Eliza Fletcher: Everything we know about the kidnapping of Memphis teacher as body found
The desperate search for missing Memphis teacher and business heiress Eliza Fletcher reached a tragic conclusion as police discovered a body shortly after a suspect was arrested in her kidnapping.
Eliza Fletcher, a 34-year-old mother-of-two, was snatched while on an early morning jog near the University of Memphis campus on Friday, 2 September 2022.
The following day, 38-year-old Cleotha Abston-Henderson, a convicted kidnapper who was released from prison in 2020 after serving 19 years, was arrested on suspicion of her abduction.
On 5 September 2022, the Memphis Police Department (MPD) announced it had found a body later confirmed to be Ms Fletcher. Henderson, who asked that the court call him Cleotha Henderson rather than Cleotha Abston, was subsequently hit with new murder charges.
Here’s everything we know about the case:
Police said that Ms Fletcher, known to family and friends as Liza, was out on her regular morning jog at around 4.20am on 2 September 2022 when the abduction unfolded.
Surveillance footage captured the mother-of-two running close to the University of Memphis campus when a black 2013 GMC Terrain SUV drove past her.
The SUV pulled up and a man was seen getting out of it, before he “ran aggressively” toward the jogger.
A violent struggle broke out and the man forced Ms Fletcher into the passenger side of the vehicle.
The car then remained on the scene with the two inside for around four minutes before driving off, the footage shows.
Ms Fletcher’s family reported her missing when she failed to return home from her run. The jogger’s cellphone and water bottle were discovered at the site of her abduction.
Investigators also found a pair of Champion slide shoes – believed to belong to Henderson – which were left behind in the struggle.
Photos of the suspect vehicle were released to the public to help track down the missing mother-of-two.
Surveillance footage captured the same SUV stalking the area where Ms Fletcher was taken just 24 minutes before the kidnapping.
The arrest and charges
Henderson was arrested on 3 September 2022, around 24 hours on from the teacher’s abduction, after investigators spotted a vehicle matching the description of the suspect’s car.
US Marshals found the SUV in a parking lot close to Henderson’s home and it had the same damaged taillight and partial licence plate identification seen in the surveillance footage of the abduction, according to an affidavit.
When officers found Henderson nearby, he tried to flee the scene, but he was arrested and taken in for questioning.
On 4 September 2022, Memphis Police announced that he had been charged with especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence.
The following afternoon, Memphis police charged Henderson with three additional charges: identity theft, theft of property under $1,000 and fraudulent use of a credit card.
According to the affidavit, Henderson was spotted cleaning the inside of his car and washing his clothes in the sink in the aftermath of the abduction.
A witness and the suspect’s brother said they saw him behaving oddly at his house and undergoing the clean later on 2 September 2022.
Even after the clean, authorities said they have recovered blood and other evidence inside the vehicle, leading them to believe Ms Fletcher suffered a “serious injury”.
Cellphone location data also placed Henderson at the scene of the abduction and the Champion slides were tied to him through both DNA evidence and surveillance footage, authorities said.
Henderson reportedly refused to tell investigators where Ms Fletcher was or what happened to her, before police recovered a body on Monday, 5 September 2022.
The body was confirmed to be Ms Fletcher on the morning of 6 September 2022. Henderson was hit with new charges for first degree murder and first degree murder in perpetration of kidnapping.
He was initially held on $500,000 bond and made his first court appearance on 6 September 2022.
Henderson made a second appearance in the Shelby County Circuit Court on the morning of 7 September 2022 where a judge revoked his bond. It was during this appearance that he asked that he be addressed as Cleotha Henderson instead of Cleotha Abston.
After the court appearance, Shelby County Jail records showed he was listed as Cleotha Henderson.
The suspect’s brother was also arrested and charged following the police search of their home.
Mario Abston is charged with one count of possession with intent to distribute heroin, one count with intent to distribute fentanyl and felony possession of a firearm.
Law enforcement officers had been combing the area near where Ms Fletcher disappeared, including searching through dumpsters, ponds and parks.
Then, just after 5pm on 5 September 2022, officers found a corpse on the 1600 block of Victor St in South Memphis.
It is not yet confirmed whether that body has any connection to the Fletcher case, but official sources told local broadcaster WREG Channel 3 that it was made in an area that was part of the search for her.
