New details surrounding the death of Eliza Fletcher released

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — There are new details that were released surrounding the abduction and murder of Eliza Fletcher, court records show.

On September 5, the Memphis Police Department (MPD), the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), ATF, Homeland Security, and The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) Search and Rescue, searched for Eliza Fletcher near East Person Avenue and Victor Street based on data collected by the FBI just after 5 p.m., the affidavit said.

Agencies searched the area of East Person Avenue to the 1500 block of Victor Street. Officials walked northbound from East Person Avenue on Victor Street and they noticed high grass south of the vacant residence in the 1600 block of Victor Street.

According to the affidavit, the officers noticed car tracks in the grass adjacent to the driveway of the address on Victor and the officer smelled an odor of decay.

Officials panned out and walked to the rear of the location.

A set of steps were noticed just north of the rear driveway and immediately to the right of the steps, he located an unresponsive woman lying on the ground and notified his search team members, records show.

The scene investigation revealed that the woman fit the description of Eliza Fletcher.

Law enforcement from the various agencies that were near the location canvased the surrounding area and just after 6 p.m. detectives located a discarded trash bag about 100 feet just north of the home on S. Orleans Street where officials earlier indicated that Cleotha Abston had been with his brother.

The bag contained purple running shorts that were consistent with the ones Eliza Fletcher was last seen wearing the day she was abducted, records show.

Officials researched surveillance videos during the time of the incident.

The videos revealed that on Sept. 2 at just before 6 a.m.:

  • Camera located in the 1300 block of Cummings Street captured the suspect’s car exiting I-240 at the South Parkway East exit.
  • The suspect’s car was then captured on the camera located at Kerr Avenue and Clancy Street traveling westbound on Kerr Avenue shortly after.
  • The car then turns southwest onto Havanna Street.
  • The camera located in the 1600 block of Havanna Street captured the car turning south on Marjorie Street.
  • The car proceeded to turn westbound onto Person Avenue.

A medical examiner with the West Tennessee Regional Forensics Center arrived and pronounce the victim deceased.

The woman was positively identified as Fletcher.

Suspect Cleotha Abston now faces additional charges of first-degree murder and first-degree murder in perpetration of kidnapping, MPD said.

In his first court appearance, Cleotha Abston told the judge he cannot afford to make his $500,000 bond and cannot afford an attorney.

PHOTOS: Body found during search for Eliza Fletcher, police say

RELATED: New charges filed against man accused of abducting Memphis mother near UofM

According to authorities, sandals were found near Fletcher’s water bottle and cell phone after she was abducted. DNA on those sandals matched Abston and Abston was seen wearing them the night before Fletcher’s abduction, according to police.

An arrest affidavit for Abston also claims that his cell phone was found to be in the area of Central Avenue and Zach Curlin, where Fletcher was abducted, around the same time that the mother of two boys and St. Mary’s teacher was kidnapped.

RELATED: Vehicle found, man detained in mother kidnapping while jogging near University of Memphis

Court records show that Abston was previously charged with aggravated kidnapping in June of 2000. He was sentenced to 24 years but was eligible for release after 85 percent of that sentence was served.

On Tuesday, Fletcher’s family released the following statement:

“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.”

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland also released a statement regarding Fletcher’s murder, referring to it as an evil act and saying “I hope that whoever is guilty of this heinous crime, and any such crime, is removed from society and is punished to the fullest extent of the law.”

Strickland’s full statement is below.

There is evil in this world. My heart breaks for Eliza and her family, all victims of evil. I thank the FBI, TBI, Sheriff’s office, ATF, US Marshals, and especially the men and women of the Memphis Police Department, who worked tirelessly and skillfully, as they always do, to solve this horrific crime. I hope that whoever is guilty of this heinous crime, and any such crime, is removed from society and is punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Newly-elected Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy also issued a statement on the day Fletcher’s body was identified, calling her murder a tragedy and saying that his office has been in contact with the family.

“I want to offer the condolences of both my office and myself personally to the family of #ElizaFletcher. To lose someone so young and vital is a tragedy, but to have it result from a senseless act of violence is unimaginable,” Mulroy tweeted. “Both law enforcement and our office were in contact with the family through the weekend. They’ve been fully cooperative. I have a message from the family to both the public and the media: Please respect their privacy. Please allow them to grieve. Any murder is a tragedy. Any murder in our jurisdiction is high priority. All deserve our care and best efforts. This one has triggered an extraordinary outpouring of public concern which motivates this message. We will work to do justice in this case and all other cases in the hopes we can prevent such tragedies.”