department of Corrections)

A man riding his bike around 6:45 a.m. on Sept. 2 discovered Fletcher’s cell phone and a pair of Champion brand slides. WREG reported the items were later turned over to the Memphis Police for testing and analysis.

Police said surveillance footage showed a man violently and quickly approach Fletcher before forcing her into the passenger side of a GMC Terrain with passenger-side tail light damage.

According to police records, the vehicle sat in the parking lot for 4 minutes before driving away. Records also state the GMC Terrain in question was seen 24 minutes before the abduction in surveillance footage.

DNA found on the slides belonged to Cleotha Abston, the individual Memphis Police charged in connection to the abduction earlier Sunday morning.

“At this point in the investigation, Cleotha Abston, 38, has been charged with Especially Aggravated Kidnapping and Tampering with Evidence,” the Memphis police tweeted.

Abston previously kidnapped 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. After several hours, Abston took Durand out and forced him to drive to a Mapco gas station to withdraw money from an ATM. At the station, an armed Memphis Housing Authority guard walked in and Durand yelled for help. Abston ran away but was found and arrested. He pleaded guilty in 2001 to especially aggravated kidnapping and aggravated robbery, according to court records. He received a 24-year sentence.

Cleotha was detained on Saturday in connection to Fletcher’s abduction.

Investigators also managed to recover surveillance video showing Abston wearing the same slides days before the abduction. In addition, investigators tracked Abston’s cell phone number and location history, which placed him in the vicinity of the abduction at approximately the same time it happened.

When authorities arrived at Abston’s last known address on Saturday, they found the GMC Terrain in question, with passenger-side tail light damage backed into a parking space.

Abston immediately tried to run from the police but was eventually captured by the U.S. Marshals.

Investigators also interviewed a woman who said after the abduction, Abston was behaving in an odd manner. The witness advised investigators Abston was in a strange mood and vigorously cleaning the interior of his car with a carpet cleaner as well as washing his clothes in the house’s sink.

Booking photo shows Cleotha Abston on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022. (Shelby County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

After his arrest, Abston refused to provide Fletcher’s location.

According to the Tennessee Department of Corrections, Abston was released from prison back in November 2020 after serving a 20-year sentence for the aggravated kidnapping in 2000.

Fletcher remains missing and investigators continue a rigorous search with speculation Fletcher suffered serious injury during the abduction.

According to police records, “As the abduction was violent with, as captured on video, the suspect waiting for, then rushing toward the victim, then forcing the victim into the vehicle, where she was confined and removed and continues to be missing, it is believed and supported by the facts and physical evidence that she suffered serious injury. Further, it is probable and apparent from witness statements that these injuries left evidence, e.g. blood, in the vehicle that the Defendant cleaned.”

A mile away from Pine Hill Park, officers were seen removing a dumpster from Longview Garden Apartments, which is where a relative of Abston lives.

Officers later returned to the complex to conduct a manhunt but did not provide specific details about who they were looking for.

A second person has been charged during the investigation but is not believed to be connected to Fletcher’s abduction.

Police said 36-year-old Mario Abston was charged with “Possession of a Controlled Substance w/ Intent to Manufacture & Sell Fentanyl, Possession of a Controlled Substance w/ Intent to Manufacture and Sell Heroin, & Convicted Felon in Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Dangerous Felony.”

Memphis police, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the FBI have been urgently searching for Fletcher, 34, who was last seen at about 4:20 a.m. Friday.

A traffic image of Eliza Fletcher jogging in the street on Sept. 2. (Credit: Memphis Police Department)

“More than anything we want Liza returned home safely,” said Fletcher’s uncle Mike Keeney.

Fletcher was jogging near the University of Memphis campus when a man approached her and forced her into an SUV after a brief struggle, university police said. Authorities said she was reported missing when she did not return home from her regular morning run.

The mother of two is described as being 5-foot-6 and 137 pounds with brown hair and green eyes. She was last seen wearing a pink jogging top and purple running shorts.

Fletcher’s cellphone and water bottle were discovered in front of a house owned by the university, police said.

Fletcher is the granddaughter of the late Joseph Orgill III, an extremely wealthy businessman who owned hardware distributor Orgill Inc., a company worth an estimated $3.2 billion, according to Forbes. Fletcher is the heiress of the company.

“We look forward to Eliza’s safe return and hope that this award will help the police capture those who committed this crime,” Fletcher’s family said in a statement released Friday night through Crimestoppers.

A $50,000 reward is being offered for information on the case.

Authorities have asked the public for assistance, stating that if anyone has any information concerning the investigation, they should report it immediately to the police.

This remains to be an active and ongoing investigation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

NewsNation affiliate WREG contributed to this report.

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