NOW: Investigators are at a wooded area in south Memphis. We are about two miles from the apartment complex where police say Cleotha Abston cleaned SUV after abducting Eliza Fletcher. Police haven’t confirmed why they’re here. @3onyourside pic.twitter.com/5ggvIJUsro
— Shay Arthur (@ShayA_WREG3) September 5, 2022
Local media reported many officers from multiple government agencies descending on the scene, with a police helicopter circling the area and mobile command centres for the MPD and the county sheriff’s office set up nearby.
According to Fox News, police blocked off a large area near an abandoned elementary school, less than a mile from where a witness told police they had seen Henderson vigorously cleaning an SUV that matched the one seen in surveillance footage.
WREG Channel 3 reporter Bria Jones also said on Twitter that the 5 September 2022 discovery was “very close” to where authorities seized a dumpster and took bags out as evidence near Henderson’s brother’s house.
On the morning of 6 September 2022, police confirmed the body had been positively identified as Ms Fletcher.
Police filed an amended affidavit in the afternoon of 6 September 2022, which provided extra details on how officers located Ms Fletcher.
Investigators from Memphis Police Department, and federal and state partners searching for Ms Fletcher noticed vehicle tracks in tall grass leading to a vacant apartment at at 1666 Victor St at 5.07pm on 5 September 2022, the affidavit stated.
This video shows how close this current scene is to where investigators say #CleothaAbston went after allegedly abducting #ElizaFletcher pic.twitter.com/YKQcRVBxaF
— Bria Jones WREG (@BriaJonesTV) September 5, 2022
A search and rescue officer smelled an “odour of decay” and spotted a set of footprints in the rear driveway of the premises. He then saw an “unresponsive female” lying on the ground.
The person, who matched a description of Ms Fletcher, was pronounced dead by the medical examiner shortly afterwards, according to the court document.
Police found a pair of purple Lululemon running shorts that were consistent with a pair Ms Fletcher was wearing when she disappeared discarded in a trash bag nearby.
Surveillance footage showed Mr Henderson’s black GMC Terrain nearby between 5.48am and 5.52am, the affidavit states.
The autopsy report later revealed that Ms Fletcher suffered blunt-force trauma to her right leg and was shot in the back of her head from an “indeterminate” range, according to the autopsy completed by the West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center in Memphis.
“There are two semicircular defects to the skull consistent with a single gunshot to the head with the bullet travelling in a posterior to anterior (back to front) and right to left direction,” the report said, adding she also had jaw fractures.
The report also said a shell casing was recovered from the area where Ms Fletcher was found.
It is not yet clear if Henderson knew his alleged victim prior to the 2 September 2022 abduction or if she was targeted at random.
However, the 38-year-old has a prior kidnapping conviction and was released from prison less than two years ago after serving 20 years behind bars.
In an eerily similar situation to the kidnapping of Ms Fletcher, Henderson bundled a Memphis attorney into his vehicle in an early morning attack.
On 24 May 2000, at around 2am, Henderson approached Kemper Durand in his vehicle, got out and forced the attorney into the trunk of his car.
He then drove the victim around for several hours before taking him to an ATM where he robbed him. The victim was saved when he shouted for help from a passer-by, prompting his attacker to flee the scene.
Henderson was later arrested and pleaded guilty in 2001 to especially aggravated kidnapping.
He was sentenced to 24 years in prison and was released in November 2020, after serving 19 years.
On Friday 3 February, Cleotha Henderson, who has been charged with first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, and tampering with evidence, entered a not guilty plea.
Ms Fletcher was well known in the local community as both a respected teacher and the heiress to a local business fortune.
The 34-year-old was the granddaughter of the late local businessman and philanthropist Joseph “Joe” Orgill III, who founded the Memphis hardware supply company Orgill.
The private, family-ran business is now worth $3.2bn and employs 5,500 people, with the Orgill family well-known in the local area.
The company website describes Orgill as the “world’s largest independently owned hardlines distributor, providing retailers across North America and in more than 60 countries throughout the world access to over 75,000 products and industry-leading retail services”.
Instead of working in the family business, however, Ms Fletcher became a local kindergarten teacher.
She was married to Richard Fletcher III and they have two boys together.
Her family offered $50,000 for her return and begged for help in finding her in an emotional press conference on 2 September 2022.
“We believe someone knows what happened and can help,” her uncle Mike Keeney said, as Mr Fletcher wiped tears from his eyes. “More than anything we want to see Liza returned home safely.”
Ms Fletcher was last seen wearing a pink jogging top and purple running shorts. She was described as being 5’6″ tall, weighs 137 pounds, has brown hair and has green eyes.
Anyone with information is asked to contact CrimeStoppers at 901-528-CASH.