The Washington Post

Abducted Memphis kindergart­en teacher’s body found, police say

- BY BRITTANY SHAMMAS

A body found Monday has been identified as that of a kindergart­en teacher who was abducted during an early-morning run last week in Memphis, authoritie­s announced Tuesday.

Eliza Fletcher, 34, who also went by “Liza,” was last seen around 4:20 a.m. Friday, running in a pink top and purple shorts near the University of Memphis campus. Surveillan­ce footage captured the mother of two being forced into a black SUV, and as authoritie­s mounted an extensive search over Labor Day weekend, Memphis police said they feared she had suffered “serious injury.”

Investigat­ors found Fletcher’s body behind a vacant home miles from where she was abducted. The discovery came a day after the arrest of a suspect, Cleotha Abston, who will now face murder charges on top of the kidnapping charges initially filed against him, police said. The 38-year-old had been released from prison in November 2020 after serving nearly 20 years for a 2000 kidnapping.

“While the outcome of this investigat­ion is not what we hoped for, we are nonetheles­s pleased to remove this dangerous predator off the streets of Memphis,” the city’s police chief, Cerelyn “C. J.” Davis, said during a news conference.

The suspect’s brother was also arrested over the weekend but was not believed to be connected to the abduction, Memphis police said. Mario Abston, 36, is facing drug and weapons-possession charges.

Authoritie­s said it was too early to say whether others would be charged in Fletcher’s kidnapping and death. They said they were still determinin­g where and how she was killed, stressing that the investigat­ion is ongoing.

Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said there was “no reason to think this was anything other than an isolated attack by a stranger.”

In a statement, Fletcher’s family said they were “heartbroke­n and devastated.”

“Liza was such a joy to so many — her family, friends, colleagues, students, parents, members of her Second Presbyteri­an Church congregati­on, and everyone who knew her,” the family said.

Fletcher was a granddaugh­ter of the late Joseph Orgill III, who ran Orgill, a large distributo­r of hardware and home-improvemen­t supplies.

The search for Fletcher began early Friday morning, when her husband told police that she had not returned from her regular 4 a.m. run, according to court records filed in Shelby County. At about 6:45 a.m., a bicyclist discovered the missing woman’s cellphone along with a pair of Champion sandals in a roadway just outside the college campus.

Investigat­ors tracked down surveillan­ce footage from the area, which showed a black GMC Terrain passing and then waiting for Fletcher to run by, the affidavit said. A man climbed out of the vehicle, “ran aggressive­ly” toward her and then forced her into the passenger side of the car. The vehicle lingered in the parking lot for about four minutes after the woman was pulled inside, and then drove away.

“During this abduction,” court documents said, “there appeared to be a struggle.”

DNA lifted from the sandals linked Cleotha Abston to the kidnapping, and records from his cellphone showed he was in the vicinity at the time Fletcher was forced into the SUV. The owner of a cleaning service confirmed that Abston worked for her company and drove a GMC Terrain.

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