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Cleotha Abston charged with first-degree murder after Eliza Fletcher's body identified

According to Shelby County jail records, charges faced by Cleotha Abston now include identify theft, theft of property, and credit card fraud.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — UPDATE: The man charged with missing woman Eliza Fletcher's abduction is now charged with her murder after her body was identified by Memphis Police Tuesday.

RELATED: MPD: Body found in South Memphis identified as Eliza Fletcher

38-year-old Cleotha Abston is charged with First Degree Murder in Fletcher's death, MPD said, in addition to his especially aggravated kidnapping charge, and others. 

Charges of identity theft, theft of property $1,000 or less, and fraudulent use/illegal possession of credit/debit card $1,000 or less were added for Abston Monday from an unrelated case.

Credit: Shelby County Jail
Memphis police have arrested 38-year-old Cleotha Henderson, aka Abston, in connection with the abduction and murder of Eliza Fletcher.

According to the affidavit for those latest charges, a woman reported her wallet was stolen Thursday, Sept. 1, while she was at work at the Malco in the 1000 block of Germantown Pkwy. Investigators said video showed an employee of the cleaning service, identified as Cleotha Henderson (aka Abston), taking the wallet. According to the affidavit, the victim got texts about her cards being used, and police determined they had been used at two gas stations for more than $910.

A $500,000 bond was set for the suspect, Abston. 

Suspect's criminal record

Abston was previously convicted in 2000 of especially aggravated kidnapping and aggravated robbery in Shelby County, according to the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC). They said his 24-year sentence expired in November 2020 and he was released.

RELATED: Authorities search wooded and residential areas in South Memphis as hunt continues for Eliza Fletcher

Credit: Memphis Police Department
Eliza Fletcher

The abduction and investigation

According to Memphis Police, Fletcher had been jogging in the area of Central and Zach Curlin about 4:30 a.m. Friday, Sept. 2, 2022. The affidavit states that surveillance footage from Central showed a black GMC Terrain passing and then waiting for Fletcher to run by. In this footage, a man exited the car and ran aggressively toward Fletcher before struggling to force her into the passenger's side of the car, according to the affidavit. 

Police said that car then sat in the parking lot with Fletcher inside for approximately four minutes before it drove away. According to the affidavit, the car had noticeable damage to the back-passenger taillight area. 

The affidavit said surveillance footage taken 24 minutes before the abduction was clear enough to provide investigators with a partial view of the license plate.

The UofM police said Fletcher’s cell phone and water bottle were found in front of a home owned by the university in the 3800 block of Central Ave.

The affidavit reports that a citizen riding their bike on Central Avenue near Zach Curlin found that phone and sandals. That citizen turned these items over to Fletcher's family, who gave them to investigators, according to the affidavit. 

The sandals were sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and investigators said DNA found on the shoes matched the DNA of Abston from their "CODIS" database. According to the affidavit, Abston was then developed as a person of interest, and surveillance footage of Abston wearing the same sandals a day before the abduction was recovered by investigators. 

Investigators checked who the utilities for the home that Abston resided in were connected to, according to the affidavit. They then referred to law enforcement databases to reveal that person also had a GMC Terrain with a license plate that matched what investigators could make out from the surveillance footage on Central, according to the affidavit. 

Investigators were able to speak with a source who they said could confirm that Abston regularly drives that GMC and could provide Abston's cell phone number, according to the affidavit. Investigators said records and analysis were able to show that cell phone was in the area near Central at the time Fletcher was abducted, according to the affidavit.

On Saturday morning, Sept. 3, 2022, U.S. Marshals located the GMC and were able to confirm a match based on the license plate and noticeable damage to the rear passenger-side tail light, according to the affidavit. 

They said a man matching the description of Abston was standing in the doorway of the residence where the car was parked, according to the affidavit. Investigators said when officers approached Abston he tried to flee, but was detained while he occupied the car.  

MPD then tweeted to confirm that the vehicle of interest following the disappearance of Fletcher had been located and the man occupying it, detained.

RELATED: MPD: Vehicle seen after woman's disappearance found, man inside detained

The affidavit also said investigators interviewed a source who said they saw Cleotha Abston after the time of the abduction. This source told police they saw Abston cleaning the interior of the GMC Terrain, said he was "behaving oddly," and also washing clothes in the sink, according to the affidavit.  

According to the police affidavit on the original charges filed, Abston declined to provide investigators with the location of the victim.

Fletcher's family released a public statement after the abduction. "More than anything, we want to see Liza return home safely," they said.  

Previously, Fletcher's family posted an extra $50,000 reward with Crime Stoppers for information that helps authorities arrest those responsible. Anyone with information is asked to call 901-528-CASH.

Credit: Memphis Police Department
Memphis Police released this surveillance picture of Eliza Fletcher jogging early Friday morning in the University of Memphis area.

RELATED: $50,000 reward offered for finding woman reportedly kidnapped while jogging in UofM area

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