Eliza Fletcher: Timeline of events in abduction and murder of Memphis heiress
Memphis police confirmed Tuesday morning that a body found during an “intensive” citywide search has been identified as the missing mother of two Eliza Fletchers.
Ms Fletcher, 34, was abducted while jogging near the University of Memphis campus in the early hours of Friday morning (September 2) in what police said was a random attack.
Her family, heirs to a multi-billion-dollar hardware chain, later desperately demanded information and offered a $50,000 reward for her safe return.
Ms Fletcher’s body was found in a wooded area south of Memphis on Monday night.
Cleotha Abston, 38, has been charged with kidnapping and murder.
Below is a timeline of events in this case.
Friday 4am (September 2nd)
Police said Ms Fletcher started her regular pre-dawn run around 4am on Friday.
The police affidavit said surveillance video showed Ms Fletcher was “stalked” by a black 2013 GMC Terrain 24 minutes before she was taken away.
Ms. Fletcher is an avid runner, having previously qualified for the Boston Marathon and walking her normal route along Central Avenue near the University of Memphis, According to the alert Put out by the agency’s police force.
Police said surveillance video showed a man approaching and forcing her into an SUV around 4.20am.
Separate footage, taken from a local theatre, shows Ms Fletcher fighting with a suspect before the vehicle is parked in the car park for four minutes before driving away.
Police later said there were indications Ms Fletcher was seriously injured in the attack.
A passing cyclist found Ms Fletcher’s phone lying on the ground near where she was abducted.
Not knowing what just happened, he rode to her house to return it.
He also found a pair of Champion sandals from which police later obtained DNA, leading them to lead suspect Cleotha Abston.
Friday at 7am
The Memphis Police Department (MPD) received a call, and Ms. Fletcher’s husband, Richard Fletcher, called police to remind them that she hadn’t finished running home.
Around this time, the University of Memphis also called police.
Police recovered some of Ms Fletcher’s belongings at the scene.
Memphis police held a news conference calling for information on the missing jogger.
They said they were unaware of reports that the case may be related to previous reports of harassment of women on college campuses.
Forensic testing of the sandals found at the scene matched that of Cleotha Abston, a violent felon serving 20 years in prison for kidnapping, an affidavit later revealed.
Investigators traced his mobile phone records, which put him at the scene of Ms Fletcher’s abduction.
Saturday (September 3) 10:45am
U.S. Marshals found a black SUV in a parking lot near the Abston home on Oak Road in Waterstone, matching the description of the vehicle seen on surveillance video.
They saw the suspect on the doorstep of the home, and after a brief chase, he was taken into custody.
Police said in an affidavit that two witnesses, including the suspect’s brother Mario Abston, saw him cleaning GMC terrain with floor cleaner and washing clothes in the sink.
Police said they found evidence in the car that Ms Fletcher was “severely injured” in the attack.
Mario Abston, accused of possessing material to manufacture heroin and fentanyl separately, said his brother had been acting “weird”.
When questioned by police, Cleotha Abston refused to cooperate.
Ms Fletcher’s family released a video statement WREG Appeal for help finding her and a $50,000 reward for her safe return.
We believe someone knows what happened and can help,” her uncle Mike Keeney said in a statement.
Sunday (September 4th)
Memphis police announced that Cleosha Abston was charged with kidnapping and evidence tampering.
UPDATE: The detained individual has been formally charged in connection with the kidnapping of Eliza Fletcher. At this point in the investigation, Cleotha Abston, 38, has been charged with a particularly serious offence of kidnapping and tampering with evidence.
— Memphis Police Department (@MEM_PoliceDept) September 4, 2022
They further called for information on Ms Fletcher’s whereabouts.
Officers from an FBI task force, U.S. Marshals and police used helicopters, ATVs and planes to conduct an extensive sweep of the city.
Monday (September 5th)
Police have filed additional charges against Abston, alleging identity theft, theft of property under $1,000 and fraudulent use of a credit card by Memphis police.
The charges relate to an alleged crime the day before Ms Fletcher was kidnapped.
Law enforcement officers have been searching the area around Ms Fletcher’s disappearance, including scouring dumpsters, ponds and parks.
Just after 5pm on Monday, police found a body in a vacant duplex in the 1600 block of Victor St in South Memphis, about half a mile from Abston’s home.
fox 13 Citing local law enforcement sources, the body was said to belong to Ms Fletcher.
Tuesday (September 6)
At about 8.45am local time, police confirmed via Twitter that the body found on Monday night belonged to Ms Fletcher.
They said an additional charge of first-degree murder and first-degree murder had been charged against Abston.
Minutes later, he appeared in Shelby County Circuit Court for an arraignment on kidnapping charges.
A judge said he was unaware that Abston was charged with other murders on Tuesday morning and would not accept “hearsay” evidence.
Abston was ordered to hold on a $510,000 bond and appointed as public defender.
At a news conference outside the Memphis Police Department at 10:30 a.m. local time, MPD Commissioner Cerelyn Davis expressed sympathy for Ms Fletcher’s family and friends affected by the “heinous and tragic” crime.
She said a “dangerous predator” had been taken off the streets, acknowledging the efforts of the FBI, U.S. Marshals, Department of Homeland Security and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to apprehend the suspect.
Chief Davis added that Abston was still not cooperating with police. She said it was too early to say whether anyone else would be charged or provide a cause of death.
Shelby County District Attorney Steven Mulroy said he had delivered the grim news to Ms Fletcher’s family in person on Tuesday morning, with the body found Monday night belonging to the missing heiress.
He said the family had cooperated fully throughout the investigation and responded to “baseless” rumours that this was not a random attack.
“Compared to any unfounded speculation you may have seen, we have no reason to think this was an isolated attack by a stranger,” Mr Mulroy said.
He said the family would make a statement at some point and asked for permission to mourn in private.