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Shelby County D.A.: Eliza Fletcher's murder believed to be 'random attack by stranger'

Fletcher's body was found near a vacant home in the 1600 block at the corner of E Person Ave. and Victor St. around 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 5, according to MPD.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis Police Department confirmed Tuesday, Sept. 6 that the body found in South Memphis Monday night was identified as missing jogger Eliza Fletcher.

Police said the mother and junior kindergarten teacher was kidnapped around 4 a.m. Friday, Sept. 2, while on her regular morning run in the University of Memphis area near Central Ave. and Zach H. Curlin St. 

MPD said Fletcher's body was found near a vacant home in the 1600 block at the corner of E Person Ave. and Victor St. around 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 5. Investigators confirmed the identity just before 9 a.m. Tuesday morning, only minutes after cancelling a City Watch Alert.

A news conference was held with Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis, FBI, ATF, US Marshals, and new Shelby County District Attorney General Steve Mulroy on Tuesday morning.

Chief Davis called it a sad day for Memphis, and she said "while the outcome is not what we hoped for, we are happy to get this perpetrator off the streets." 

Davis said it is too early for them to say where or how Fletcher died. Davis said MPD followed hundreds of tips, and the investigation is ongoing. 

D.A. Mulroy said they believe this is a "random attack by a stranger." He said the family has asked for media to respect their privacy and allow them to grieve.

Statement from Fletcher's family

Eliza Fletcher's family released this statement Tuesday morning: 

“We are heartbroken and devastated by this senseless loss. Liza was a such a joy to so many - her family, friends, colleagues, students, parents, members of her Second Presbyterian Church congregation, and everyone who knew her. 

Now it’s time to remember and celebrate how special she was and to support those who cared so much for her. We appreciate all the expressions of love and concern we have received. We are grateful beyond measure to local, state and federal law enforcement for their tireless efforts to find Liza and to bring justice to the person responsible for this horrible crime. 

We hope that everyone, including media representatives, understand the need for the family to grieve in privacy without outside intrusion during this painful time.”

Credit: Memphis Police Department
Eliza Fletcher

Suspect charged with Fletcher's murder

Charges against the suspect, Cleotha Abston, were upgraded, MPD said. He has now been charged with first degree murder and first degree murder in perpetration of kidnapping. 

The 38-year-old was originally charged with especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence.

Abston also faces charges of identity theft, theft of property $1,000 or less, and fraudulent use/illegal possession of credit/debit card $1,000 or less in a theft for a separate crime committed the day before the kidnapping.

Abston appeared in court Tuesday morning shortly after the news broke that Fletcher's body was identified. 

He currently has a bond set at $510,000, however, on Tuesday prosecutors said they would request no bond when he is arraigned on the new murder charges at his next hearing, which is set for Wednesday morning.

RELATED: Cleotha Abston charged with First Degree Murder after Eliza Fletcher's body identified

Credit: Bradley Broders
Cleotha Henderson, aka Abston

What led investigators to the vacant home?

Memphis Police began to search several areas in the city after Fletcher was abducted Friday morning, focusing on areas in South Memphis.

Throughout those searches, investigators did not confirm why they were searching wooded and residential areas.

The FBI, TBI, and multiple other federal investigation agencies tirelessly assisted MPD in the search efforts.

The vacant home where the Fletcher's body was found close to is less than half a mile of drive time and maybe 1,000 feet walking distance from the location that the affidavit said Abston was seen cleaning the GMC Terrain that police said was used in the abduction.

After monitoring the vacant home where the body was located and waiting for updates on Monday night, ABC24 saw a transport van with the medical examiner's office leave the scene around 11:28 p.m., several hours before Fletcher's body was identified.

Credit: google maps

A witness told investigators they saw Abston on Friday, Sept. 2 around 7:50 a.m. at Longview Gardens Apartments in the 1700 block of South Orleans Street cleaning the interior of the GMC Terrain, the affidavit said.

According to the police report, the witness also told investigators they saw Abston washing his clothes in the sink through the window. The apartment unit where Abston was seen was said to be his brother's apartment.

MPD arrested Abston for his alleged involvement in the kidnapping Saturday, September 3. 

According to the report, Abston was arrested in the 5700 block of Waterstone Oak Way, which is the same place where GMC Terrain was found.

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.

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

RELATED: New charges filed for man arrested in connection with abduction of Eliza Fletcher

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