Memphis kidnapping suspect ID’d as 2021 rape suspect

Mid-South

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — A recently tested rape kit from a case back in September 2021 has been connected to Cleotha Abston, the man charged with kidnapping and killing Eliza Fletcher.

The DNA match came back the same day Fletcher’s body was found behind an abandoned house in South Memphis. According to Memphis Police, a sexual assault report was taken on Sept. 21, 2021.

The sexual assault kit was submitted to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation two days later. WREG reached out to the TBI to find out why it took nearly a year before a match was made to Abston (whose last name has also been reported as Henderson).

Funeral services for Fletcher were held Saturday at a church in Memphis.

In Fletcher’s case, it took less than a day (18 hours) to match the DNA found on a sandal left behind at the scene on Central avenue where Fletcher was abducted.

They responded in a statement that reads, in part: “The TBI accepts rush DNA cases when requested by a local investigative agency, as we did in the recent Eliza Fletcher case. Our scientists identified Cleotha Abston as the suspect less than 18 hours after receiving key evidence.”

The agency said the sample they received in September of last year was not submitted as a rush case. Therefore, it was placed with the standard casework, which can have an average turnaround time of 33 to 49 weeks.

The statement went on to describe how scientists pulled the recently tested kit matching Abston for analysis on June 24, 2022, nine months after it was received, and completed an initial report of the results on Aug. 29.

Eliza Fletcher was abducted Sept. 2.

The sample was then entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which returned a match on Sept. 5, within hours of Memphis police finding Fletcher’s body.

That was 49 weeks after MPD submitted the rape kit to the TBI.

The match of the September 2021 assault came back to Abston. The results were then reported to Memphis Police.

Court documents show Abston was indicted on charges of aggravated rape, especially aggravated kidnapping and an additional gun charge in connection with the crime from one year ago.

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