A man has been charged and detained in the “violent” abduction of Eliza Fletcher, police said Sunday, but the Memphis teacher remains missing.
Fletcher, 34, was last seen jogging in a pink top and purple shorts Friday about 4:20 a.m. near the University of Memphis campus in southwest Tennessee. Surveillance video showed her being forced into a black GMC Terrain SUV, according to an affidavit made public Sunday by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. The kindergarten teacher, who goes by Liza, is a granddaughter of the late billionaire Joseph Orgill III, who ran Orgill, a large distributor of hardware and home improvement supplies.
Police suspect Fletcher, a mother of two, suffered “serious injury” during the abduction. “There appeared to be a struggle,” the affidavit said, citing the surveillance footage.
A pair of sandals — alongside Fletcher’s cellphone and water bottle — was recovered near the site of her disappearance. DNA on the sandals matched that of a 38-year-old man named Cleotha Abston, Memphis police said in a statement on Twitter. Investigators also tracked Abston’s cellphone number and location history, which placed Abston in the vicinity at about the same time the abduction happened.
Abston has been charged with “especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence,” police said. He was “behaving oddly” and “cleaning the interior of the GMC Terrain with floor cleaner,” the affidavit said, citing statements from a witness and Abston’s brother.
They found Abston on Saturday evening outside his last known address, an apartment complex in front of which the SUV in question was parked. Abston tried to flee but was detained by a team of U.S. Marshals.
During questioning, Abston refused to tell investigators anything about Fletcher’s whereabouts, according to the affidavit.
As a massive search for Fletcher continues, her family has offered a $50,000 reward for tips leading to her whereabouts.
“We look forward to Eliza’s safe return and hope that this award will help the police capture those who committed this crime,” Fletcher’s uncle Mike Keeney said in a video statement released Friday night. The family could not be immediately reached late Sunday.
St. Mary’s Episcopal School in Memphis, an all-girls prep school where Fletcher is employed, said in a statement on Twitter that Fletcher is a “beloved” junior kindergarten teacher.
In cooperation with authorities, we are asking for your help locating our beloved JK Teacher Liza Fletcher.— St. Mary's Episcopal School (@StMarysMemphis) September 2, 2022
If you have seen Liza or have information about her location, call MPD 901-545-COPS(2677). We join the Fletcher and Wellford families in praying for Liza’s safe return. pic.twitter.com/Hf30H6tkn3
Police arrested Mario Abston, 36, Cleotha Abston’s brother, on drug and firearms charges, but they do not believe he is connected to Fletcher’s abduction, according to a statement.